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Donna Jean Blackstock

Creative educator, writer, trekker, animal lover, comedienne

Donna Jean Blackstock died peacefully November 11 at Pilgrim Place Health Services Center. Her family and friends had been with her throughout the week while she was under the tender care of VNA Hospice and Palliative Care.  

Donna was born in 1942, the eldest of three children, in Salt Lake City, Utah, where her grandfather had established himself after moving from where his father had homesteaded land in South Dakota. Her father served in small Methodist churches while attending the University of Salt Lake.

When she was seven, her parents established a home in Duarte, California. She worked her way through college as a coach for girls softball and basketball, and as a general recreation leader for the city of Duarte Parks and Recreation Department. She graduated from California State University, Los Angeles with a bachelor’s degree in elementary education and taught sixth grade for one year in El Monte.

In California, the Blackstock family joined the Presbyterian Church, where she taught Sunday school. Her dream was to work for the church in the areas of justice and poverty, so she applied to the Board of National Missions of the United Presbyterian Church.

She was granted a position as a teacher at the Presbyterian Day School in Truchas, New Mexico, where the mother tongue was Spanish. For five years she taught in grades three to seven, as well as coaching the boys’ basketball teams.

Later she received a fellowship to study in a master’s program in school administration in multicultural areas at New Mexico State University. In the meantime, the Presbyterian Church, during its restructuring, eliminated its Board of National Missions, so she taught a year in the Taos public schools.

Ms. Blackstock then co-founded and directed a learning center in Taos for children with learning disabilities. Since the field was new, the goal of the center was to work its way out of a job by helping the school district become aware of, and put in place ways to educate children with special needs within the mainstream school system, which it did.

Then, as she had written several articles published in a Presbyterian Church magazine, the editor suggested she apply for an opening as an editor of church school curriculum at the Presbyterian headquarters.

After earning the position, Ms. Blackstock moved to New York City to develop and edit curriculum, lead workshops for Christian educators, and edit material for three curriculum tracks; she also took on educational resources for people with disabilities. A quarter of her time was devoted to travel to presbyteries, seminaries and conference centers,  where she presented workshops on curriculum development and educating children.

Although concerned that she was no longer on the front line of the war on poverty and working for justice, she was reminded that she was indeed providing the theological and philosophical basis for those doing such work.

While working full time at the Interchurch Center in New York City, Ms. Blackstock attended Union Theological Seminary and graduated with a master of divinity. She also developed, edited and introduced two curricula in partnership with other denominations, and enjoyed the opportunity to participate in ecumenical working groups.

In 1988, when the northern and southern branches of the Presbyterian Church reunited and moved their headquarters to Louisville, Kentucky, she was promoted to associate director for resources in the Education and Congregational Nurture Unit, along with supervising the editorial staff, as well as working in close teamwork among production, marketing and editorial staffs. In a few years she became the publisher of curriculum and other educational resources, as well as two imprints: one of resources for Christian education in various denominations, and another of resources of particular interest to Presbyterians on a broader range of church topics.  

Soon after, Ms. Blackstock moved to Louisville. There she met Annie Wu King, who also worked in the Presbyterian Center. The two established a committed relationship, and in 2013, were legally married in California.

In 1996, following her love of nature and hiking, she and her friend Pat embarked on a 14 day trek in the northeastern part of Nepal, in the Everest region of the Khumba.After working 28 years for the Presbyterian Church (USA), due to downsizing, she gave up her job and established her own small business, Words’ Worth Publication Services, where she wrote, edited and formated material for various denominations and nonprofits. 

During this time she followed another lifelong interest—animals—and volunteered for several years as a docent at the Louisville Zoo.

In 2009, the couple moved to Claremont’s Pilgrim Place, where Ms. Blackstock contributed to various activities, such as chairing the Festival Booth of Pilgrim Place Authors and Musicians, the Andiron Talks by Residents, and participating in comedy night, where she became known for her acts as a “herpetologist” with her “snake,” Maude.

She is survived by her spouse, Annie King; sons, Dave and Steve; brother, Dwight (Sharon); sister, Marcia (Calvin); niece, Dawn (Dave); nephews, Steve (Beth) and Justin (Jenny); and grandnieces and grandnephew, Jordan, Beth, Ava, Juliana and Jameson.

A celebration of her life will be held at 3:30 p.m. on Saturday, February 15, 2020 in Pilgrim Place’s Decker Hall, 665 Avery Rd., Claremont.

In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to Pilgrim Place Resident Health and Support Program at pilgrimplace.org/giving, or by check to 625 Mayflower Rd., Claremont, CA 91711; or to The Louisville Zoo, Development Dept. at louisvillezoo.org/donate, or by check to 1100 Trevilian Way, PO Box 37250, Louisville, KY 40233-7250.

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