Cover photo for Shirley Donaghue's Obituary
1938 Shirley 2022

Shirley Donaghue

January 6, 1938 — December 17, 2022

Shirley Jean Kvanbeck Nelson Donaghue

Our dear Mother, Grandmother, Great Grandmother, mentor, and faithful friend passed peacefully to the Light into the loving arms of Jesus early morning on December 17, 2022, ten days after leaving home. While always young at heart, Shirley was 84 years old, and her family surrounded her with comfort and love, lifting many prayers to God during her care in the beautiful surroundings of HopeWest Hospice Care Center in Grand Junction, Colorado.

Shirley Jean entered this world in frigid Marshall, Minnesota on January 6, 1938, the second of four children to Kenneth and Edythe (Lammel) Kvanbeck. She dearly loved her daddy and treasured her early years alongside brother Bobby, residing many summers in Green Valley with grandparents George and Leah (Caron) Lammel with their lumber yard business next door, and great-grandparents “Meme and Pepe” Delia and Eugene Caron at their grocery store down the block. They also enjoyed time with other grandparents Clara (Hollen) and Sven Kvanbeck in Minneota MN, where Shirley learned to create Norwegian Lefse and make flat dumplings. During their school years, the family lived in Glendale CA, St. Paul MN, up north to Nevis (where Shirley got her first horse in 1951) and Park Rapids, before settling in the Minneapolis area.

Graduating from Osseo High School in 1955, Shirley spent two years at the Minnesota School of Business, earned her degree and launched a near 60-year career in accounting. She began as a bookkeeper with adding machines, large columnar tablets, lengthy journals and books, then easily transitioned from manual to electronic typewriters, calculators, the booming computer-age with ever-changing technologies, complex accounting programs and the voluminous reporting she provided over the decades for varied businesses. With a dedicated performance ethic, Shirley was a hard worker, loyal, dependable, highly praised and appreciated by her employers who generally became her good friends!

Married in 1956 to Bob Nelson, she cherished her four children, two boys and two girls; they had a custom home built in New Hope MN and Shirley continued to work full time. Wanting to keep active, her many hobbies included bowling, volleyball, softball, snowmobiling and water skiing. Each summer, our family enjoyed nature hikes, collecting wild berries, swimming, boating and other lake activities with her extended family at the cabins on the Cross Lake chain of lakes. While winter vacations were always spent Up North on day-long snowmobile rides with the kids, other family and friends, Shirley began to compete successfully racing snowmobiles around oval tracks against men in the Twin Cities area.

Upon relocating to the rural Annandale MN area in 1972 for part-time farming, her connection with and passion for horses blossomed another major pastime for Shirley and her two daughters. Each and every horse, dog and the many cats were valued by our family, we also did gardening, canning, raised chickens, cows and pigs. A true highlight was the start of our 32-year love affair with our palomino Appaloosa Rusty Dazon; he was born on the farm, with help from friends, captured and tamed over time by us three girls. Rusty was eventually trained and ridden many, many miles by Shirley, nearly every female in the family, and countless others who relished his smooth, fast trot. In 1990 Shirley assisted with relocating Rusty and his friend to Colorado, spending the remainder of his time with daughter JoAnn and the various other family horses moved between Minnesota and Colorado over the years.

Her strong competitive nature would not keep Shirley Nelson from the snowmobile racing circuit in the late 1970s and early 1980s. With assistance from members of the Annandale Snowmobile Club, SkiDoo and other sponsors, she participated areawide in regular racing competitions cross-country and the frozen lakes, including the Mille Lacs 500 and the Annandale 150 events. As a fierce competitor, Shirl made quite a name for herself racing primarily against men, she was respected by many and heartily supported by her fellow racing peers each season. Shirley was an avid Minnesota Vikings football fanatic; she rarely missed a game, thrived on opportunities to attend in person, and the NFL package on satellite tv was a must when she later left the State.

Shirley was married to Jim Donaghue in 1979, they relocated from Annandale to the farm near Clearwater in 1983. Country living was the life for her, she happily resided, tended her horses daily, grew the herd, and worked full time in Elk River. In addition, she was blessed to become the proud grandmother of four beautiful girls born to her daughter Julie. Grandma was a title she wore well; the girls greatly enjoyed time with her, learning to bake and cook, create Lefse, the care and love of horses, their gymnastics, and the horseback riding lessons she generously provided.

