Donna J. Risley, 88, of Owensboro, died Monday, July 29, 2019, at her home. She was born in Lubbock, Texas, on Feb. 4, 1931, and was the oldest of four children. She was a graduate of Leon High School in Tallahassee, Florida, and studied theater and drama at Florida State University. In 1951, she moved to Washington D.C., where she met her future husband, Ted.
In 1958, they moved to Owensboro, where Donna quickly fell in love with the city and spent the rest of her life promoting this city and all it has to offer. During her life, Donna worked for the Federal Bureau of Investigation; the United States Congress; the United States Courts; Theatre Workshop of Owensboro, where she served as the managing director; RiverPark Center and the Owensboro-Daviess County Tourist Commission.
Donna had a lengthy history of involvement in numerous civic organizations, including serving as past president or board chairman of Theatre Workshop of Owensboro; Owensboro Jr. Women’s Club; Honorable Order of Lady Kentucky Colonels; Kentucky Wesleyan College All-American Club (where she served as the first female president of the club); Cliff Hagan Boys and Girls Club and the Owensboro Panhellenic Association. She was a board member of RiverPark Seals; Owensboro Public Arts Commission; Owensboro Women’s Club; The Volunteer Center; Owensboro Concert Association; The Josiah Henson Project; The Alma Randolph Association; Owensboro Area Museum of Science and History and the Owensboro Rotary Club. She served as Daviess County Chair of the Kentucky Bicentennial Committee; Kentucky Chair of Gamma Phi Beta Sorority; was a founding member of Owensboro Impact 100 and was a member of the Leadership Owensboro Class of 1989. Donna was also a member of Wesleyan Heights United Methodist Church.
She was the recipient of several honors and recognitions, including “Owensboro Boss of the Year” in 1980, “Owensboro Volunteer of the Year” in 1992; “Leadership Owensboro Outstanding Alumni Award” in 1992; “Martha Laswell Award for Service to Youth” in 1985, 1996 and 2002; and “Commonwealth of Kentucky Arts Vision Award” in 1989. In 1989, she was presented a Key to the City of Owensboro and in 2004 she was named a Paul Harris Fellow by Rotary International. In 2015, she was an inaugural member of the Theater Workshop of Owensboro Wall of Fame.
Donna’s true passion was the performing arts and she was blessed to remain active in several forms for more than 75 years. She hosted a nightly radio show while in college, has been seen on TV, staged her own one-woman shows, and performed in more than 100 full stage theatrical productions. Donna was also very involved in the early 1960s in helping to bring Theatre Workshop of Owensboro to prominence in the community and its impact continues today.
She was preceded in death by her husband of 42 years, Theodore L. “Ted” Risley. Survivors include a daughter, Lisa Risley of Alexandria, Virginia; four sons, Kevin Risley (Jill Myers) of Houston, Michael Risley (Lynn Miller) of Louisville, Charles Risley (Heather) of Nashville and Anthony Risley (Dr. Carol Steele) of Knoxville, Tennessee; eight grandchildren; two great-grandchildren; two sisters, Phyllis Stephen and Karen Faulkner; and a brother, Frank Jolley III.
Services are at 2 p.m. Friday, Aug. 9, at Glenn Funeral Home and Crematory in Owensboro with a private entombment at Owensboro Memorial Garden following services. Visitation is from noon Friday until time of service.
In lieu of flowers the family requests that expressions of sympathy take the form of donations to Theatre Workshop of Owensboro, 407 W. Fifth St., Owensboro, KY 42301; RiverPark Center, 101 Daviess St., Owensboro, KY 42303 or the Cliff Hagan Boys and Girls Club, 3415 Buckland Square, Owensboro, KY 42301.
Memories and messages of condolence for the family of Donna Risley may be offered online at www.glenncares.com.