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Donna J. Colbow Perras; 1954-2013: Harbor House leader sought to aid women




Donna J. Colbow Perras, who as executive director of Harbor House in Toledo helped bring safe shelter — and self-confidence — to women who were homeless or in other difficult straits, died Tuesday in her Point Place home. She was 59.

She had metastatic colon cancer, said Diane Dixon, a friend for more than 36 years.

Ms. Perras fought for women “so they could fight for themselves,” said her stepdaughter Tracy Colbow Lewis.

The Harbor House program is rigorous, Ms. Perras told The Blade in 2009, involving chores, a behavioral code, and 12-step meetings.

“We help women reclaim their lives,” Ms. Perras said then.

She had become Harbor House executive director in 2007, capping a career largely spent with nonprofit groups.

“It was a wonderful fit,” said Ms. Dixon, American Red Cross director of volunteer services for northwest Ohio. They met when Ms. Perras went to work as a public relations administrative assistant for the Red Cross.

While employed by the Toledo Area Humane Society, Ms. Perras became a dog-rescue volunteer. She had six shelties and was active in the northeast Ohio sheltie rescue group. She also worked for the northwest Ohio affiliates of Easter Seals and Big Brothers Big Sisters, and was marketing and fund development director for the Girl Scouts' Maumee Valley Council.

Born Sept. 15, 1954, to Mary Lou and William Osberger, she was a graduate of Perrysburg High School and attended the University of Toledo and Spring Arbor College. An early job was with the family business, General Fire Sales Inc.

The late restaurateur Betty Timko was a friend and mentor, and Ms. Perras aspired to own her own place. She opened a Salad Galley franchise on St. Clair Street during the mid-2000s, but it fell victim to a slipping downtown economy and closed in 2007, Ms. Dixon said.

Ms. Perras called her group of friends “Donna’s Village.”

“Her house was always a place you could go to have a meal and laugh,” Ms. Dixon said. “She took care of us.”

During her illness, friends brought meals to her home, and it seemed she was still entertaining them.

“Everybody should have a friend like Donna,” Ms. Dixon said.

Or a stepmother like her.

“Donna had this indescribable quality,” said Ms. Lewis, who was about 7 years old when her father, Ronald Colbow, married Donna Osberger in the late 1970s. “She was warm and loving and nonjudgmental and caring. I have always felt completely enveloped by her and that continued. I adored her.”

The marriage to the late Mr. Colbow ended in divorce.

She and Dr. Albert Perras married April 30, 2004, but they’d been together for 15 years, Ms. Dixon said. He died April 18, 2005.

Surviving are her father and stepmother, William and Delores Osberger; sister, Theresa Jagodzinski; brothers, Jerry and Terry Osberger; stepsons, Doug and Craig Perras; stepdaughters, Kathy Perras, Trace Colbow Lewis, and Kate Colbow Wilcox; nine step-grandchildren, and three step-great-grandchildren.

Services will be at 11 a.m. Wednesday at Abundant Life Ministries, 8971 Lewis Ave., Temperance, where visitation will begin at 9 a.m.

Contact Mark Zaborney at: or 419-724-6182.

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