Donna Elizabeth Kole passed away peacefully at home on March 7, 2020, surrounded by her loving family. We will forever miss the kind, caring, adventurous spirit and brilliant music she brought to the world.
Donna was born April 6, 1931, to Ruth and Edward Walsh in Cordova, Alaska. She grew up in the Seattle area and early on embraced her lifelong passion for music as a talented violinist. Among her many achievements, she was concertmaster of the Youth Symphony Orchestra of the Pacific Northwest, concertmaster of the Tri- State Orchestra and a scholarship recipient at Tanglewood. Donna attended college at the New England Conservatory of Music where she met and married the love of her life, Richard Kole, a handsome flute student from Chicago, Illinois.
The newlyweds came to San Antonio to play in the San Antonio Symphony where Donna remained a member of the first violin section for 15 years. Donna and Richard raised four children in San Antonio and eventually moved to Corpus Christi as Richard became band director at Del Mar Junior College. Life on the coast brought new opportunities — Richard and son Rick enjoyed many adventures sailing on the Gulf. Donna became concertmaster of the Corpus Christi Symphony and appeared as a soloist many times. She was also concertmaster of the Victoria Symphony, the Laredo Philharmonic and the Mid Texas Symphony. Starting in 1966, summers were spent in Santa Fe where she played in the Santa Fe Opera Orchestra.
From 1975 to 2010, Donna played every summer with the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra in Western New York. Chautauqua Institution offered a unique cultural setting where the family forged many valued friendships. The Koles dearly loved the area and created a second home there that became special to everyone.
Richard and Donna enjoyed a long and happy retirement, returning to San Antonio and traveling extensively through Europe and the Caribbean. They maintained very close ties with their children who frequently joined them in Chautauqua and at annual holiday reunions at the Hill Country Hyatt Resort. As the heart of the family, “GranDonna,” as she was fondly referred to, went to great lengths to organize these happy events for the growing group of “grands and greats.” During this time, Donna also focused on her passion for teaching and mentoring students in music. As a violin teacher she was on the faculty of Del Mar College, UTSA and the AIMS festival in Graz Austria. She taught privately for over 50 years, and many of her students went on to play professionally. In 2010 she was thrilled to receive the Phyliss Young Studio Teacher of the Year in Texas award.
Donna was preceded in death by her parents and her brother Tom Walsh. Left to treasure her memory are husband Richard; children Kathy Ridings, Rick and Nancy Kole (Kevin), Susan Siegel (Mike), grandchildren John Ridings (Ashleigh), Lincoln Kole (Kellee), Marlon Kole, Austin and Kaitlyn Siegel; great grands Emily, John Jr., Caroline and Jackson Ridings. Special thanks to Dr. Neela Patel, Maria Elias, and a dedicated and loving team of caregivers who enabled Donna to remain at home during her illness. A memorial celebration of Donna’s life will be held at a later date to be announced.