Donna Kavitz, age 93, of Medford, passed away March 9, 2019 at Birchwood Cottages in Owatonna. Mass of Christian Burial will be 1:00 PM Wednesday, March 13, 2019 at Christ the King Catholic Church, Medford. Friends may greet the family two hours prior to the funeral at the church starting at 11:00 AM.
Long before the farm, the family, and the flowers in Medford, Donna Kavitz lived a reality that most of us have only read about in novels or watched onscreen in epic war movies. But her story was real, and as we mark her life just before her 94thbirthday, we invite you to share the remarkable story.
Darka Zachorska was born in Poland in June 1925. She was the youngest of five children born to Anton and Helena Zachorska, a carpenter and a seamstress, with whom she lived until World War II would tear her family apart when she was only 15.
One fateful day in 1939, as she walked home from school with a friend, the Nazis drove up and collected all of the children, who were taken to a work camp in Germany. For the next several years she would only know the inside of a concentration camp. After the war ended, and the Americans liberated their camp, most of the prisoners had nowhere to go and so the camp was converted to a refugee camp where the liberated prisoners could live while they searched for surviving family or a direction to go.
After years of searching, Donna was never able to locate any surviving members of her family. As a young adult, she had not had the nurturing of loving parents to guide her into her adulthood – only the day to day routine of work to provide a daily purpose.
During the restoration, the USO would throw parties and invite bands to come play for the American servicemen and women. Red Cross nurses showed her how to apply lipstick and nail polish, and to style her beautiful black hair, and invited the newly liberated refugees to join the festivities. In attendance at one of these celebrations was an American from Indiana, who would become the father of her first child.
Paul Kavitz would be born in December 1948, right there in Winterburen, Germany where the refugees had been held captive all those years. When the planned trip to Indiana never materialized, she realized that she and her son were alone in the world.
Half a world away, Catholic Hearts Charities were organizing to help the refugees. Catholic families around the country were volunteering to sponsor the re-settlement of WW2 refugees in their communities. One family in Wisconsin agreed to sponsor Darka and Paul, but backed out at the last minute.
Then, Leo and Creta Mullenmaster of Deerfield, MN, arranged to sponsor Darka and her baby son, and bring them to Minnesota to work on their farm in exchange for a new home. Though many families wanted to sponsor men who could work on their farms, Creta fought for “a woman” because she needed help with her many children.
So Darka set out to bring Paul, now 15 months old, across the Atlantic Ocean to America. On May 30th, 1950, she and Paul left Bremerhaven Germany and sailed to Ellis Island, where the new immigrants were processed on June 9, 1950.
Darka would become known as Donna, and the Mullenmaster family would grow from 8 children to 16. She learned to speak English with only a Polish to English dictionary, and her love for reading. She enjoyed radio, and eventually television and classic movies, but instrumental music would always be her favorite. Though she spoke with a thick accent, she self-taught herself well enough to read novels and complete crossword puzzles throughout her life.
The Kavitz family lived on the farm to the east, and it wasn’t long before Marvin Kavitz noticed the black-haired beauty. They married (in 1952) and brought up Paul and four more children on their farm in Deerfield. Paul was immediately welcomed to the family by new Kavitz family cousins Laurel (Lolly), David, Linda, and Cheryl.
From 1953 to 1961, Paul was joined by siblings Dale, Robin, Dolly and Todd. After marrying Marvin and having the children, she continued her energetic life of work. In addition to raising the children and helping on the farm, she took a job serving food at Hoff’s Bar, and later worked factory jobs at EF Johnson’s factory and the Owatonna Canning Company.
Donna’s next undertaking would be citizenship classes, which she attended with Huntz and Elfrieda Willinguntz before becoming a proud naturalized citizen of the U.S.A. on June 27, 1963 at the age of 38.
Across the road to the East was the Ohnstad [SE1] family, and Donna would meet a lifelong friend in Dorothy. In addition to being her neighbor, Dorothy was also her frequent chauffeur, because Donna never obtained a driver’s license. Their friendship would endure into their retirement, when carpooling to work was replaced by shopping trips and lunch.
In 1967 the family farm moved to Medford, MN. There, they raised cattle, pigs, and chickens, and she started a garden and found she had a green thumb.
In August 1969, she started the job where she would work as a janitor until her retirement, at the Fairibault State Hospital. After years on the janitorial crew, she took up laundry and sewing jobs until her retirement in 1990.
In 1976, the first of 14 grandchildren would arrive. So began a period of time filled with giggles, cookies, flowers, and parties. Countless birthday parties, elaborate Christmas celebrations, holiday gatherings and family events would be enjoyed with Donna presiding over her growing brood as beloved matriarch.
Her work continued: canning and freezing vegetables, gardening, transplanting flowers to make one flock two and those two four, sewing clothes for her children and grandchildren. This time would not be without heartbreak, as losses would rock the family throughout the years. Her home was always a refuge for any in the family who were grieving, hungry, or sick.
Her retirement was followed by a dream come true: a brand-new custom-built home in Medford. She would do what she had done so many times before, making everything from the drapes to the bedding out of the fanciest materials she could find on sale. She appreciated art and beautiful things, and never let living on a fixed income limit her imagination or generosity. Though she depended on friends and family for transportation, she was able to enjoy living alone in her home until her early 90s.
Our family has thought of many words to describe this amazing person who has been the center of our family: strong-willed, beautiful, spunky, caring, hard-working, brutally honest, giggly, independent, bossy, resourceful, generous, and determined to name a bunch. But one word seems to fit the best, encompassing her journey from childhood to her 90s: SURVIVOR.
For her tenacious will to survive and thrive, we honor our beloved Donna Kavitz. For more information or to leave an online condolence message go to www.medfordfuneralhome.com