Donna Terrell wanted to do something to honor her daughter, and she settled on something that could bring peace and comfort to others going through similar battles.
Queah Tacarr Habern died in 2011 after battling colon cancer for several years.
Terrell, evening co-anchor for Little Rock Fox affiliate KLRT-TV, bought wigs for cancer patients and donated money in Queah’s name to the American Cancer Society, but she wanted to do more.
“Queah and I had seen a sign saying they offered yoga to cancer patients and caregivers while we were waiting for some lab work at MD Anderson,” Terrell says. “Queah went back later for a class. I will never forget the day she called me and said, ‘Mom, I did yoga and it made me feel better.’”
Terrell founded Yoga Warriors, promoting the power of yoga to relieve stress and pain for people with chronic diseases, in 2013. The 501(c)(3) organization raises money for nutritional supplements for cancer patients and for yoga classes at CARTI.
Each spring since its inception, Yoga Warriors has held an event to allow everyone to experience the benefits of yoga at no cost.
“We just think if done right yoga can be beneficial to many, many people,” says Terrell, polished even with little makeup and in black yoga pants and a hoodie. “They can use it as a way to de-stress and to feel better and to clear their minds. It really is beneficial.”
Terrell is also on a mission to educate people, especially young people, about the symptoms of colon cancer.
Queah was misdiagnosed several times — her symptoms were initially chalked up to stress, then she was diagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome and later still with appendicitis — before doctors determined she had colon cancer when she was 27.
“They kept saying, ‘Oh, she’s too young,’” says Terrell, her feet tucked under her, her Russian Blue rescued cat, Vladimir, in her lap. “That was a common theme.”
Terrell was the one who broke the news to Queah that she had cancer. And it was she who cared for Queah through the last two years of her life.
“I thank God every single day that if I had to lose her that I was her caregiver, that I was the person who took care of her,” Terrell says.
Terrell grew up in tiny Albion, Mich.
“I lived pretty much in the same little ranch-style house until I left for college,” she says.
Her father, Rollo Terrell, worked in the Corning Glass factory; her mother, Bessie, was a cook and worked in a nursing home. Both were in their mid-40s when they adopted Terrell as an infant.
“I got pregnant in the 10th grade,” Terrell says. “I went to my mother, crying, because she always told me as a little girl that, ‘You’re going to go college.’ So I said to her, ‘Well, what about college?’ And she said, ‘Well, we’re all going to go to college.’”
“I thank God every single day that if I had to lose her that I was her caregiver, that I was the person who took care of her.”
First she had to get through high school. As her belly grew bigger, she became self-conscious.
“I just dropped out of school. I had no intention of going back and no one was telling me, ‘Oh, you need to get up and go to school,’” she says. “That lasted a whole two weeks.”
She was on the couch in her pajamas, watching The Price Is Right when the phone rang, and from her mother’s side of the conversation she knew it was about her. Her journalism teacher and her school counselor encouraged her to attend a regional program in the vocational education center.
“They bused me every day to this class where I could continue my 10th-grade education,” she says.
Queah was born in February, but Terrell had to finish out the year in the program. She asked permission to take business classes that were offered to older students at the center but was told she was too young.
“When she got back with me she said I was the only person at that point who had ever asked to do that,” she says. “They let me do it. I didn’t get any credit for it, but I felt normal for once and I did learn a little bit about business.”
She went back to her old high school for 11th and 12th grades and then left for Central Michigan University in Mount Pleasant, Mich., where she majored in broadcasting and cinematic arts. She did that as much for Queah as for herself.
“I had been 16 one whole week when she was born, and I knew I didn’t want to be a statistic,” she says. “I didn’t want to be that person that people expect you to be when you’re a teenager and pregnant.”
Her parents helped with Queah while she was in high school and her freshman year in college.
“We just put our pennies together and sent me to school that first year,” Terrell says.
She worked part time all the way through school. For her sophomore year, she qualified for a scholarship through Corning Glass.
“It was a game-changer, the fact that I was able to have this scholarship,” Terrell says.
CRAYONS AND COLLEGE
Terrell’s mother had enrolled in courses at a community college close to home and she was adamant that it was time for Terrell to take Queah, so Terrell moved into family housing on campus and found a daycare for Queah.
“I went there one day to pick her up, and I went at a time when they weren’t expecting me. I saw what I saw there and I was like, ‘Oh, my God, I can never bring my child here again,’” Terrell says. “I yanked her out of there and we never went back again.”
Sometimes friends on campus were willing to watch Queah, then 4, while Terrell went to class. Other times, Queah went to class with her.
“I put the fear of God in that child,” Terrell says. “She had no other choice though. I was like, ‘We get one shot, Queah. We get one shot at college. We’ve got to make this work.’ I didn’t ask my professors if I could bring her to class because my fear was that someone would say no and I didn’t have a whole lot of choices.”
