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Home Features Exclusives Donna Louise Corum - founder, visionary, friend

Donna Louise Corum - founder, visionary, friend

It is with deep sadness that we convey the passing of Bakersfield Magazine’s founder, Donna Corum. She passed from this life on April 23, 2009 following a long illness, and she leaves behind a loving family, countless friends, and thousands of readers.

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Donna started Bakersfield Magazine 26 years ago. Her ideas molded this magazine, her interests have been expressed within its pages, and her passion has kept it fresh and polished. She remained at the helm, guiding this publication as Co-Publisher and Editor until a few months before her death.

She was always excited to discover Kern County’s most extraordinary people, places, and things, then feature them in the magazine. It was her vision to publish a magazine that offered positive stories, noting that there were plenty of media sources to give you (bad) news. She understood that when people read for pleasure, they want to be left with a good feeling about how they’ve spent their time.

When it came to the magazine, Donna had an inborn instinct for what worked and what didn’t, whether it was editorial content or graphic design. But Donna also had a knack for business in general. It was a subject she found fascinating and she loved to hear about those who overcame great odds to succeed. She always wanted to learn more. Over the years, she met several people whose business acumen so impressed her that she would say, “I wish he could carry me around in his shirt pocket for awhile so I could learn from him.” Yet, she never seemed to realize the size of her own pockets and how many people she carried around with her who considered her to be their mentor.

Donna always recognized something special in the people she and Les hired to work at the magazine. If she saw a spark, she’d take a chance on those with less experience. She could often see in others what they failed to see in themselves. She always hoped to turn that spark into a roaring fire. Sometimes it worked out, sometimes it didn’t, but she never became jaded to the possibilities.

When she saw talent, she offered encouragement and opportunity. She challenged people to stretch their limits; she nurtured those who would put forth an effort; and she cheered their every success. Conversely, she had little time for those who wanted something for nothing or offered more excuses than effort. “Can’t” was simply not an acceptable word in her vocabulary.

Everyone who knew Donna can tell you of her passion for the magazine, but they are also aware that the most important thing in her life was family—especially her incredible 48-year marriage to Les. Not only did they beat the odds of those who marry young, but also the odds of those who work together. First with an advertising agency, then the magazine, they worked side-by-side for decades and still had things to talk about when the day was done. No one who came within their sphere could ever doubt their love for one another. Donna spoke often of how thankful she was to have Les in her life and how they had grown ever closer as the years progressed and her health began to deteriorate.

Through the years, many of Donna’s employees became friends, and friends often became “family.” She was fun to be around, had a wonderful wit, and unbelievable passion. In many ways she was the brightest star in her universe, but she was truly interested in the lives of others. If you shared something that you were excited about, she enthusiastically joined in your excitement. She was honestly happy to see her family and friends experience their own joys and successes.

Many people will tell you how she influenced their lives (several of these are shared in the following pages), but Donna had wonderful examples to follow in her mother and grandmother. She often spoke of her memories of both women—of their strengths and abilities, and the challenges they had to meet in life. She had particularly fond memories of her grandmother, who died when Donna was still an adolescent. It became apparent that her unlimited energy was inherited, when she recalled how her grandmother worked as a school principal, worked at the ranch (including making the noontime meals for the workers), and help found a local church. Her recollections were of a strong, formidable woman. I never saw a photograph of her grandmother, but always pictured her as an older version of Donna.

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She told similar stories of her mother, to whom she was extremely close. It was from her that Donna received the lessons that gave her such dignity and grace. In 20 years, the only time I saw Donna falter was when she lost her mother. It left a wound that never fully healed, but she found solace in her family, the magazine, and her garden.

Donna loved flowers and her gardens were always in bloom. She spent hours planning and planting her gardens. There was a time when it seemed as if she spent as much time in her garden and greenhouse as she did at her desk. She liked most everything that bloomed, but she treasured a rose Les gave her on an anniversary. When she moved, the rose went with her. Then she spent weeks hunting down the particular variety of tree-roses that she’d selected to line her front walk. In the final months of her life—when she could no longer spend time outdoors—Donna found comfort in the view of the flowers blooming in the garden she had so carefully crafted.

When Donna first fell ill, a decade ago, she quickly absorbed the shock, then faced the road ahead with incredible strength and unfaltering determination. She planned to do what had to be done then move on with her life. She had projects to finish, a magazine to publish, and a lot of living left to do. Long before her illness, she recognized that we are given a finite amount of time and energy and it is our decision how we use it. She chose to surround herself with positive people and things and not to dwell on the negative. She focused her time and energy on what she loved.

