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Donna Marie Gaunt

Updated: Apr 20, 2023



In the quiet early morning hours of April 14th, 2023, Donna left this life to join so many friends and family who went before her. Her pain is gone, and her soul is finally at peace.


Born on January 11th, 1969, in Waterloo Iowa, Donna was the only child of Robert (Bob) Hesse and Sandra (Sandy) Reisner. She often told of fond memories of her years growing up in Waterloo with so many close friends and family. Memories of watching her dad race dirt track cars, “helping” in the pits, and even learning how to drive by running hot laps for him never got old. Never one to be told that certain things were off limits to girls she learned to weld, run snow mobiles, drive a stick, and even plow snow. In 1987 she graduated from Waterloo West High School and from there went on to Iowa State University.


In the summer of 1993 Donna chose to leave Iowa and move to the Twin Cities with her best friend, Michael Gaunt. While there, the two married and started a lifetime of memories. She made so many friends and had so many great adventures during the time she lived there. While she loved hiking the nature trails throughout the Twin Cities, she was particularly fond of the times spent up on the North Shore of Lake Superior. And she always looked forward to volunteering with the Minnesota Herpetological Society at the Renaissance Festival. She never failed to look amazing in her fitted dresses with a large snake draped casually around her shoulders.


Returning to Iowa in 1999, she built a life in West Des Moines that would evolve and flourish until her death. Donna always said she wanted to take trips and experience adventures before having kids, and that’s exactly what she did. Becoming SCUBA certified and taking numerous dive trips throughout the Caribbean was one of her greatest thrills.


While she had so many great experiences, nothing compared to raising her two amazing sons, David and Ian. After leaving her corporate job, Donna spent time as a stay-at-home mom and eventually began working at Hillside Elementary as a Special Ed Associate. This flexibility allowed her even more time attending their activities and spending valuable time together. As the boys got older, she moved from Hillside Elementary to Valley Southwood High School and eventually to her job as the Principal’s Secretary at Valley High School. She loved being in the same school as her sons as well as cheering them on at their various events.


She accomplished so much, and she left this world far too young. During her life she gave her heart and soul to so many different things. She never shied away from a challenge and can be remembered in many different ways: runner, karate black belt, mountain climber who hiked five 14ers, adventurist, SCUBA diver, devourer of books, kayaker, paddleboarder, certified yoga instructor, nature lover…but most importantly of all, mom.


Donna was preceded in death by numerous family members and friends who were also affected by cancer. Left to cherish her memory are her sons David and Ian, her dad, her mom, her extended family of aunts, uncles, and cousins, and uncountable friends and acquaintances. A very special thank you to her dear friends, Mark and Brooke. You were with her during her darkest times, and you gave her immeasurable comfort during her final months. Your selfless acts and time spent around the clock with her at the hospital meant more to her than any material thing ever could.


In lieu of flowers, please consider any of the following ways to honor her memory in your own way: plant some flowers, run a 5K, read a book, donate to the local animal shelter, volunteer your time, or simply sit quietly with a friend and share some of her favorite music.


A Celebration of Life service will be held on Saturday, April 22nd at 1:00pm in the Valley High School Fieldhouse Gymnasium, 3650 Woodland Avenue, West Des Moines. Please use the main/north front door entrance to the school. A reception will immediately follow the service in the Valley High School Cafeteria. A smaller service will be held in Waterloo, Iowa on April 29th. Additional details to follow.

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