Immanuel Skilled Care Center resident Donna Mallery has been playing the piano for eighty-one years. It’s no surprise, because she comes from a musical family. When she was growing up in Minnesota, Donna’s entire family would gather around the piano while her mother played. By the time she was twelve, Donna had decided that she wanted to play, too, so she started taking lessons.
Donna grew up on a farm and is one of eleven children. Because she was born during the Great Depression, her family didn’t have much to spare for luxuries. Everything they had, they spent on necessities for the large family. One of Donna’s brothers even left home and joined the Civilian Conservation Corps to help the family out. Hard economic times didn’t stop the family from enjoying music. Often, they would sing together while Donna’s mother played the piano and sometimes, they would listen to the radio together.
At times, the radio played music, but at other times the family listened to the news, including news of World War II. Singing was one way they coped with the difficulties of war. While Donna’s father and some brothers were exempt from military service because they were farmers (farming was an exempt occupation), one of her brothers was a mechanic for the Navy Air Corps. As the radio informed them of the battles overseas, Donna’s family gathered around the piano and sang and prayed for peace.
As she grew up, Donna left this happy family to form a happy family of her own. At first, she headed to St. Paul, Minnesota, where she attended Bible College. She studied music as well as regular academic subjects. While she was there, she met and married Bob Mallery. Bob was a minister, and one of his first posts was in Savage, Montana (in the eastern part of the state). As time went on, Donna and Bob moved west, first to Columbia Falls and later to St. Ignatius, Shelby, and finally Plains, where Bob had his final ministerial post.
Donna and Bob eventually had five sons. Their family continues to grow; Donna has over forty grandchildren and a number of great-grandchildren and great-great-grandchildren (Bob passed away in 1990). As of this writing, Donna has over one hundred descendants! When they make music together—as they do at large gatherings—it’s quite the event. At their family reunions, they always have a piano and recording equipment available.
Though she can read music, Donna often prefers to play by ear. She’s also not afraid to put her own spin on familiar tunes and prefers “living music” or “active music.” “If I started playing ‘What a Friend We Have in Jesus,’ I might jazz it up a little bit,” she explains.
Music and worship are so important to Donna that when it became time for her to move out of her house, her sons chose Immanuel because of the emphasis our community places on both. Frequent musical performances by area groups mean there’s always something for Donna to listen to, and there are worship services and/or Bible studies at least twice every week. Immanuel and Donna really are a great fit. Donna still practices every day she can. She plays because music moves her. In conclusion, Donna sums up her love of music: “I just want to go over and play and enjoy myself. It’s part of my life. And it’s my way of worshipping the Lord, as well.”