She worked at recovery and amazed the medical community (not to mention the rest of us) time and again with her ability to rebound. Donna refused to give up and she wouldn’t allow the medical community to give up either. She outlived medical predictions by at least three years, and she lived those years to the fullest of her ability. When the time finally came for her to let go, she did it on her terms with the same dignity and grace with which she’d lived her life.

Donna’s spirit lives on through her family and friends and within the pages of this magazine. She gave the community a wonderful gift of a high-quality city magazine. Remember her with each new issue. And think of her when the roses bloom.

—Janet Wheeler

Special Remembrances

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I had a treasured friendship with Donna for 47 years. If you were her friend, you were truly blessed.

Her joyfulness and sweetness always lifted me up. She was my sunshine. Her warm, engaging, magical way of listening to me, and others, always astonished me. She was direct, but positive, encouraging, and sympathetic.

Her gift of patience, stamina, and determination to see things grow resulted in her fabulous flower garden as well as the Bakersfield Magazine, which she and Les cultivated in their blossoming world together. What an incredible achievement!

In my spunky friend’s last weeks, she never complained; she still smiled and giggled with me. She was so courageous! What an awesome inspiration she has been to me.

I miss her terribly and will always cherish the wonderful memories we shared.

—Lynn Taber

Big round hazel eyes and 5’4” of absolute lady—that was pure dynamite!

Donna Corum put all her energy, heart, and soul into her dream: a quality magazine for Bakersfield. She first came through the doors of my life in 1983 to ask if I would join the team to build this magazine, which was then Panache. I was never happier than in those years I worked as her editor. Following that time we remained friends and I saw in Donna what a true businesswoman had to be made of to accomplish her goal. She knew the value of time—snatch, seize, and enjoy every moment. Open your mind, open your heart, open your arms—take it all in! Donna, I will miss you and our times together.

—Candus Houchin

I can honestly say that there are only a few people who have come into my life and changed it forever. One of those people was Donna Corum. I will be forever grateful for all she has taught me and for the many wonderful times we spent together. Moreover, I am deeply honored to have had the opportunity to have such a beautiful, caring person as a role model in my life.

Donna had such an enormous heart, filled with compassion and generosity, and the most unbelievable work ethic of anyone I have ever met, and she taught me by example; the only way to get what you want out of life is through blood, sweat, tears, and of course, passion!

She had a relentless perseverance and the ability to move forward regardless of what life dealt her. She never took shortcuts, and if there was an obstacle in her way, she would just leap right over it. And more importantly, she would always make sure others around her were well aware that they too could accomplish just as much, if they were willing to put forth the effort. To Donna, nothing was impossible. She stood wholeheartedly behind everything and everyone she believed in with an unmatched conviction, and because of this she has made our community a much better place.

I could always go to Donna when I needed to talk and it was always easy to listen to her, not only because of her wisdom and thoughtful words, but because she always found the positive side of things. She always made me and my family feel special with her unconditional love, friendship, and guidance. She was always there for us and spoiled us with her warm smile and laughter. She has left us with many wonderful memories of which we will be reminded of everyday.

Donna has graced my life in more ways than can be expressed and she will be missed more than words can say, but she has left me with a vision of a beautiful life and a beautiful lady.

—Lisa Crowley

How does one begin to describe Donna Corum? She was a woman with many sides to her and I was privileged to share some of them. She was strong, independent, proud, totally a lady, and had a wicked sense of humor. She was a successful businesswoman, friend, wife, parent, and grandparent. Our lively conversations from family to politics were some of my favorite times.

She was also so full of life, always maintaining her upbeat personality. I always looked forward to my time spent with her, as I knew I would come away with a smile on my face. She was truly a great lady—her grace and strength showing at all times. To watch her struggle with her health issues showed me how a classy lady goes through tough times. Always smiling and always a positive word to others. How blessed I am to have known her. I will truly miss you, my friend. God Bless.

—Diane Tifft

In my Walter Mitty-like imagination, Donna Corum was a maternal figure. She took a chance on me almost 10 years ago when I first moved to Bakersfield and my passion for writing outweighed my competency. Nonetheless, she gave me opportunities. The opportunity to write something that would make her feel good about signing a check. In the early years, those checks were critical to my comfort to say the least.

She was absolutely fearless in her opinions and criticism, and above all else honest.

