Texas mother of 13, grandma of 75, and great-grandmother of 120 celebrates 90th birthday
GATESVILLE, Texas (KWTX) - A Central Texas great-grandmother of 120 kids whose life has included a brush with a US president, riding a camel in Israel, sightseeing in Hawaii, and visiting 49 U.S. states, celebrated her 90th birthday over the weekend surrounded by generations of relatives who say the matriarch remains the pillar of the family.
Donna Crosby, who spent more than 50 years living in Gatesville until the passing of her husband, Russell, in 2011, is known to her family as “Grandma” and it’s a fitting name to many as she is the mother of 13, grandmother of 75 and great-grandmother of 120.
“I’m so thankful for grandma and the legacy of faith and family that she lived and that she modeled for us and continues to model for me and my children,’ said grandson Andrew Crosby, 39.
Crosby was one of 285 guests, mostly family, who gathered at Grace Bible Church in Gatesville Saturday to mark the milestone.
The family ate, visited, and even sang together, something Grandma’s family has been doing together for nearly a century.
Granddaughter Danie Beth Crosby, 35, traveled the farthest from Honolulu, Hawaii, where she is the Family & Communications Minister at the University Avenue Baptist Church.
Four-month old great-grandson, Ezra Timothy Parrish, was the youngest in attendance.
The celebration was a source of great pride and joy for a family who adores the 90-year-old.
Daughter Deborah is the eighth of Grandma’s 13 children.
“I can’t read Proverbs 31 without thinking of our mom, noble character, hard-working, amazing strength and endurance, speaks wisely to us with faithful instruction, clothed with dignity, always quotes scripture,” Deborah said. “She’s always humming a hymn or two.”
“Our mom is strong and resilient,” added son Timothy Crosby, 70. “She did everything necessary to raise us kids. She took care of our home, all the meals, washed all our clothes and most of what she cooked around our home was from scratch.”
Donna was a woman of humble beginnings.
She and her twin sister, Delores Ann, were born on April 28, 1932, to Eldon and Edna Riethmiller, in Mason, Michigan.
At age eight, Donna’s family moved to Greensburg, Pennsylvania, where she and her four sisters were raised.
Donna met her future husband, Russ Crosby, on the school bus the first day of seventh grade when Russ was a new student. He later told his mom on that first day “Oh momma, I’m gonna love this new school.”
Donna and Russ were married on September 5, 1950, and were together, and much in love, until his passing in 2011.
Russ told his wife when they married he wanted to have twelve sons. The first five were all boys.
“When we got married, my husband told me he wanted a dozen boys,” Donna laughed. “But I told him one time I thought he was only kidding, but I had five that way, but he loved all the children and wanted them all, too,” she said.
The Crosbys ultimately had nine sons and four daughters.
While raising such a large family came with its hardships, Donna said she never lost her focus.
“I put important stuff first and always was taking care of the children, that was the most important,” Donna said. “That was my priority that they were well taken care of before I did anything else.”
Grandma is revered by all as a woman of deep faith, and she’s made sure to pass those Christian beliefs onto the next generation.
“I learned many Psalms early in life, and then, when I would teach them to the children, it be so easy if you memorized them,” she said. “You’d know them yourself. Then you’d have them. I’d maybe be washing dishes and I’d have them recite to me a Psalm and they would learn Psalms.”
Donna’s faith never waivered with time.
When her children had 75 grandkids, she spoke of that same love of Jesus to them.
Grandson Benjamin Crosby, 39, says it’ll always be how he remembers her.
“Lots of memories about how she would lead and always putting God first, always quoting scripture and prayer,” Benjamin said.
Grandson Michael Westerfeld still loves hearing his grandmother’s stories.
“She lived closer to my family. It was just really great to be able to hang out with her and hear old stories about her and grandpa and when they were young and things and how different things were back then,” Michael said.
Donna has lived a full life in her 90 years.
While in Central Texas, Russ pastored a number of churches, including Canaan Baptist Church in Crawford, where President George W. Bush and First Lady Laura Bush attended services with the couple while Bush was in office.
Since 2011, when Russ passed away, Donna has not had a permanent home.
Her family says she let’s her “spirit of adventure in travel” help her decide which of her 13 kids to stay with and for how long.
In the past decade, she’s ridden a camel in Israel and traveled to Hawaii this past year.
She’s visited 49 of the 50 states.
As for her secret to, not only a long life, but a long legacy of love, Donna points to her faith and priorities and says to always remember age really is just a number.
“I don’t’ feel old at all. I just feel young,” she laughed. “Because of my family, I feel young. They make me feel young. They’re so good.”
Following her party, Grandma attended a pool party for the younger children in town.
She says she’s already planning her next big adventures with family.
“Oh, I’m leaving in June for two weeks to go home to Pennsylvania with Jon and Shirley. Then in September, I’m going to the beach at Gulf Shores, Alabama with Sam and Jan,” Donna said.
“Then, I’m going to talk somebody into taking me to Alaska, the only state of the USA that I’ve not visited.”
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