Effingham Daily News, Effingham, IL

October 26, 2012

Louisville woman loses battle to breast cancer

Effingham Daily News

LOUISVILLE — Donna Grabbe never met a stranger, say her daughters.

    "Mom was such a happy person," said younger daughter Miranda. "People would go into the bank just to say hi to Mom."

    Donna, who died Sunday, worked as a loan processor at Clay County State Bank until shortly before her death from breast cancer.

    But that's only part of the story.

    With a little makeup and red, white and blue fabric, bouncy-bubbly Donna transformed herself into her alter ego, Gabby the Clown.

    Miranda and her older sister, Heather Rosch, say their mother was born to be a clown.

    "Mom was a natural," Miranda said.

    "She was a very outgoing individual and this enabled her to do more," added Heather. "She loved being Gabby because she could get away with more."

    Gabby was "born" when Donna and Heather attended Clown Heaven, a professional clown school in Martinsville, Ind., in 1996.  Heather said her mom was a perfect fit.

    "Mom always had a clown in her," Heather said. "She liked dressing up as a clown and had the bubbly personality of a clown. When she had a chance to go to clown college she jumped on it."

    Once mother and daughter completed the 10-week course, Donna became Gabby for special church events, reunions and festivals.

    Miranda said her mother didn't become Gabby to get rich.

    "She did it for fun more or less," she said. "Any money she made went back into clowning."

    Donna got so good at becoming Gabby that the World Clown Association named her Clown of the Year in 2004.

    After more than a decade of spending a lot of time as Gabby, Donna was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2008.

    "She didn't do as much after she got sick the first time," Miranda said.

    Donna was originally diagnosed in May 2008. After a round of chemotherapy and radiation, she was declared to be in remission early the next year.

    "It was hard for her to get back into Gabby after she got sick the first time," Miranda said.

    "She was such a happy person, but the cancer took a toll on her," Heather added.

    Gabby "retired" for good after a church festival in 2010. Still, Donna continued working at the bank until she was diagnosed with Stage Four cancer on Feb. 27.

    "The doctor said she had four to six weeks to live without treatment," Heather said. "But she chose to fight."

    In June, Donna found out her liver was failing from the chemotherapy.

    The family threw a huge birthday party for her on Aug. 25. Less than two months later, she was gone.

   Bill Grimes can be reached at 217-347-7151, ext. 132, or at bill.grimes@effinghamdailynews.com.