I would know the instant she answered her home phone how she was feeling about me and my work. I called it the “Guy Test.” She would say “Hey, Guy.” And it was either in a warm and almost flirtatious tone that would make you want to walk through fire for her, or it was a no-nonsense and downward leaning inflection that would make you want to walk through fire to get away from her.

Either way, she made me a better writer and person because you had to be accountable to Donna. She would ask the tough questions, and she knew what she wanted. Because she was so firm and honest with me in not-so-fun times, I believed her when she told me I did a good job. I didn’t have to worry that she was blowing smoke, because that wasn’t her style. She had very genuine and natural reactions to things, so her approval really meant a lot to me. Folks like that are too few.

One of the biggest things she impressed upon me was the need to move forward in life and not excessively dwell. I called her after my own father died and we just talked about general things. I didn’t tell her he passed, I think I just wanted to talk to her and absorb some of that spunk and strength. I accomplished that, and even got her to remind me of the importance of moving forward. I wanted to hear her say it, and she did. Even though she was dealing with significant health problems, she was still moving forward; dreaming and making plans herself despite the roadblocks.

I will move forward, but I won’t forget that lesson.

—Francis Mayer

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Grieving is a curious thing—all cultures do it in ways unique to them.

What I have learned in 40 years is that people tend to grieve the way they live: some wail to the skies with heartbreaking passion while others stare blankly to the ground and say nothing.

And it seems that people seem to die in much the same way they lived: some with great exuberance and others with quiet dignity and grace.

What I have learned is that all these things are choices. Donna and I had far too few conversations since I’ve known her. But each had an element I will treasure each day: grace and dignity, passion and stubbornness. All choices that drove her forward and brought so many of us along for the ride.

—Miles Johnson

Donna never apologized for her sometimes brazen passion for life.

It was a passion for all that was good in her Bakersfield...a Bakersfield made up of family, friends, and just as prominently, her magazine. Through some twist of fate, I was lucky enough to not only meet this outspoken and outrageously creative woman, but to spend close to two years learning the ins and outs of magazine publishing at her side.

She taught me firstly, through example, that work doesn’t have to seem like work. As long as you are passionate about what you do, you’ll never spend a second clock-watching, she said. She saw something in me that made her want to tuck me under her wing and something that, up until recently, I thought was simply an elaborate mask I’d been able to paint on so that I might fit into the mold she had for an assistant editor. But Donna told me once she saw it as a true mirroring of the passion that she had, and the passion she sought to surround herself with. That conversation will stick with me forever.

She was a fierce leader and wonderful mentor because her attitude seemed to be: “It’s never truly finished, so keep working.”

I consider myself privileged to have known her—not only for what she’s done to guide me in an unexpected career, but for the confidence she gave me while I struggled (often) through the challenges of early adulthood—challenges that sometimes seemed too big to face. Even though all our conversations (eventually) turned to the magazine, she was generous enough with her precious time, even near the end, to mentor a displaced, overzealous, and foolhardy young woman. And I will cherish each lesson I learned from this remarkable woman who was taken from us all much too soon.

—Anika Henrikson

When it came to Bakersfield, Donna’s instincts were golden. She lived Bakersfield, loved Bakersfield, and had an innate sense of what belonged in Bakersfield’s city magazine. I have a notion that when people pass from this world to the next, they move on to the places that most captured their imaginations in life. I see some of us soaring with the ravens, others in the breeze caressing their gardens, and still others perching on Saturn’s ring to watch the wonders of the universe unfold. I know that Donna could climb to the Milky Way and out-dazzle the stars, but I doubt that she’d ever leave Kern County. More likely, she’ll continue to inspire us with story ideas and suggestions—not from afar but very, very close—ensuring that there’ll be a little of Donna in everything we write, on every page.

—Donna McCrohan Rosenthal

I will never forget my first meeting with Donna Corum. I responded to an advertisement for an Account Representative with the magazine. I met this “A” list woman and knew I didn’t stand a chance! I spent only 30 minutes with her, but I knew this woman could change my life, for the good. She was soft-spoken, direct, intelligent, and impressive. I wanted to be a sponge and to have her educate me in life and in business. I wondered what I had to offer her, Les, and the magazine.

Well, this is what I discovered. I was definitely taught the business, but oh my goodness, that beautiful lady took me under her wing and taught me so much more than I ever anticipated. Donna Corum knew about life! She spent personal time with me teaching me about myself, my appearance, my behavior, my mannerisms, until she had groomed me into a mature adult. It still amazes me that I didn’t see what she saw. Then she did something amazing, she let me spread my wings and fly. As we all know though, our first lady Donna was around every corner watching, making sure I was behaving. In my eyes Donna Corum deserves all of the credit for where I am in my professional and personal life.

