Donna Jean Burleson, daughter of Helen and William Cole Tillotson, wife of John Dee Burleson, Mother of Ruth Ellen, William Cole, and Matthew Dee Burleson, Grandmother of Jessi Ruiz, Clint, Katharine (Morris) and Kyle Hutchins, Amanda and Cole Burleson, educator of almost 40 years of nursing students in Abilene, TX, passed from the hands of her husband and daughter Tuesday morning, March 9, into the hands of God. She is beloved, and she will be missed.
Donna was born Oct. 3, 1935 in Waterloo, Iowa and was raised in Jesup, Iowa. She attended nursing school in Illinois at the Allen Memorial Hospital Nursing Diploma Program. She scored the highest in the state nursing exam upon graduation. She shared this important fact upon her first date with USAF Lt. John Burleson, who was stationed at the Chanute AFB in Rantoul, Illinois. They met at the First Baptist Church where John was teaching a class. After a seven month engagement, they were united in marriage on April 27, 1957 in Waterloo, Iowa. They lived in Ardmore, Oklahoma, Nashville, Tennessee, Jacksboro, Texas, Las Vegas, Nevada, El Tigre and Lake Maracaibo, Venezuela before settling in Cross Plains, Texas for the last 41 years. While in Venezuela, she honed her skills in golf, a game which her mother had taught her and which she passed on to her sons, and became fluent in Spanish. She used her language skills and her compassion for others after moving back to Texas working at the Migrant Clinic in DeLeon, TX and assisting in communications between local farmers and their migrant workers.
In 1972, Donna joined Cisco Junior College as a faculty nurse instructor and helped to build the Licensed Vocational and Registered Nurse programs in Abilene, Texas. It became her life's work, and she achieved the position of Chair of Health Occupation Education at the college. She earned her Bachelors degree in Nursing from Angelo State University and two Masters degrees, one from Abilene Christian University, another from Texas Tech University while managing the nursing programs for CJC. Donna was a person with a love of learning and teaching, and she enjoyed showing her children and her students (as well as her husband) the wider world beyond their experience.
Donna also served the First Baptist Church of Cross Plains for 41 years, teaching Sunday school classes and actively participating in church life. She was devoted to her faith and to God, and her final days were comforted by that faith and the visits of her friends and family. When asked if she was frightened about what lay ahead, she replied, "No…just curious". She was in more pain than she would admit to during these last few weeks, but she is now at peace with the angels.
She was predeceased by her parents, Cole and Helen Tillotson and brother-in-law, Don Burleson. She is survived by her husband, John of Lake Brownwood, daughter Ruth and husband Ronnie Hutchins of Potosi, Texas, sons Bill and wife Tess Burleson of Phoenix, Arizona, and Matt and wife Susan Burleson of Mabank, Texas, her sister, Colene and husband, Alan Sachanowski of Emigrant, Montana and six grandchildren.
Donna waged a 4 year battle with breast cancer. She was treated at Hendrick Medical Center in Abilene, Texas, under the care of Dr. Ralph Heaven, who had studied with Dr. Dan Von Hoff of the Translational Genomics Institute. A memorial fund has been established in Donna's name at the Translational Genomics Research Institute in Phoenix, AZ, where her daughter-in-law Tess Burleson is the Chief Operating Officer.
If you wish to donate to the Donna Jean Burleson Memorial Fund in support of breast cancer research, please click here.