‘Our Community Feels Smaller:’ Donna Karvia Dies at 78, Ending Life of Service


Donna Karvia, a former Lewis County clerk who gained the admiration and appreciation of her community for her longtime volunteering and public service, died of cancer while surrounded by family at her home in Chehalis Monday. She was 78. 

Karvia, who earlier this month was recognized as The Chronicle’s Person of the Year, is survived by her husband, John, and three sons, Mike, Jack and Patrick. 

"Our community feels smaller knowing she's no longer with us," the Rev. Alta Smith said upon hearing the news of Karvia's death Monday. 

Karvia was known for numerous roles in the community, from her current standing as a board member for the Human Response Network and active membership of local Sertoma and Soroptimist groups, to her work as an elected official from 1984 to 1999. Since returning to Lewis County with her husband John, a former Chehalis police officer, in the 1960s, she’s been involved with dozens of nonprofits and community efforts. 

“Donna, over the years, has established a network of people who know, love and respect her, so when you need to find out something, just call Donna and she will hook you up with the right person,” United Way of Lewis County Executive Director Debbie Campbell told The Chronicle earlier this month. 

Comments from other community members poured in on The Chronicle’s social media forums after news of Karvia’s death was published Monday. 

“Your legacy is a long one dear lady,” wrote Tracey Lowery. “The changes you helped to establish will serve this community well for many years. I am proud to have called you friend for more than 25 years. You will be missed, but not forgotten!”

“There are some people in every community that are the ones we go to for everything, friendship, information, guidance and just that listening ear,” wrote Judy Guenther. “Well, one of ours was Donna. What a inspirational lady she was and the lady truly will be missed.”

“We at the Human Response Network were profoundly saddened to be informed today of Donna Karvia’s passing,” HRN posted to its Facebook page. “She was so special to us and so much of Donna can be seen in HRN. Knowing Donna and inspired by her strength and resolve, we will continue to provide the excellent victim services without pause that Donna worked so hard to establish. She will be missed, but always present.”

Donna Karvia was born in Eckley, Colorado. Her arrival in Lewis County came after previous stops with her family in Baker City and La Grande, Oregon. Her father settled on Winlock after searching for an environment where Karvia’s mother, who suffered from asthma, felt comfortable and relatively healthy.

Karvia graduated from Winlock High School. She later met her husband, John, on a blind date. The two married and moved to Pullman where they started a family as Donna Karvia worked for the WSU Extension and her husband was employed with the city’s police department. 

She returned to Lewis County where she raised her family and made a life just one block away from W.F. West High School. In 1969, she went to work for Lewis County in the district court offices. She rose through the ranks, and was appointed to the elected county clerk post in 1984. She retired in 1999, and was proud of her three decades of public service. 

That’s when her volunteering accelerated in earnest.

Dr. Isaac Pope requested her assistance as a grant administrator for a three-year, six-county project through the University of Washington to document services for children with special needs. 

After that, a committee was formed to develop a plan to bring community health services to Lewis County beyond the offerings of Providence Centralia Hospital to assist members of the area with low or limited incomes. That pursuit has been one of great success, with the Valley View Health Center offering facilities and services at an expanded rate.

She served on the Centralia College Foundation for 20 years.

In an interview with The Chronicle in early January, she noted that her current “labors of love” were the Youth Advocacy Center and the Human Response Network. 

As a public official, she supported alternative sentencing and innovation in the court system, noting the success of Drug Court and mental health alternatives that allow addicts and the mentally ill an option other than incarceration. 

She told The Chronicle she still frequently heard from residents impacted by her work as the county clerk, a time she also served as president of the Washington State Clerks Association and the Washington Association of County Officials.

She developed a strong set of beliefs that guided her work as a volunteer and public servant.

“To protect our orderly society we must have rules,” she said. “The rules of our faith, nation, state, county and city. In addition, I believe we need what I call the ‘rules of oughtness’ — we ought to say ‘please,’ ‘thank you,’ ‘good job’ and ‘you make a difference.’”

In her final interview with The Chronicle, she spoke about the future and the need for others to step up and fill the roles currently held by older volunteers and community leaders. 

“Let’s be thinking about who will be coming up next,” she said. 

A friend of the family told The Chronicle that while the family appreciates condolences from those Karvia impacted through her volunteering and public service, they are asking for privacy at this time. Services will be announced at a later date.