SUAMICO — “I do a lot of doing” is how Donna Umnus explains her role as a member of St. Benedict Parish. Having been a parishioner there, along with her husband, for over 40 years, she enjoys being able to serve and give back to her community.
“Service to others is really important, the aspect of paying it forward,” she said. “I grew up in an environment where my parents were very Christian and encouraged a lot of service to others. I feel very blessed. We didn’t have a lot of money, but we had a lot of love and a lot of support.”
After starting out at UW-Stevens Point and eventually graduating from UW-Green Bay, she spent most of her working career as a kindergarten teacher. “I pretty much stuck to young children,” she said. “I really enjoy working with kids. I could do nursery school and kindergarten. I decided I didn’t want to go beyond that.”
Continuing in her career, she was in charge of certifying and giving licenses to daycare centers and nursery schools. “I had to travel through seven counties,” she said. “After that I went into the public schools, the Green Bay schools. That’s what I did in my professional life. Now I’m in my private life still being pretty active.”
Now that she is retired, Umnus continues to serve in a variety of ways. “I like to work outside,” she said. “I love doing it and I enjoy it. Sometimes I feel the closest to God when I’m outside.” Her love of landscaping led her to approach Don Coopmans, the maintenance man for St. Benedict Parish, with an idea for the church grounds.
“I approached Don and said, ‘I’m wondering if maybe you and I could change the landscape around here,’” she said. “The two of us got in there together and pretty much re-vamped the outside of our church. We re-did the basic foundation that you see done around the buildings. We also created a few perennial gardens.”
She was called to serve again to help decorate the church and get it ready for the Christmas and Easter celebrations. “There were three of us actually who stepped forward to take care of those duties,” she said. “Two of them were younger than me and still working full time. Don had the artistic flair and interest so the two of us started taking over those duties. Don and I have been doing that for several years.”
In addition to landscaping and decorating, Umnus is also the president of the Knights of Columbus women’s auxiliary group. Along with her husband, Conrad, a three-time Grand Knight, they have co-chaired Lenten fish fries for the past 31 years. These fish fries are major fundraisers for both the men’s and women’s groups.
“We donate to 20 to 25 organizations in the area,” she said. “We also set aside money in case there are any special needs that are happening with families in our area. For example, fire or a serious illness with a family member.”
Since her retirement 12 years ago, Umnus, along with her husband, has been able to be more involved with the Knights of Columbus and their outreach. “We both have learned a lot about our faith,” she said. They have been able to serve others throughout the years with various fundraisers, social activities and Christian outreach programs.
She also helped organize a monthly movie night, as well as an annual “ladies night out.”
“We do (the ladies night out) at the beginning of December because what we’ve found is that there’s a lot of stress that goes on, especially with women, around the holidays,” she said. “We wanted a special night for these women to treat them to a dinner; actually it’s potluck, but it works great.”
As a retired teacher, Umnus said she understands the pressure families are under and would like to help. “It’s just getting tougher and tougher because there are so many stresses on families,” she said. “If I can do anything to help alleviate that stress in a tiny way, I will help.”
Some ways she helps is by ministering to St. Benedict Parish as an extraordinary minister of holy Communion, an usher and a parish council member. She also helps with the Liturgy of the Word for children.
“I didn’t know I was going to end up doing all these events and all these activities,” she said. “It just kind of grew. And the feeling that I get by helping others and being involved is just so core and basic to my personality.
“I just wake up every day and I’m just so grateful for what I have,” she said. “And because I am so grateful, I want others to feel good, and maybe not feel the same way, but it would be great if they could. Just grateful for life.”