Donna Wilbanks, of El Granada, passed away on Aug. 29, 2021, following a stroke. She was 85.
Born Donna Susanne Brown, she was the daughter of Ruth Kemper and Donald Brown. Raised in a farming family, she was born in Watsonville but primarily grew up in the Salinas Valley in the town of Soledad. Donna had an older sister, Bev (Robasciotti), and a younger brother, Tom. Her fondest recollections were of playing outside in the orchards with her siblings. Donna was a capable student who skipped a grade in school. Her family relocated to the San Joaquin Valley just prior to her senior year of high school and she turned 17 the same month that she graduated from Ripon High School.
Donna went on to California State University at Sacramento, where she graduated with a bachelor’s degree in education and a minor in art, plus an elementary teaching credential. While in Sacramento, Donna met Del Wilbanks, whom she married on July 2, 1960. On the advice of a dear friend, Dale Hecht, who had moved to the Coastside, they relocated to El Granada in 1967. Donna and husband Del were longtime Coastsiders. At the time of her passing, Donna had lived in El Granada for 54 years.
Del and Donna had two children, Mark and Monica (Buzbee), who were raised on the coast and attended local schools. This was in an era in which there were few fences and neighborhood kids roamed from house to house, climbed trees, built forts and road bikes. Donna gave the kids freedom to explore but was always quietly present and watchful. As a parent, she was gentle and accepting. She was a dedicated mom who made the decision to set aside her career as a kindergarten teacher in order to stay home and raise her children. For a few years, Donna was the owner of Happy Hands Preschool, a business that she ran out of her home. Later, she and Del became co-owners of Coast West Sports on Main Street in Half Moon Bay. For about a dozen years, Donna managed the business, with Del as weekend helper. Through the years, Donna was active in the community. She channeled her love of cooking into teaching a 4-H foods class. She was a Blue Birds and Camp Fire Girls leader and assisted with Cub Scouts. She was also an animal lover and, with son Mark, participated in the 4-H rabbit raising program. Until a couple of years ago, Donna always had a pet bunny or two in her backyard.
Donna loved to spend time with her grandchildren. Sleepovers and celebrations at “Nana’s house” were a special treat. Donna consistently attended the grandkids’ school and community events. If they had an interest, she nurtured it. She especially loved sharing her backyard with them, where she taught them how to find bugs under rocks and to admire pumpkin spiders. There was nothing better than harvesting and eating fruits and veggies from Nana’s garden. When the grandkids went away to college, she sent care packages, letters and “healthy” cookies that made you smile.
Donna was an active member of the Community United Methodist Church in Half Moon Bay, where, over the years, she sang in the choir, was a bell ringer, served as a Sunday School teacher, participated with the United Methodist Women and GEMS groups and often brought food to those in need. Donna showed her love and friendship through consistent small acts of kindness. As a local, you might have been a recipient of cut flowers from her garden or one of her nearly famous banana-nut breads. Or she might have just stopped by to say hello, bringing her warm smile and genuine warmth.
Donna was preceded in death by her parents and her sister, Beverly Robasciotti. Donna leaves behind her husband of 61 years, Del Wilbanks, son Mark Wilbanks, daughter Monica Buzbee, and grandchildren Elizabeth Pera, Blue Buzbee and Will Buzbee, brother Tom Brown, nieces and nephews from the Brown and Robasciotti families, and many other extended family members and friends.
A memorial service will take place at noon on Saturday, Oct. 9, 2021, at the Community United Methodist Church. In her memory, donations may be made to Coastside Hope or a Coastside charity of your choice.