Donna Lee (Elder) Hale was born on May 31st, 1945 in Whitefish, Montana. The oldest of 3 sisters, she grew up picking huckleberries in the mountains with her Grandma and Grandpa Hedrick, swimming summers away in Whitefish Lake, and reading her way through the public library. She managed to escape a rather harrowing childhood, seeking solace and a steely resolve in books and the wilds of NW Montana. She held lots of childhood jobs, delivering the weekly Pilot newspaper, baking pies at a local bakery, lifeguarding at City Beach on Whitefish Lake, skiing and waitressing at Big Mountain. She earned National Merit finalist honors upon graduating from Whitefish High in 1963, and left quickly to Missoula to begin further schooling.
She went on to attend the University of Montana, became a member of the Delta Gamma sorority, and graduated with a psychology degree in 1967. She moved to Riverside, California and began teaching special education and kindergarten. It was actually there at a mutual apartment complex party she heard a smart-looking fellow mention “I’ve been out herding sheep in Montana!” That was in 1969, the fellow was my father, also a UM alumnus from another small Montana town. He was stationed at March Airforce Base at the time, and they quickly fell in love. Donna and Ed eloped in Las Vegas (seemingly a Hale family tradition) in 1970, and bounced from California to upstate New York, to Fort Worth, Texas, and back to Plattsburgh, New York over the ensuing 16 years – all as Dad flew bombers and fighter bombers for the Air Force.
Donna, with her interests stretching far beyond the military base, went on to obtain 2 Masters degrees, one in Marriage and Family Counseling, the other in Social Work, at SUNY Plattsburgh and the University of Texas Arlington. She founded numerous programs from the ground up in both New York and Texas – always in the mental health field and mostly regarding children and adolescent growth and development. She became highly regarded for her innovative program design in school districts and local and state governments.
We moved to Montana in 1986, and Donna started the Southwest Montana Mental Health Center Adolescent day treatment center for youth in the Immaculata Hall on Ewing Street. She went into private practice psychotherapy around 1988 in the Arcade Building, and then in 1991 founded South Hills Psychotherapy on Saddle Drive. Most of her life work was here in private practice, serving adults, children and families psychotherapy needs.
She also devoted countless hours as a volunteer to the State of Montana Medicaid Oversight Committee, dedicating herself to representing her profession and patients. She wrote numerous parenting evaluations, participated in family law mediation, supervised post-graduate clinicians toward licensure, and served on the Board of Directors for AMHA. She was heavily involved in the Children’s First Program for the First Judicial Courts in Helena, helping to minimize impact of divorce on children. She also worked as a director of Aspen Youth Alternatives, consulting and supervising staff. In 1998 she was named Social Worker of the year for the state of Montana.
Donna had aspirations of going to medical school early on in college and instead chose the mental health profession. She was so proud of both of her kids for stepping into the path she had once envisioned for herself, and helped to guide both of us through medical school and surgical residencies. She sadly retired earlier than she had hoped in 2011 because of her own complex medical issues.
Mom was an incredible listener and powerful observer of all that went on around her. The woman just never seemed to tire of helping people, whether it was a client calling her at 3 am in crisis or her kids needing a good chat and drive in the woods. Mo She managed to escape a rather harrowing childhood, seeking solace and a steely resolve in books and the wilds of NW Montana m instilled in my brother and I resilience, determination, and a sense of wonder for all that surrounded us. She was fiercely protective of both her children and grandchildren, and wrapped us up in her great love easily and often. She was the steady and loving companion of my father for 47 years. She was a tireless, formidable advocate for child and family mental health for so many years. I feel blessed by how many patients I get to see now who knew my mom and remark on the difference she helped create for them. She dedicated her life to helping people ease their emotional anguish and live the lives they wanted.
Mom passed away early on the afternoon of February 20th, surrounded by her husband, children, and beloved dog MacGyver. She died peacefully – and we watched the enormous weight she had fought for so many years with her confounding medical problems mercifully lift. Her extraordinary suffering from the slow decline of her ability to move is finally gone. Our tremendous hope is that somewhere, somehow, she is once again swishing down the slopes of Whitefish Mountain and diving in the waters of Whitefish Lake, basking in the sun on the dock at City Beach and enjoying the beautiful sunsets of Montana.
She is survived by her husband Ed, children Riley and Kerry, daughter-in-law Kristin, son-in-law Mark, her 4 beloved grandchildren Riley, Lawson, Elias and Leighton, and her 2 sisters Mary and Cathy. She is acutely missed by her family. Her sage advice, active ear, serenely warm smile, and enormous fighting spirit will be on our minds and in our hearts for the rest of our days.
In lieu of flowers Donna would have preferred donations to NAMI Montana or Habitat for Humanity. We would love and appreciate any comments about her to be posted on Facebook. Once on Facebook, search for the “Donna Lee Hale Memorial” page.