May 7, 1958 – Aug. 15, 2019
As a girl, Donna K. Finney-Brownschidle always carried a sketchbook.
In pen and ink, she made drawings of exotic cars for auto enthusiasts, portraits of children for their parents and sketches of houses for realtors and new homeowners.
She went on to become an award-winning industrial designer, creating primarily products for children.
For 30 years, she operated her own firm, where she was principal designer and consultant.
She died Aug. 15 in her Grand Island home after an 18-month battle with pancreatic cancer. She was 61.
Born in Schenectady, as a teen in Franklin Lakes, N.J., she won many tennis tournaments. She was captain of her state champion high school cheerleading team, her high school tennis team and her high school gymnastics team.
Discovering that there was no gymnastics team at the University of Notre Dame after she enrolled there, she started a club team to compete in interschool meets.
She graduated with honors from Notre Dame in 1980 with a bachelor of fine arts degree in industrial design and received Notre Dame’s Emil Jacques Silver Medal of Fine Arts for Excellence.
She came to Western New York to join Fisher-Price, specializing in soft goods, and was senior designer when she left in 1986 for a position with Playskool in Providence, R.I., where she was design director of juvenile products.
She returned to Buffalo in 1988 to marry Lee Brownschidle, a senior plant engineer at the General Motors Tonawanda Engine Plant, from whom she had rented a house in East Aurora. They lived in Orchard Park before moving in 1992 to Grand Island, within view of the Niagara River.
She started DKF Design, providing graphics, illustrations and design services for consumer products. She did designs for more than 70 baby food containers for Gerber, as well as soft-sided coolers for Arctic Circle, strollers for Gerry Baby Products and numerous child safety seats for automobiles.
Her illustrations appeared in Business New York magazine, Buffalo magazine and in many advertising campaigns. She retired in 2017.
When she expanded her artistic focus into pottery, she installed a wheel and kiln in her studio and crafted hand-painted ceramics, specialty tote bags and other fabric items. She sold them online and in retail stores locally and in Naples, Fla., where she and her husband had a condo for the past seven years.
She was featured in the Close to Home shops in Bon-Ton stores. In October 2016, Visit Buffalo Niagara named her Artisan of the Month.
On her Etsy.com page, she declared, “I am a product designer by trade, but I find my creative bliss working in the colors and textures of clay and fabrics.”
After college, she took up racquetball, competed in local leagues and won several championships. She enjoyed sailing and windsurfing in the summer and cross-country skiing in the winter. She also went sailing, bicycling and kayaking and was a volleyball player.
In addition to her husband, survivors include a daughter, Jessica Brownschidle; a son, Christopher Brownschidle; two sisters, Susan Blair and Patricia Nardone; and two brothers, Mike Finney and Kevin Finney.
A celebration of her life was held Aug. 19.