Karen E. McDonnell, November 16, 1939 - October 9, 2020

Karen E. McDonnell
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Karen Elisabeth (Arntson) McDonnell, age 80, of Altoona, passed away peacefully at Azura Memory Care on Friday, October 9, 2020, with her family by her side. Naturally kind, curious and most concerned about others, she lived a life devoted to her family and faith. Karen had a beautiful smile and gentle warmth that put everyone at ease. She was universally beloved by family, friends and anyone new she met.

Karen was born November 16, 1939, in Valley City, N.D., the only daughter of E.M. “Arne” and Margaret “Marge” (Day) Arntson. She grew up in the small town of New Rockford, N.D., and regularly spent time with her maternal grandparents, who lived across the street, and her doting aunts, uncles and cousins.

Karen graduated from Rosary College (now Dominican University) in River Forest, Ill., in 1962 with a degree in speech. It was there she met the love of her life, William “Bill” McDonnell, a professional actor from Chicago. Bill visited Karen’s stagecraft class in February 1961, and after class, Karen came up and said, “It’s nice to meet you, Mr. McDonnell.” Bill picked up on that cue, and they began dating. They were engaged the following Christmas.

Karen and Bill were married on August 11, 1962, in New Rockford, and were soon joined by a son and two daughters. The family moved to Eau Claire in 1968, where Bill accepted a faculty position at UW-Eau Claire. She devoted herself to raising her three “kyds” for the next decade, then later enjoyed working as a Tupperware dealer, as an accounting assistant for Coca-Cola Bottling, and for several years at the Nelson Cheese store.

Karen and Bill were longtime members of Immaculate Conception Church, where she sang for 35+ years in the choir, served as a lector, and volunteered at the elementary school, as a library assistant and as a Girl Scout leader. Karen was active in the University Women’s Association (UWA) for four decades, including as UWA president, and enjoyed such UWA activities as foreign cookery, couples’ bridge, film discussion, stitchery, and book discussion groups. She and Bill were actively involved in National Marriage Encounter and Image Group programs.

Karen enjoyed gardening, bird-watching, cooking for family and friends, reading, and attending plays, films, and concerts. She was an attentive and loving mom and grandma, and always packed an apron when visiting her children’s homes. Most of all, she loved spending time with Bill; they fondly recounted their travels throughout the U.S. and to Ireland, England, and Scotland.

Karen is survived by her devoted husband of 58 years, Bill, son Sean (Britt) McDonnell, daughters Jean (David) Coatney and Colleen (Thaddeus) Brown; brother, Jon (Mary) Arntson; aunt Lucille (Day) Nathan; six grandchildren: Ryan and Lauren McDonnell, and Leslie, Kristen, Bryan, and Eddy Coatney; and numerous cousins, nephews and a niece.

Karen is preceded in death by her parents and daughter-in-law Joan (Anderson) McDonnell.

A funeral Mass and celebration of Karen’s life will take place at 11:30 a.m. on Saturday, October 17, 2020, at Immaculate Conception Catholic Church, 1712 Highland Ave, Eau Claire. Visitation will take place from 10 a.m. until the time of service at church. Committal service will take place immediately after the funeral at Calvary Catholic Cemetery in Eau Claire.

According to the restrictions and guidelines in place for the COVID-19 pandemic, masks are required while attending the visitation and funeral service, along with practicing social distancing.

To view the funeral Mass for Karen live online starting at 11:30 a.m., click or type in the following: https://tinyurl.com/karenfuneral

The family wishes to thank the staff of Azura Memory Care for their loving attentiveness to Karen. In lieu of flowers, the family requests that memorials for Karen be directed to the Alzheimer’s Association, the American Diabetes Association, Sojourner House in Eau Claire (c/o of Catholic Charities of La Crosse), or a charity of your choice.

Friends and family may offer condolences online at www.hulkefamilyfh.com.

Hulke Family Funeral Home & Cremation Services, 3209 Rudolph Road, Eau Claire, WI 54701 is assisting the family with the arrangements. 


  1. Julie Kopca Gentile October 18, 2020

    Dear Jean, Collen and Sean,
    I remember your mom with utmost fondness. She was one of the very kindest people I have known in my life. She always had a kind word and would help someone at the drop of the hat. I remember when you all got Bridgette the Beagle and Bridgette in the middle of the kitchen in her box. That dog had so much energy. Your mom had three kids and still got the dog for all of you. Your mom had even more energy than Bridgette. Your mom was a great role model not only for all of you but for our family as well. I send you my very deepest condolences. Your mom made a lasting impact on many people. Much love, Julie Kopca Gentile
    One more memory, I remember her driving with seatbelts in her car before we did. We all just piled in our car. When I got in your car, bam, seatbelts on. Again, ahead of her time and safety first! Your mom was amazing. Simply amazing.

  2. Elsa C October 18, 2020

    My deepest condolences to your whole family. We are keeping you all in our prayers. May God comfort you during this sad time. God bless you and your whole family.

  3. Alice and John Ridge October 17, 2020

    We were so sorry to read about Karen's passing. We do not go out much these days so we missed her funeral mass. I remember Karen's smile, positive attitude and kindness whenever we got together for social events when we were all working at UWEC. It seems that our University family and circle of friends are growing ever smaller.

    Warm regards,
    Alice and John

  4. Mick Candell / Mary Corneiller October 16, 2020

    Bill and Family,

    We are unable to attend the services for your wonderful wife/mother.
    Please know our hearts and prayers are with you during this difficult time
    She was such a great lady and so caring of everyone.
    We will miss her!

