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Donna Jean Dennis, 85


Donna Jean Dennis (Archer), PhD, of Skillman was a trailblazer. She taught us it is never too late to get a degree or to learn to ski. She loved Pavarati and the Eagles. Donna grew orchids and took in kittens or puppies whenever she could. She valued education, loved red wine, and was an ENTP—her Myers-Briggs type.

Donna was fiercely independent. She was a cherished mother and grandmother to her family and “Mimi” to many other adults and children. She passed away at home at the age of 85.

Donna was born and raised in Evanston, Illinois, the daughter of Fay Clifford Archer (1909-1964) and Adelaide Daus Archer Sohl (1918-2015) and sister to Robert Archer, who predeceased her two months ago (1939-2023). When Donna graduated from Evanston High School, she was offered a full scholarship to Wittenberg College in Ohio. Her parents told her she could attend as long as she was married by the end of year two. She was the first in her family to attend college, and this sparked her lifelong love of learning.

The consummate rule follower, she left college when she married J. Richard Dennis in 1957 and started teaching. She had three children in four years— David, Deborah, and Douglas—and traveled around the country with them, supporting her husband’s career. All that time, she worked on her undergraduate degree and graduated from the University of Illinois in 1968 with a bachelor's degree in Elementary Education. In 1973, she earned her master’s in Education.

She became a student of child development, trying different child-rearing methods as her own children grew. She noticed that in the towns where she lived, they lacked early childhood teachers and in 1977, she petitioned the State of Illinois to start the first Early Childhood Education program for teachers at Parkland Community College. She ran this program for nine years. During this time, she was divorced after 18 years of marriage.

Donna went on to earn a PhD at the Fielding Institute with an adult learning emphasis in 1985 and moved to the corporate world. Her long career included work for the David Sarnoff RCA Labs, GE, the University of Pennsylvania Hospital, Chubb, C.R. Bard, and many more.

She was still working until just a month ago when she closed her business, Leadership Solutions, and taught her last leadership course at Penn State University. Her life’s work was helping people, coaching them to strengthen their talents and utilize them for a purpose.

Donna’s favorite role in life was Mimi. She was a grandmother to six grandchildren and many other surrogates. She was an avid sports fan and loved watching her grandchildren play basketball, soccer, lacrosse, wakeboarding, or skiing. She enjoyed sewing and created countless costumes for a local community theater and the local high school; she attended productions and music performances, cheering on her grandkids' efforts.

Donna is survived by her children, David (Sarah Pennington), Debbie Dennis (Bob) Meola, and Doug (Brenda); six grandchildren, Katherine, Patricia, Abigail, Spencer, Aidan and Cory; and her nieces Lori Thomas and Susan Moutard and many cousins.

A memorial service will be held Thursday, November 16, 2023, at 3 pm, at the Train Station, 2 Railroad Place Hopewell, NewJersey. Attire: “Corporate Casual” in honor of Donna’s long career. A Zoom link is available if requested.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations be made to Trenton Children’s Chorus, an organization Donna loved.


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