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Crystal Lake woman a lifelong giver

Published: Saturday, Feb. 22, 2014 5:30 a.m. CDT
(Sarah Nader – snader@shawmedia.com)
Donna Vestal of Crystal Lake poses for a portrait while volunteering at On Angels' Wings Pet Rescue and Thrift Store in Crystal Lake. Vestal is a cancer survivor and has dedicated her time to helping others deal with cancer and volunteering for animal and child-related causes.

On a list of people who could use some help, a 73-year-old woman who recently defeated two forms of breast cancer and is recovering from knee surgery seems to be an ideal choice to take the top spot.

But Donna Vestal is not on that list. She's crossing names off of it.

From the day she moved to Crystal Lake 30 years ago, Vestal has been helping people in the community any way she can. Today, her time is mostly spent volunteering for On Angels' Wings Pet Rescue and Thrift Store in Crystal Lake. She also supports the Lakeside Legacy Arts Park, Raue Center for the Arts, and Free Guitars for Future Stars, among other organizations.

"Both my husband and I have always believed in giving back to the community," Vestal said. "I love to help animals and children the most because they can't speak for themselves."

Vestal has been helping the Crystal Lake community for so long some of the places she used to volunteer at, such as the kitchen in the Crystal Lake Ambutal, no longer exist.

Vestal's giving spirit is not just limited to her own community. She served in the Navy as a secretary while her husband, Joe, served in the Marines Corps during the Korean War. Her daughter, Nicole, served in the Air Force for more than 20 years.

Giving always has been a family trait for Vestal, who grew up on a farm and had to help and be helped to finish all the daily tasks that needed to get done. It's there she developed the strong love for animals that keeps her cleaning cages or feeding pets waiting for adoption at On Angels' Wings.

"They say it takes a village to raise a child, but I think it also takes a village to save the animals," Vestal said. "I love animals, and it really doesn't take much to make a difference. Every dollar counts. You don't even need money to help."

Jeannette Schulz, founder of On Angels' Wings Pet Rescue and Thrift Store, said it is volunteers such as Vestal that allowed her to make her dream of leaving the corporate world and starting a nonprofit a reality.

Schulz said her organization has about 90 volunteers, with 10 of them working at any given time.

However, it is Vestal who Schulz leans on to take charge in her absence. The 30-plus years of volunteer work Vestal brings is invaluable, Schulz said.

"You know every Monday she is going to be here and spend hours and hours getting things priced and ready for sale," Schulz said. "She can pinpoint issues right away and resolve it. She handles customers and donors so beautifully. She can do it all."

Despite being diagnosed with two forms of breast cancer in October 2012 and assisting her husband of 52 years with his own cancer battle, Vestal said she plans on giving back as long as she is able, even if obstacles such as her recent knee surgery slow her down a step or two.

"I'm going to be 74 in April, but as long as I have the means to help people I will be helping people," she said.

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