Donna Krzmarzick’s educational journey is not the story of a traditional four-year college experience. Instead, her story reflects the unique obstacles and challenges — as well as the triumphs and values – shared by many students who have made a home at St. Kate’s. Krzmarzick begins her story, as many Katies do, with the woman who launched her into the world: her mother.
Krzmarzick’s mother grew up on a farm, working hard to meet the needs of her family. The realities of long hours, heavy labor, and around-the-clock responsibilities kept Krzmarzick’s mother from school, and her husband-to-be dropped out for similar reasons before high school. However, when Krzmarzick’s mother did not enroll in high school, several nuns showed up at her family farm to convince her parents that she should continue her education. Their efforts were a success, and when Krzmarzick’s mother graduated, she did so as valedictorian. However, when it came to pursuing college, “my mother was not allowed to pursue her dream of further education,” said Krzmarzick, “but she became a strong advocate for all of her children to attend college.”
Growing up, Krzmarzick embraced her mother’s love of education, and her father humored Krzmarzick’s fascination with hospitals by sneaking her in to visit her mother after the birth of a younger sibling. The atmosphere of determination and the importance of the work taking place around her captivated Krzmarzick. “When I was in high school,” said Krzmarzick, “I decided I wanted to be a registered nurse and practice nursing in a hospital. St. Kate’s was my first choice because it was a Catholic women’s college with an excellent reputation.”
Unfortunately, the family was unable to afford the cost of tuition, so Krzmarzick enrolled in a three-year program at St. Mary’s School of Nursing (now a part of St. Catherine University). Upon graduation, she quickly proved her mettle in psychiatric nursing and began exploring the ranks of management. In the 1980s, Krzmarzick was named director of behavioral health at Metropolitan Medical Center. “Due to my desire to continue leading and influencing,” said Krzmarzick, “I decided to pursue further education in business. I enrolled in the weekend program at St. Kate’s, which was a perfect fit, and graduated in 1986 with a BA in Business Administration.” Then in her forties, Krzmarzick asked her parents if they would like to attend her graduation. Utterly delighted, they answered with a resounding yes. “My parents attended my graduation, and we were all very pleased that this dream came true,” said Krzmarzick.
“The St. Catherine University mission is important to me because I have embraced ‘educating women to lead and influence’ for most of my life,” said Krzmarzick. She carried that ethos forward throughout the remainder of her career, working for multiple hospitals in executive roles and serving as a mentor, leader, and representative on a hospital ethics committee.
After retiring in 2012, Krzmarzick began thinking about the University that had supported her goals as a Catholic woman committed to self-empowerment, excellence, and service. Like everything else in her life, Krzmarzick approached reconnecting to St. Kate’s with all she had: “In June 2012, I attended my 50th Reunion at St. Kate’s, which energized my goal to become more involved. I became a member of the President’s Forum, volunteered at the St. Kate’s booth during the State Fair, participated in Citizen Katie, and donated on Give to St. Kate’s Day.”
Not only did Krzmarzick reunite with the St. Catherine University community, but she began helping to build a future with more resources and support for St. Kate’s students experiencing barriers to education similar to those that Krzmarzick and her mother faced. “I became a member of the Alumnae Student Events Committee and the Alumnae Council, I participated in The Reflective Woman (TRW) lecture series, mentored nursing students, and attended multiple St. Kate’s events,” said Krzmarzick. “In 2017, I established a nursing scholarship for nursing students that is active to this day.”
Through her commitment and generosity, Krzmarzick has built for herself a vibrant community at St. Kate’s, as well as purpose-driven work to further her lifelong goal of supporting and encouraging women leaders through education. Her endowed scholarship for nursing students represents a symbolic closing to her own educational journey, from thwarted student to proud alumna giving back.
Her most personal philanthropic tie to St. Kate’s, however, did not come until her 60th Reunion celebration in 2022, where she attended a special session about LEAD & INFLUENCE: The Campaign for the Next Level of Excellence. Krzmarzick said, “I had a tour of Our Lady of Victory Chapel, and, since it is one of my favorite sites on campus, I was very interested in pursuing the opportunity to assist in its preservation.”
After the presentation, said Krzmarzick, “I met with Elizabeth Halloran, executive vice president and chief advancement officer, and I shared with her a story regarding reconnecting with my daughter who I gave up for adoption as a baby. I decided I wanted to purchase a window with my name and the renovation of a pew with her name. The light from my window will shine upon her pew, which will be a symbol of God’s gift to both of us.”
Through her gifts to the campaign, Krzmarzick’s personal and professional legacy will be built into the physical heart of St. Kate’s, the Chapel. This University has been many things to Krzmarzick throughout her lifetime, and she leaves an indelible mark on the people, culture, and campus that make up St. Catherine University. The nuns who chased her mother back to high school many decades ago could only dream of the shining example that Krzmarzick would become for women, healthcare leaders, and the largest Catholic women’s university in the nation.
“It has been a blessing to have the opportunity to give back,” said Krzmarzick, “as I treasure my education and experience at St. Kate’s. You will never regret giving to the University, as it reinforces the importance of educating women to lead and influence.”
To Krzmarzick – a true leader and influencer, and a Katie through and through — all we can say is thank you.