The Best Laugh Ever

By Dawn Brown

The Best Laugh Ever

My first paid job was when I was just a young kid.  A local police officer, who lived just down the street from us, offered to pay me 10 cents for each empty brass cartridge that I would reload with gun powder.  You read that right; I made bullets! I didn’t realize until well into my forties, during an icebreaker activity at church, that a first job like that was…let’s just say, unconventional.  I guess I never really thought about it. He was a trusted police officer, after all, so it was legit. In fact, reusing brass in this way was recycling before recycling was cool. And this was just a start to my robust resumé.  I was also an entrepreneur with my own classic lemonade stand and babysitting service—for both kids and dogs.  I’ve tutored, cleaned homes, worked retail, waited tables at the local American Legion, and even sold my plasma. Then, all throughout college, I worked in the History Department and typed up a book written by hand about Roy Rogers and Dale Evans—that is, when I wasn’t busy making ditto copies of handouts for the weekly History classes. Does anybody else remember what those moist dittos used to smell like when freshly printed? Ah, just thinking about it takes me back!  Clearly, I’ve had a potpourri of odd jobs in my life, all in the quest to get me through college. But my very first, got-an-actual-paycheck job began when I was 16 years old.  That’s when I started working for a feisty, big-hearted woman named Donna at Bell Fibre in South Marion.  It was there that I learned what it was like to be a member of my first team, to take pride in dressing up for a professional job, to bring your own cake or doughnuts if you wanted everyone to celebrate your birthday, and, most importantly, that work could be fun.

Obviously, at 16, I was still in high school.  I’d attend classes each morning and head over to Bell Fibre to do the billing in the Wood Division each afternoon.  This season of my life was decades before Chip and Jo-Jo or Pinterest, so the allure of wood pallets wasn’t what it is today!  But, in the end, I wasn’t there for the pallets or even the paycheck. I was there to learn about people; specifically, how really good people take care of each other.

Although my memory isn’t at all what I wish it were, I do remember the day I met Donna.  I wore a white pencil skirt with a matching suit coat and a sunny yellow blouse with a lace collar.  It was certainly the fanciest outfit I’d ever owned, and it helped build my confidence for my first professional interview.  Although I don’t recall the specifics of the interview itself, I do remember sitting in a fancy leather chair and feeling a lot more comfortable than I thought I would. I also remember Donna’s joyful laugh and the phone call I received later letting me know that I got the job.  Looking back, I couldn’t have asked for a better start to my professional career.

The job itself wasn’t uber exciting—simply billing companies who had purchased wood pallets.  But I remember liking the fact that I had a skill, that ability to type—yes, we used electric typewriters back then—that made me feel useful in this professional setting.  Ever since then, I’ve always wanted to do work that leveraged my giftedness.

I also remember listening to Donna tell stories.  She was extremely philanthropic.  She had a huge passion for young mothers and their babies.  Obviously, I didn’t know what role philanthropy would play in my life at that time. Still, I do recall loving how she would talk with such passion about helping these young moms, meeting their newborn babies, and donating to organizations that supported these new, inexperienced mothers. She genuinely loved helping these new families.  I knew this because she never relayed these stories with an ounce of pride, but always a heap of joy!

I knew and loved that deep, guttural laugh that she had.  She loved a good joke—both hearing them and telling them. She selflessly helped many people behind the scenes, and I believe the generosity that she demonstrated quietly led to the happiness you’d hear in her voice even when she answered the telephone. Truly, what overflowed from her heart would come out of her mouth—often through joyous laughter. And, because of this, I looked forward to going to work each day.  Yes, I was just typing up and sending out invoices—but I loved the environment.  It was healthy and it was productive—looking back, I’m so thankful for those days in high school and even a few summers during college.

That feeling wasn’t lost on me as I was in a meeting at the Foundation late last week.  We were working on outlining the job responsibilities of our new Administrative Assistant, Hannah. This is Hannah’s first full-time job—likely the one she’ll be writing a blog about 30 years from now.  Being her first post-college workplace is important to me.  We joked about my oldest son never wanting to work at another place that won’t bless him when he sneezes—those things seem small, until they aren’t.  We want to make sure that Hannah feels like her gifts are being used and that she experiences the beauty of generosity.  The work isn’t always easy.  We’re tackling child poverty in Grant County and working with countless nonprofits to help them address the needs of their clients:  homelessness, hunger, drug addiction, domestic violence, mental health counseling, and so many more serious life issues.  These are heavy topics.  And some days, bearing the weight of this reality is harder than others.  Then I think about the power of generosity, and the same joy that filled the heart of my former boss and friend, Donna, fills my heart as well.

We are so blessed to be a charitable giving hub in our community.  That means that daily we get to interact with the most generous people in all of Grant County—that includes amazing donors from ages 5 to 103! And we get to leverage all of those donations together to make a big impact with the awesome charities that work with our local friends and neighbors who need the services they provide.  There is truly nothing more joyous than doing this kind of philanthropic work.  It is so much fun being able to take the transaction of a donation and turn it into the transformation of a community.

Sadly, Donna passed away last month.  But part of her will always be a part of me.  I will always do my best to make sure the people I work with feel like they are sharing their talents in a way that contributes to our overall big picture—a better Grant County.  I truly hope that people who work with me sense my sincere love of knitting together charitable donations to make a significant difference in someone else’s life.  And, most of all, I hope that working in a place that witnesses powerful generosity daily brings joy, happiness, and laughter to all those who are a part of it.  Because philanthropy is exciting. Enjoying what we do, doesn’t mean we don’t take our jobs seriously—we do!  But it does mean that generosity makes our hearts swell three sizes each day.  Philanthropy is fun.  I get to see this every day, but I learned that fact nearly 40 years ago from a quiet philanthropist with a heart of gold.  Rest in peace, my friend. I’ll do what I can to keep the joy of generosity alive—just like you taught me through your humble actions and, truly, the best laugh ever.

3 Comments
  • Sherri Rush
    Sherri Rush
    Posted at 19:30h, 09 March Reply

    Made me cry, Dawnbrown! Beautiful tribute to your mentor and friend!

  • Bonnie webb
    Posted at 21:25h, 09 March Reply

    Such a beautiful story Dawn. I’m so glad Donna made you smile everyday. Made me smile & tear up at the same time.

  • Sherrie Stahl
    Posted at 15:57h, 10 March Reply

    Donna was the best. Such an amazing soul. She certainly set the bar high for what a work family should look like.

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