Her investments into her equine hobby farm became the amazing challenges and joys of competitive, cross-country endurance horse racing, and where Shirley discovered her most loved passion. Traveling sometimes great distances around the entire Midwest and beyond with her eldest two granddaughters Jessi and Kristi (starting at ages 8 & 6), driving a diesel pickup hauling the trailer with 3-4 horses, all necessary food, clothing, saddles, tack, and supplies. Shirley Donaghue and her girls competed successfully for many seasons with the Minnesota Distance Riding Association, the Upper Midwest Endurance and Competitive Riding Association, as well as participation in several Race of Champions, other events in Canada, California, Montana, Wyoming, Utah, Colorado, and in the Grand Canyon area of Arizona.

Desiring a longer season for horseback riding and competitions, Shirley began looking for acreage in western Colorado and purchased her first of two adjoining parcels near Rifle in 1998. Over the next years, trees were planted, two large barns built, and countless trips to move horses, cats, dogs, tractors, and everything to her Rocky Mountain retreat. In December 2000, the final trip with belongings was made by son Jerry and the life-long Minnesotans settled in town while Shirley's walkout dream home was constructed overlooking the city, the Roan Plateau and the Bookcliffs.

Shirley treasured her time on Taughgenbaugh Mesa; horseback riding into the mountains directly from home to condition horses, taking walks with her dogs, caring for her cats, gathering eggs from the chickens, watching fireworks from her deck on the 4th of July, meeting her neighbors, making new friends. While learning another equine riding circuit with more strenuous trails, Granddaughter Carrie also competed with her some in the West. While it became necessary to cutback from the 100-mile endurance races, she limited herself to mere 50-mile rides until her equine career ended in 2010 at age 72. She very much enjoyed her retirement, still caring for horses, she did lots of reading, resting, yet she still always found something that needed doing or a neighbor to help.

Unfortunately, our energizer bunny was diagnosed with Alzheimers dementia in 2014 and such began the decline into "the disease of the long goodbye." With heavy hearts, we relocated Shirley from Rifle CO in 2019; her last three horses and personal belongings were distributed, her beautiful home and property were prepared, sold quickly, and everything moved.

Residing primarily with her daughter JoAnn near DeBeque CO the past few years, Shirley remained content and active with walks outside nearly every day to see her horses. She enjoyed going for scenic drives, listening to music of any kind (Neil Diamond was her favorite), watching movies about horses, other animals, and old Westerns with The Duke, Kirk Douglas, Rock Hudson, Clark Gable, Audie Murphy, other handsome heroes and gorgeous dames. We laughed every time and truly admired Katharine Hepburn's grit in Rooster Cogburn, so similar to Shirley's own perseverance!

Shirley spent some time socializing, residing on occasion in assisted living care centers. While she did enjoy the outdoor patios, waving at the cars passing by, some of the group games, activities, special music events and bus tours, she insisted and preferred to be with family. Due to her health decline and the Covid pandemic the past years, Shirley primarily stayed close to home or rarely left the vehicle on outings, we had few visitors and life with dementia proved challenging for her family during this time.

Shirley Jean was preceded in death by her father and mother, her eldest son Gary Nelson, ex-husband Jim and stepsons, Pat and Sean Donaghue, her son-in-law Gene Vinkemeier and her dear granddaughter Holly Jo Vinkemeier.

Survivors include her brother Robert (Joyce) Kvanbeck of Marana AZ, sisters Kathryn Vermeer, St. Paul MN, and Genie (Bobo) Stelnicki, Chicago IL; her son Jerry Nelson and daughter Julie Nelson Vinkemeier, both from Rifle CO area, and daughter JoAnn Nelson-Turner, DeBeque CO, son-in-law Joseph Turner; her three granddaughters Jessi (Landon) Lipponen, Annandale MN, Kristin (Kristopher) Mertens, Zimmerman MN, Carrie Vinkemeier (Josh Snyder) Aspen CO, and four great grandsons, Charlie Wicks, William Lipponen, Samuel Lipponen and Jack Lipponen all of Annandale MN. She is also survived by some cousins, nieces and nephews, three stepchildren with more grandchildren and her many friends. Our family is most grateful to all who shared with us in her rich, full life!

Brown's Funeral Services of Grand Junction, Colorado, provided assistance and cremation has taken place. Our family plans to have informal Celebrations of Shirley's Life both in Minnesota and Rifle, Colorado late spring or summer (please notify the family for participation, with suggestions, or for updates on those plans).

Memorial contributions in Shirley's honor may be provided to the equine rescue group of your choice to continue the legacy for horse lovers everywhere!

“In the end, it’s not the Years that count, it’s the Life in your Years” - Abraham Lincoln

To order memorial trees or send flowers to the family in memory of Shirley Donaghue, please visit our flower store.


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