Donna Biddle died on February 24. She was my friend of almost 50 years. If my memory serves me, I first met Donna and her partner Phyllis Andersen at Lysistrata. Lysistrata played a large role in Donna’s life, especially after the feminist restaurant cooperative suffered a crisis due to IRS taxes. Before the fire that destroyed the building that housed Lysistrata, Donna volunteered her time and culinary talents by hosting TGIF Dinners (Thank Goddess It’s Friday) to help keep the doors open.
For years, Donna and Phyllis hosted gatherings for community members and friends at their home on Ski Lane. Years later, Donna designed the home she resided in at the end of her life with Phyllis, who supported Donna as her caregiver, companion, and much more.
Donna and I were members of a peer support group that met for 15 years and included some of our closest women friends in recovery. We met at least once a month and would retreat in Northern Wisconsin at our friend Elthea’s lakefront cottage on Perch Lake in Eagle River. Donna’s culinary skills would come into play again when she made her famous lasagna.
One outgrowth of our peer support group is we founded “The Orphans,” lesbian women, allies, and their families in recovery. We’d gather, often at Donna’s home, to share a Thanksgiving potluck or Easter dinner. As always, Donna was the welcoming and gracious host, opening her home. In addition to celebrating holidays, we’d go camping as a group at Peninsula State Park in Fish Creek in Door County.
I was honored to interview Donna for the UW Archives Oral History. Both Donna and Phyllis were early members of the LGBTQ+ community at UW-Madison, during a time that many people remained closeted.
I was also fortunate to travel with Donna to Indiana and visit the people and homes of her childhood. She shared a lot about those years and how they influenced her life; many experiences from which she needed to heal. Sharing that trip with her gave me firsthand insights into the person who was a close friend and a member of a recovery circle which made a profound difference in my life.
Lastly, people who knew and loved Donna, witnessed that she was accident prone, falling on ice, in her home, and once catching a line drive to her forehead while playing softball on A Room of One’s Own Bookstore’s women’s rec league. I was her driver to the ER that day, where she told stories while we waited for her to be seen. Donna was a natural storyteller, so we knew she was okay.
Recently, Donna suffered a number of health crises, so she’s now pain free. I’m grateful that Donna was an integral part of my life, and she will be missed, but not forgotten.