Donna Mae Eckerle
May 30, 1933 – November 3, 2023
Longtime Merrill resident Donna Mae Eckerle died quietly in her sleep on November 3, 2023, after a years long battle with Alzheimer’s Disease. She was 90 years old.
Born in Wausau, Wisconsin to Harold and Genevieve Ruprecht, she moved with her parents to Merrill as a youngster. A popular and active student, she displayed keen interests in music, medicine and her beloved dogs, Popeye and Popeye II. Upon graduation from Holy Cross High School in 1951, the coloratura soprano appeared in various singing competitions in Chicago, Milwaukee and Minneapolis. After one such performance, she was approached by a representative of New York’s Metropolitan Opera, who offered to put her through music conservatory, if she signed with the company. However, Donna had other plans, trading in her bouts with pre-performance stage fright for the rigors of Holy Cross Nursing School, after which the newly minted registered nurse accepted a position at Holy Cross Hospital.
Around the same time, she met her future husband, Charles Eckerle, who had returned to his hometown of Merrill after a stint with the Air Force Band. So smitten was “Chuck” that, following a chance encounter with her at Club Modern, he drove all the way to her parents’ cottage on Birch Lake to ask her out on a date. They were married at St. Stephens United Church of Christ on August 13, 1955, and welcomed their first child, Jeffrey, the following year.
A daughter, Kathy, arrived in 1957, followed by David in 1959, Mark in 1961 and Connie in 1963. As Chuck worked his way up the executive ranks at Lincoln County Bank, Donna dove into her now full-time job as mother of a robust brood of young Eckerles, which included stints as Den Mother to her kids’ Boy Scout and Girl Scout troops.
Tragedy struck in the spring of 1967, when son Mark drowned in the river behind their Pinewood Lane home. Struggling with depression in the wake of this loss, she found her way back by focusing on her family and her community. She joined the St. Stephens Church Council and went to work for the Lincoln County Health Department and the Lincoln County Nursing Service. She also took a leadership position with the local Head Start Program, helped establish a mobile dental service for homebound patients, and sat on the board of Haven, Inc., a shelter and assistance center for victims of domestic abuse.
That sense of commitment served her in the wake of Chuck’s death by congestive heart failure in 1982 and son David’s death by lung cancer in 2004. No matter how deep the pain or how crushing the loss, she never lost her faith in God or her fellow human beings.
At the same time, she had an enduring passion for fun. She was an active member of the Beta Sigma Phi Sorority and hosted multiple incarnations of an ongoing bridge club. With the kids grown, she embarked on a European adventure with a few close friends, which she enjoyed immensely. But after three weeks of sightseeing, a creeping case of homesickness brought her back to Merrill. When asked about her next globetrotting adventure, she replied that she had the best adventures of her life right here in her own backyard.
In later life, she found a special joy watching her children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren grow and find their way in life.
She’s preceded in death by her parents, Harold and Genevieve, her husband Chuck, her sons Mark and David, and her grandson Jon Manthei. She’s survived by her children: Jeffrey (Marilyn) Eckerle, Kathy Badeau, Connie (Robert) Russell, Marsha Eckerle; her grandchildren: Matthew Badeau, Jacob (Kristen) Spanaus, Missy (Walter) Kanitz, Kristina (Drew) Ebben, Alisha Scantlin, Melissa (Shane) Maluegge, David Manthei, Kylie Russell, Eric Russell; and her great grandchildren: Pierce Ebben, Dillon Ebben and Asher Spanaus.
There has never been a better listener, a stronger advocate or more loving presence in this world. We, her family and dear friends, have been blessed to have her in our lives. And though we will miss her warm smile, kind eyes, and wry sense of humor, she will always be with us in our hearts and in our deeds as we strive, as she did, to make the world a kinder, more loving and happier place. Thanks for everything, Donna Mae. Oh, and put in a good word for us with You-Know-Who.
The funeral service for Donna will be held at 12:00 P.M., Noon, Thursday, November 9, 2023, at St. Stephens United Church of Christ, Merrill. The Rev. Michael Southcombe will preside. The burial will take place in Merrill Memorial Park Cemetery. Visitation will begin at 11:00 A.M. Thursday at the church. The Taylor-Stine Funeral Home, Merrill is assisting the family. Online condolences may be made at www.taylorstinefuneralhome.com