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Remembering Dona McCabe

One of O’Dowd’s most beloved teachers, Dona McCabe, passed away on March 28, after a lengthy battle with cancer. She was 68.

McCabe served at O’Dowd from 1974-2013, passionately sharing her “move it or lose it” philosophy with students and colleagues alike. “I hope I not only educate but demonstrate how moving in some way every day can help you to feel better physically and mentally throughout life,” she said in a 2011 interview.

McCabe taught physical education, health education, driver’s education, modern dance, aerobics, yoga, and even a computer course, at O’Dowd. She instructed boys as well as girls.

She also coached JV and varsity volleyball for 13 years, track for one year, and served as junior class moderator and cheerleader/moderator coach.

The impact McCabe had on students was profound. Hundreds of heartfelt tributes were posted on the O’Dowd Facebook page when her passing was announced.

Former O’Dowd principal Pam Shay said the O’Dowd community is a better place because of McCabe’s long, dedicated history of service at the school.

“I was privileged to be her principal at the time of her diagnosis and during the ups and downs that followed, including the illness of her beloved husband Bernie (who passed away in 2014). Dona fought her cancer with grace and a ‘this-is-not gonna-beat-me’ stubbornness that inspired gratitude for life and living in each of us. The last time I saw her, I was struck by the beauty of her smile and her great ability to seize every moment of life with tremendous faith,” Shay said.

“In the classroom, Dona modeled what every young person should be: healthy in mind and spirit and compassionate to all. I know that her students will fondly remember her no-nonsense, straightforward approach to physical education which, despite their complaints about changing into proper PE attire or running extra laps around the track or trying out a challenging yoga pose, provided the framework of her incredible concern for their well-being,” she said.

O’Dowd PE teacher Laurie Thirion ’93 says McCabe sparked her interest in health and fitness as a student, and that interest strengthened when they became colleagues and collaborated with one another on curriculum. “She really took me under her wing when I began teaching at O’Dowd.  I was young, it was my first teaching job, and she really went the extra mile with me. As a mentor, Dona shared her skills, knowledge and genuine passion for teaching. It is hard to put into words how grateful I am to have had Dona in my life. She was such an inspiration to me, her kindness unmatched, and she will always be remembered,” Thirion said.

O’Dowd social studies teacher Sharon Correia ’83 loved having McCabe as a teacher and colleague. “She had as much fun teaching us as we had in her class. She taught us to take our health and physical activity seriously and would always led us by her example. She was always sunshine and energy for every class, decked out in her sweats with her hair perfectly coiffed and her jewelry sparkling to match her smile,” Correia said. “My respect and admiration for Dona continued when she was my colleague. She continued to be a bright ray of sunlight and positive energy.”

Born in Merced County and raised in Angels Camp, California, McCabe earned a degree in physical education, along with a teaching credential, at Sacramento State College (now Sacramento State University).

She taught PE and seventh-grade math at Gustine Junior High School for one year before joining the O’Dowd staff in the fall of 1974.

At O’Dowd she was instrumental in developing the PE and health curriculum, advocated for equal opportunity and respect for girls sports, and was known for her ability to personally connect with students.

With such a long tenure at O’Dowd, it wasn’t unusual for McCabe to run across familiar names on her class rosters – the children of her former students.

Leslie Sims Robertson ’81 and her daughter, Jordan Gibbs ’09, both have fond memories of McCabe teaching them how to drive. “She was so patient and calm and just a nice person,” Robertson said.

Gibbs said she remembers how McCabe stressed the importance of protecting yourself from the sun in health class.

Katie Durkin Cronin ’80 and Emma Cronin ’13 also have fond memories of McCabe.

Emma appreciated how McCabe incorporated a different focus in her classes that included yoga and mindfulness.

Katie recalled her kindness and the way she encouraged a healthy lifestyle.

“I remember her always greeting us with a smile and teaching us the importance of eating healthy and encouraging us to stay active. She was always prepared to teach, kept us engaged, was fair, and oh so dedicated,” she said.

Private services are planned.


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