• Indian River History

A force for growth and good.

Donna Bess McClutchey, a woman who quietly, but resolutely spent decades working to make Indian River a nicer place, died November 23, 2001.

"Donna Bess" as she was fondly referred to by people throughout the community was instrumental in the establishment and growth of both Cooperation Park and DeVoe Beach.

"She was quiet and determined," recalls Charlotte Nardizzi. "When she decided something should be done she'd somehow or other figure it out."

Donna Bess came to Indian River with her husband Sam in 1934. Sam became a teacher and together they purchased a small dry goods store. In 1942 Sam became superintendent of Pellston Public Schools and Donna Bess served as his secretary. They served together in that capacity for 19 years, retiring in 1961 to operate the store on a full-time basis. After Sam died, Donna Bess continued running the store.

In addition to raising a family and her work at the store, Donna Bess found time to work on township and church projects.

"She was a busy person, but she always had time for everybody," said Billie Burdick. Burdick and her husband, the late Vic Burdick, met Donna Bess in 1960 when the Burdicks moved to Indian River. The two couples had children that were close in age and used to play bridge together and then Billie worked for Donna Bess, opening up the Sale Store. Billie said Donna Bess was a wonderful person and really good with children. She said Donna Bess' favorite expression was, "We'll see."

For many years, Donna Bess was a regular at township meetings. "She just wanted to see what was going on and add her two cents," Burdick said. However, Donna Bess wasn't just an observer, but was someone who got things done. "They won't realize until a while down the line how much she really did," Burdick notes.

Elaine Burdick worked with Donna Bess on various projects over the years when Elaine was Chamber of Commerce Director and later a township board member. Elaine remembers sitting in Donna Bess' dining room and writing the grant application to get funding for Cooperation Park.

"She was determined. She was going to get that," Elaine recalls. "Everything that went in that park had her hand on it."

Elaine said Donna Bess was critical to the continued existence and growth of the Chamber of Commerce. "She was the greatest backer of the Chamber of Commerce. If it wasn't for Donna Bess, there would not be a Chamber."

Bob Burwell began umpiring Little League games in 1965 and met Donna Bess, who was on the parks commission at that time. He's now the head of maintenance and grounds at Cooperation Park. He said that over the years Donna Bess was out at the park a lot, making sure the kids and the various programs had what they needed.

Of Donna Bess and Cooperation Park, Burwell said, "That was her baby. She was all for the kids. That's what it was. Anything in the world for the kids."

Donna Bess also played a vital role in establishing DeVoe Beach. Elaine Burdick said Donna Bess knew the DeVoe family and was involved with the township parks commission and was able to bring all of the necessary parties together to create a lasting asset for the community.

Donna Bess was also active in the Indian River United Methodist Church. For many years, she served as Chairman of the Finance Committee. One of her most visible church projects was the annual United Methodist Church Women's Fourth of July Pie Sale. For the past several years, the pie sale took place in the driveway of Donna Bess home on River Street. In recent years, during the pie sale, Donna Bess would sit in a chair next to her home during the pie sale and as people went through the line, they would stop and chat with her.

"I know that she liked to be able to come out and sit and visit with the people," said Nardizzi, who worked with Donna Bess on the pie sale and many other church projects over the years.

Something many people may not have known about Donna Bess was that she was a great advocate of recycling. "Recycling was big with her," Billie Burdick recalls. "She recycled everything. She was really into that."

In 1998, a plaque and boulder were placed at Cooperation Park in her honor. In February of 1999, the Chamber of Commerce honored her with a lifetime achievement award.

Due to health problems, Donna Bess was unable to attend the Chamber dinner to accept the award. Her son Bill accepted the award on his mother's behalf. In accepting the award, Bill said he knew what Donna Bess would say upon hearing of the award. Doing an imitation of Donna Bess, Bill said Donna Bess would say, "Oh, they shouldn't have done that."

The imitation was perfect. It not only drew laughs, but captured Donna Bess' humble spirit of community service.