Danuta “Donna” Teresa Lange, who along with her husband, Walt, co-owned an award-winning Fulton County tree farm lauded by the state of Ohio as a model for others, died peacefully at her Swanton-area home on Saturday after more than a two-year battle with cancer. She was 77.
The couple established the Lange Tree Farm on 32 acres at their residence off Fulton County Road 3 in Swancreek Township in the early 1990s. Their efforts culminated with them being named the 2010 recipients of the Ohio Tree Farm of the Year award by the Ohio Tree Farm Committee, a state panel supported by the Ohio Forestry Association and the Ohio Department of Natural Resources’ forestry division. The following year, the couple also received the 2011 Regional Tree Farm of the Year award.
The panel said back in 2010 it was impressed by how Mrs. Lange and her husband helped spread the word about trees to so many people over the years, especially Boy Scouts and 4-H groups. Officials said their efforts were of particular importance to northwest Ohio, because of how many trees were felled in this part of the state decades ago as the region was clear-cut into farmland.
“Donna and Walt are true ambassadors of forest conservation,” David Lytle, who at the time was a state forester and chief of the Ohio DNR’s forestry division, said back in 2010. “Their dedication and hard work not only has benefited their land, but has inspired other landowners to realize the full potential of their woodlands.”
Mr. Lytle is now director of the U.S. Geological Survey’s Southwest Biological Science Center in Flagstaff, Ariz.
Mrs. Lange’s life was a fascinating rags-to-riches story that began with her family emigrating to the United States from her native Poland shortly after World War II when she was a little girl.
Born Sept. 3, 1940 in Reyszewo, Poland to Louis and Angela Posadny, Mrs. Lange was only 6 when her father — an American citizen taken to Poland by his father at age 15 — brought them to the United States in December of 1946 with her three sisters.
The family was featured in a Toledo Times article which stated how the only wish the four girls had for Christmas 1946 was to be reunited their mother and their two brothers, who were not at first allowed into the United States.
A little more than a year later, after a lengthy process involving officials from the former Soviet Union, the reunion occurred. It was the subject of a Jan. 22, 1948 story in The Blade.
The family started life anew in Toledo. The only English word Donna’s mother knew upon arriving in America was “safe,” according to The Blade article.
Poland was so tense during its war-torn years that even the mere sight of a lighted Christmas tree would have invited a visit from the Gestapo. Donna Lange’s father — who became a teacher in Poland before German occupation — feared he would be executed with many other teachers, priests, and Polish officials. His life was spared, but the Nazis seized all of the family’s assets. He was banned from teaching, and was forced to become a laborer to feed his family.
Mrs. Lange grew up to become a distinguished Libbey High School graduate. She was recognized as one of the top business education students and one of the Top 10 overall students in the Class of 1958. After graduation, she worked at Owens Illinois in the glass container-beverage division as an executive secretary, and continued to work there until retiring in 1967 to become a stay-at-home mother.
Walt said he met his future bride at Toledo Heights Library in March of 1958, when he was a University of Toledo sophomore studying mathematics and she was a Libbey High senior.
“We were an item from then on,” he said. “She was an attractive young lady with a beautiful smile. We just hit it off.”
The two supported their respective endeavors.
Mr. Lange went on to become a UT mathematics professor. His wife served as his typist for several business and consumer mathematics textbooks he authored. She continued to provide management and executive editorial and computer skills for him. According to Mr. Lange, the couple purchased one of the area’s first home computers in 1982.
“I don't know how to describe it: We just became a team,” Mr. Lange said. “She was just a fantastic lady.”
Mr. Lange said he came from a humble background himself. His father never finished eighth grade.
Still, his upbringing was nothing like his wife’s experience.
“I’ve been so blessed,” Mr. Lange said. “She came to this country with absolutely nothing. Her father worked three jobs to keep the family going. Her mother couldn't speak English. It was just an amazing journey.”
One of the couple’s daughers, Lisa Higginbotham, said her mother was the kind of person who “could make friends with someone in line at the grocery store.”
“She could serve a meal to a crowd on the spur of a moment,” she said.
Their other daughter, Denise Heban, said their mother served as band booster president and in many other roles when they were growing up but “never wanted to be in the spotlight.”
Mrs. Lange canned and preserved all kinds of food. Her homemade dill pickles were a favorite among relatives.
She enjoyed cooking, gardening, and doing crossword puzzles. She especially loved picking berries with her grandchildren, and walking with them in a section of Lange Tree Farm that is mostly pine trees, known as Piney Woods.
Mrs. Lange is a former secretary of the Ohio Tree Farm Committee, of which Mr. Lange also has been a member. She organized the state panel’s Tree Farm Silent Auction for years. The couple, which also served on the National Tree Farm Operating Committee, received the state group’s lifetime achievement award in 2015.
In addition, Mrs. Lange was active for years with the Fulton County Fair’s culinary department, and with the organization’s Junior Fair Board. She also served as an adviser for Swanton Handy Helpers 4-H Club, and served on the Fulton County Health Board from 1999 to 2005.
Survivors include her husband, Walt Lange; daughters Denise Heban and Lisa Higginbotham; five grandchildren; a sister, Mary Marker, and brothers John Posadny and Louis Posadny.
Visitation is from 3 to 8 p.m. Friday at Weigel Funeral Home, 204 Chestnut St., Swanton.
A Mass of Resurrection will be at 11 a.m. Saturday at St. Richard Catholic Church, 333 Brookside Dr., Swanton.
The family asks that any contributions be made to ProMedica Hospice or the St. Richard Memorial Tree Project.
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