I cherished our time with all of my heart.

I’m not sure what other people saw when they looked at Donna or spent time with her, but this is what I saw: I saw a woman that had climbed many mountains and has done it successfully. As many times as she may have been knocked down I am positive she came back 10 times stronger. Everyone loves her; her friends, her family, everyone. I think of her face and I smile. When she, Les, and I would have lunch we would share our stories and laugh until we cried. Donna was a true friend who loved me and was there for me. If I needed her because my day, week, month, or year was bad, she was a phone call away and as soon as I heard her voice, “You can do this Brenda,” it would comfort me. Donna cared so much about other people; she was so genuine.

I feel honored and privileged to be a part of her life, her family’s life, and the magazine’s life. Donna Corum truly took her finger and touched my heart as I know she did with many others in her life. I love you Donna. Thank you for loving me enough to make a difference in my life.

P.S. Les, I’m your project now, so don’t think you’re getting off easy!

—Brenda Farris

Donna Corum was a neighbor and dear friend of mine for the past six years. During this time I grew to know and love Donna deeply. No matter how many difficult situations she faced, she always had a smile for me when I walked in the door. I can still hear her voice saying, “Hey guy, you look great!” Her warmth and caring, in the face of adversity, was such an inspiration to me. The past two years I had the privilege of having dinner with Les and Donna and our neighbors, Jarrod and Heidi, every Wednesday night. This last year, Donna’s health had deteriorated quite a bit. Never once did I hear her complain. Even as I would sit and talk with her, she would be struggling to breath, but her concern was more about how I was doing than about how she was doing. Over the years I learned a lot from Donna, and I feel her passing is a terrible loss to this community and to me personally. Donna Corum had a big heart and exuded grace, wit, and charm...even during the most difficult days. Donna had a husband that loved her and cared for her every need. I cannot imagine the loss that he must be experiencing. As I recall my blessings, I will count knowing both Les and Donna Corum as a true blessing from God. I’m so thankful that our paths did cross.

—Greg Heyart

I’ve known Donna Corum since the ‘70s and it’s been a pleasure to watch both Donna and Les grow the magazine over the years! I always read Donna’s column first—I enjoyed her thoughts on the efforts that went into creating that particular issue. She shared her dreams and visions for the magazine—always creating new features and story lines that sometimes took years to mature. She was a talented editor and a great organizer. She could develop a story out of the most unseemly topic and make it fascinating!

Donna faced her illness with a strong will to live, putting up a valiant fight for a very long time. It was just a few months ago that I sat by Donna’s chair at her home office; her oxygen tank was next to her as we looked at photos on her computer, planning my ad for an upcoming issue. I admired her strength and fortitude and positive attitude so much! She was a great role model for many people! She was sweet and strong and an admirable woman, and she will be missed.

—Mary Christenson

When I moved back to Bakersfield two years ago, there were a handful of people I knew I needed to call during my first week back to get a pulse of what was happening in the community. One of those was Donna Corum. I had known Les and Donna Corum for well over a decade and have been amazed at the exceptional quality of their magazine, the Bakersfield Magazine.

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During my time with them, they welcomed me back with open arms and shared all the amazing happenings of the city with me. Thankfully, providence would have it that my wife, Heidi, and I would end up being neighbors with the Corums, with weekly dinners together just about every Wednesday.

During our time together, my love for Donna grew and grew. She was an amazing lady who never stopped thinking or strategizing. She is an awe-inspiring person who has left her mark on this city and me. Thank you, Donna, for always pushing me to be better and for getting me “out of the box.”

—Jarrod McNaughton

Donna was one of my biggest fans. Throughout my journey to get my Ph.D., she would send me messages of encouragement and support, always cheering me on. She found wonder and excitement in simple things, especially when it involved discovering something, or some place, new. The last time I spoke with Donna, she told me she had started to drive again. It was a bit tenuous at first but when she got onto Ming Avenue, she said “I floored it!”

Donna touched the lives of many people. To keep her spirit alive, I hope to pass on to others what she passed on to me. First, be someone’s biggest fan. Second, find wonder and excitement in simple things. And third, rediscover something you love...and floor it!

—David Lyman

We miss you Donna.

—Bakersfield Magazine Staff

Article appeared in our 26-2 Issue - June 2009