  5. Sheryl Rayome October 16, 2020

    Dear Bill and family
    My heart goes out to you. Karen will be dearly missed.
    In school Karen was my best friend. When we began our adult life we could call each other, even if we had not talked for ages, and pick up our conversation just like we had not missed a beat.

  6. Natalie Davis October 15, 2020

    Jean, I know I don’t have the right words, but I want you to know that I care and that you and your mom will be in my thoughts and prayers.

  7. Sister Lois Wedl, OSB October 14, 2020

    Oh, dear Bill . . . my dearest condolences. I have the fondest memories of the presence of the two of you at Elderhostel summer after summer. Not only were S. Mary Helene and I delighted to see you but so were many of the returnees. I know you will feel her loving presence from heaven because without a doubt she's smiling at both of us as I write this. My love, Sister Lois Wedl

  8. Corrine Carnivele Hanley October 14, 2020

    So many fond memories of Karen as a fellow Speech and Drama major at Rosary. Karen and Bill shared the stage in several theatrical productions and that started their blossoming love relationship. My husband Robert and I were pleased to share the luncheon table with them at Rosary's 50th reunion. Karen was a sweet, kind and gentle lady (lady in the true sense). We were blessed to know her.

  9. Teresa Rasti October 14, 2020

    Jean, my condolences to you and your family. Your mother was a lovely, caring woman. I know how hard it was to lose her, but you will always feel her near you.

  10. David FitzGerald October 14, 2020

    I was saddened to read of the passing of Karen and wanted to express my condolences to you and family. In these times of of social isolation due to the pandemic this is even more difficult without all the support you would normally receive from friends and family. Karen was a wonderful person and may keeping her close in your heart bring you comfort in these difficult times.
    Dave FitzGerald

  11. Darlin groom October 13, 2020

    Colleen I am deeply sorry for you and your family. Your mom sounds like the perfect mom and I know why you are so kind. You will miss her forever but you will have all the most wonderful memories. God bless you and your family.

  12. Mary Stalboerger and Family October 13, 2020

    Bill, Sean, Jean, and Colleen,
    I am so very sorry for your loss. I will always remember Karen as very soft spoken and kind. May God bless you all and comfort you through this difficult time.

  13. Niki and Richard October 13, 2020

    I loved your mom so much. She made me slippers. Colleen will understand what I’m referring to. Her soul has moved on to god but her spirit will always live in our hearts. All our love and prayers to the amazing family she had to leave behind. Niki and Richard

  14. Paula Jameson October 13, 2020

    After reading your mom's obit, I now know why you are a warm, caring, and intelligent woman; you had a mom and dad who exemplified those qualities every single day. My heart goes out to you and your family. My God give you some peace and surround you with His love during the difficult days ahead.

  15. Dave Arntson October 13, 2020

    You will be missed, Aunt Karen.

  16. Donna Bloemer Cash October 12, 2020

    Dear Bill and Family,

    So sorry to learn of Karen's passing. We had so much fun as roommates at Rosary College. We remained in contact and Karen always remembered to call me around my birthday time. May our thoughts and prayers as well as the wonderful memories you have give you strength at this sad time. My Mass on Saturday evening will be offered for Karen.

    God Bless,

  17. Gloria Adams Mills October 12, 2020

    My heartfelt condolences to you Bill and all of your family. Karen was my first roommate as a Freshman at Rosary College. Her kindness was obvious from the start. She regularly received packages from home in North Dakota, and the packing material was always popcorn. That popcorn was shared with me and any others who stopped by our room. To this day I cannot open a package without thinking of that. She will be missed by many.

  18. Dawn Ballard October 12, 2020

    There are no words. Jean, we all love you so much and you are in my thoughts constantly. My heart is with you and your family right now.

  19. Ken & Denise Klemisch October 12, 2020

    Dear, Bill and family,
    So sorry to hear of Karen's passing. You and your family are in our thoughts and prayers.

  20. Brian & Leanne Flynn October 12, 2020

    Bill, Sean, Jean, Colleen and grandchildren, we are so sorry to hear about the passing of Karen. She was a great lady, wife, grandmother and mother to all of you. I have many great memories of going over to your house and she always was very kind to everyone. We will continue to pray for her and all of you. May God Bless Karen and all of you.

  21. Shannon Day October 11, 2020

    Bill, Sean, Jean and Colleen- I am so very sorry for your loss. Thoughts and prayers for you at this difficult time.

  22. Colleen & Tom Garnevicus October 11, 2020

    Dear Bill and Family,

    Deb Anderson gave us the sad news after Mass last night. We are so sorry! Karen was a lovely and regal lady, a great choir member, always positive and charming, and a wonderful hostess. The meal she prepared when you two invited us to your home was amazing! I am glad we got to see you both in early March before quarantine. We will all miss her!

    Colleen and Tom

  23. Marilyn Bergmann October 11, 2020

    So sorry to hear about Karen. She always Seemed to have a smile, a kind word and positive energy. My condolences to the family.

  24. Kit, Galen, Katy, Amy and Sarah Schiefelbein October 10, 2020

    Dear McDonnell Family,
    Our deepest and most sincere sympathies to you all. We loved Karen so much. We always thought of her as one of the greatest mothers ever. She loved to take care of everyone around her. Whether it was a cookie or a kind word, she was there to add joy. We love you all and hope you are finding strength through being together and reminiscing about the great times through the years. With love, Kit, Galen, Katy, Amy and Sarah Schiefelbein