In Memory

Donna Smith

I hope this message finds you happy, doing great and enjoy Life! I don't know if you remember me, my name is Diane Tenney, and once upon a time, a thousand or so light years ago, you and I attend Longfellow School and Walter F. Dexter Junior High School together. I'm also pretty sure we were in the same Girl Scout troop. - I was the tall girl with brown hair, who grew up on the same street as Janet Hildebrand, Janet Wiita, Judy Britton and Tina Stanley - on Floral Drive, one block up from Beverly Blvd.

As you are the Chairman of the Whittier High School Class of 1968 - 40th Reunion, I am writing you to ask a personal favor. Although I did not attend Whittier High School, (I gradated from Cal-Hi in 1968), many of my elementary and junior high school friends did attend Whittier High......including one very special friend, by the name of ....Donna Lynn Smith. Donna was my very best and dearest friend for 41 years, since we met the first week of school at Dexter in September 1963. It is with great sadness that I share with you, Donna is one of Whittier High Class of 1968's "fallen comrades". Donna passed away on February 15, 2004, in Truckee, CA, where she had made her home for over 28 years. If , as part of your 40th Reunion Celebration, you will be honoring those individuals from your graduating class who are no longer with us, I respectfully ask that you honor my dear friend, Donna, in your memorial tribute.

I don't know if you know this, but after graduation from high school, Donna had her name legally changed in 1970, when her Mother was remarried. Donna, who grew up barely knowing her biological father, became very close to her step-father, and as it turned out, Donna's step-Dad decided to legally adopted both Donna and her younger brother. At the time however, instead of going to court and changing only her "last" name, Donna elected to legally change her entire name --- to Amber Nicole Gavrich.

Consequently, it took all of us here in Whittier who had grown up with and were close to Donna, a long period of time before we began calling her by the name of "Amber" instead of "Donna". As her best friend, I can remember quite well, that it took my Mom probably 10 years to stop calling her Donna, as she was like another daughter to my family, and she had always been "Donna".

In 1976, Donna, or should I say Amber, relocated to Truckee, CA near Lake Tahoe, shortly after being married to her second husband, Ron Klein. Upon moving to Northern California, with her charismatic big smile and warm personality, (Donna) began making new friends and acquaintances everywhere she went, who, of course, only knew her as, Amber.

As her parents and I continued lived in Whittier, it was Amber who would travel down for visits during the next several years. It wasn't until1983, until I drove up to visit Amber that I realized the significance of her name change. While visiting her in Truckee, I was taken back by the fact that everyone who met her in public, called her Amber. I even made the mistake, while speaking to some of her friends in Truckee, of casually saying things like , "Oh Donna knows.....", or "Donna and I.....", and these folks looked at me as if I were "nuts" -- and asked "who"???? --"Donna who" ??? It finally dawned on me, that these nice people never knew (Donna) as "Donna", they only knew her as "Amber".

Now, I don't know about you, but I have to admit, I've never known anyone who has ever change their entire name before, voluntarily. I mean, we ladies change our names when we get married -- (well, I did it twice, however on the third marriage, 11 years ago, I opted to keep my maiden name). And I have known folks who after being given a nickname, spend the rest of their lives going by that nickname, or a middle name -- but never a whole new name. Yet Amber, did. An entire new name which she chose and she became. I love it! That was way she was. When she made her mind up to do something -- nothing would change this lovely Leo's bold and determined mind.

Few folks know this, but when Donna and I first met at Dexter, we were in the same gym class. Perhaps you may remember back in 1963, there was a slang saying going around of ... "How's your bod?" ---- In other words, "how are you?", or "how are you doing?". About that same time, right after the school year began in 1963, and just prior to his assassination, President John F. Kennedy decided to initiate a comprehensive testing program in all the elementary, junior high and high schools throughout the country, in an effort to test the athletic skills of students. Do you happen to remember this ? Each student was assigned to be on a team, and each team competed in a series of exercises from running, to playing sports, to tackling an obstacle course, -- kind of a modified boot camp, if you will.

Well, being that I was a rather tall, lanky teenager, I was successful in helping my team to score high on the challenges which involved running, since I was equipped with long legs. Another team member, Donna Smith, was just a little bittie gal, not even 5 foot tall, yet she could get down and scamper through those belly crawls of the obstacle course like no tomorrow. Their was another gal, in our gym class, her name escapes me just now other than her first name was Cathy. It was Cathy who was our team's motivator during these athletics marathons-- you know the one who yells the loudest to cheer the other teammates on during a competition. It was Cathy who begin yelling at me one day when I was running , "GO, Tenney Bod!" I laughed, and apparently so did the other classmates, because it caught on. Soon after, Cathy began calling me that everytime she saw me, she'd holler, "Hey Tenney Bod, how'z it goin'?" About this same time, Donna and I had "pal"-ed up and were becoming quite good buddies. Cathy, seeing us hanging out together, began calling Donna, "Smith Bod".

So there we were, the tall and short of it, the Mutt and Jeff pair of Dexter Junior High student body - "Tenney Bod and Smith Bod ". (Sounds dumb, I know, but we were only 12 & 13 years old!)

You've heard of Smith & Wesson....well, as the school year went on, the pair known as "Smith Bod" and "Tenney Bod" became as thick as thieves, getting into mischief every chance we could. Yet, the names, "Tenney Bod and Smith Bod ", just seems to be too long, too cumbersome ---too many words. So, we improvised, Donna became known as "Bod" and I too became known as "Bod". It became our nicknames for each other -- "Bod" and "Bod". And so it was cast in stone....for the next four decades, if Donna/Amber spoke of "Bod", everyone in her family, circle of friends, co-workers, associates, neighbors or colleagues knew exactly who she was talking about........Me.

And everytime I spoke of "Bod", everyone in my family and cascading repertoire of persons knew exactly who I was speaking of --- and that was Amber.

When we'd phone one another or when we would meet -- the resounding shrills of "Hey Bod" could be heard from far and wide, followed by much laughter and fun. --- Always there was fun! I believed we would grow old together, Bod and I, and that we would look back as old women at the life we had shared together -- the good times and the bad times, the paths we walked in, the ones only "we" knew we didn't. I never dreamed that one of us would one day not wake up.

The shrills are silenced now. I am never called by the name "Bod" any more. Only a handful of people are even still alive today who remember these two fun-loving silly young girls who grew up, inseparable, listening to the Beach Boys and Motown, while crusin' Bob's Big Boy and Whittier Blvd., and who had their own unique nicknames for each other. There is only a stillness, a quite calm, and an ocean full of memories....... of a bright and wonderful girl who became a beautiful, intelligent woman, whose delightful talents and vibrate spirit touched so many souls, who had the good fortune to knew and love her. A person who pored her heart out for the passions she lived for.....

Donna Lynn Smith, ......also known as.......Amber Nicole Gavrich,............ my Friend and all time Best "BOD" !

I miss her terribly!.......

Attached is a photo of Amber taken in Hawaii in 2000. It's one of her best -- as it truly captures the spirit of who she was. I will sincerely appreciate your thoughtfulness in sharing it with her fellow classmates.

Thank you for your courtesy and kind assistance. I wish you and the members of Whittier High Class of 1968 a wonderful and memorable 40th Reunion celebration.

Best Regards,

Diane Tenney