Terrell once noticed that several students had turned to look at Queah, who was pretending to take notes with her crayon, like she saw everyone else in the class doing.
“I was so worried that she was doing something bad and there she was, she was taking it all in,” she says. “She was being adorable.”
Terrell struggled through her first job after graduation, promotions coordinator at a television station in Battle Creek, Mich. What she wanted to do was report the news.
“They told me I had no experience so I couldn’t do that,” she says. “I thought, ‘How am I going to get experience if nobody will give me experience?’”
Her supervisors agreed to let her shadow people in the newsroom and help out where needed.
“So when I would finish my 9-to-5 job, my regular job, I would go down there where the newsroom was and I would work down there for a while. I kept doing that over and over againuntilsomeonesaid…‘Now you have experience,’” she says.
Her first story was about Flower Fest in Kalamazoo, where she did her standup sitting in a flower bed. Later assignments were tougher.
“I had to come to the realization that if I didn’t understand the story, how would I make anybody else understand it? There were times when I was afraid to let the person I was interviewing know that I didn’t understand,” she says. “That was a challenge, and that became a source of contention with some of my colleagues who were like, ‘This is not working,’ and me trying every single day to make it work.”
There was no mentor in sight, and she struggled to learn the ropes on her own.
“There were many days that I felt like I went down like the Titanic,” she says. “In the newsroom I stayed strong — and at night I would call my mother and I would just explode.”
Five years after starting in Battle Creek, she got a job with a station in South Bend, Ind.
“I was so ready to be a reporter and that’s where I became an anchor,” she says. “It wasn’t like every day was a piece of cake. I mean, I have challenges today on the job, but there were very few things that could shake me to the core.”
After five years there, she moved to a bigger market — Cleveland — where she worked her way up from reporter to anchor before moving to another anchor position, this time in Detroit.
“My goal was to get back to Michigan and I did that,” she says. “By that time my parents were gone. A lot of my high school and college classmates and other family members were still around and they were able to see that I had come full circle and was a much different person when I came back.”
Sandra Twymon-Orr welcomed her back to Michigan.
“When we first met we were going into kindergarten,” says Twymon-Orr, of Southfield, Mich. “Her brother was dropping her off and he was trying to leave and she was not having it. She was running after that bike and not wanting him to go. I remember taking her hand and saying, ‘Don’t worry. I will take care of you.’”
The Detroit station eliminated its news department not long after she arrived.
“Little Rock, Arkansas, called me and said they wanted to launch news on Fox 16 and they said, ‘Would you be interested in being our main anchor?’” she says. “My parents were from the South — my mother from Mississippi, my dad from Georgia — so I knew about the South from their perspective, but I had never lived in the South.”
She visited to get a feel for the culture as much as for the job.
“I came to interview and I thinkIhadneverbeenanywhere where it was so crystal clear that they wanted me,” she says. “Everywhere I had been before, it was like, ‘We’ll let you know.’ They wanted me and it was just such an awesome feeling.”
Terrell moved to Little Rock in 2004.
“I signed a three-year contract and I said — to myself, not to them — ‘OK, I’m going to work there three years and then I’m going to leave,’” she says. “Now I’m into my 15th year. It’s just been the best job.
“That whole Southern hospitality thing that they talk about — it’s true. It’s really a thing. It was never like that in other places.”
Ed Trauschke became news director at Fox 16 in 2006.
“We worked together six years. She’s one of the favorite journalists I’ve worked with and I’ve been doing this 30 years. She’s very personable, she’s outgoing, she’s fun to be around and she’s a great journalist,” says Trauschke, now news director of CBS station WNCN in Raleigh, N.C. “She has that knack to give a human response to stories that very few people have.”
Trauschke offered Terrell flexibility when Queah was ill.
“I had used up all my vacation days, but I really wanted to take a trip somewhere. He said, ‘You’re going to take care of your daughter doesn’t sound like a vacation to me. Of course you can go,’” Terrell says.
Trauschke says Terrell’s professionalism didn’t waver.
“Despite being a primary caregiver of her daughter she would be there giving 110 percent, delivering the news each night,” he says. “In fact, around that time we were adding newscasts and Donna was the anchor of those newscasts. She did it — she really did it — and that is a testament to who she is as a person.”
Austin Kellerman, the current news director at Fox 16, played an integral part in the concept of Yoga Warriors.
“A few years ago we were just sitting around talking about bigger ways to kind of celebrate her daughter’s legacy,” Keller-man says.
Kellerman mentioned that yoga was catching on and the idea clicked. He has been to most of the Yoga Warriors events, including this year’s.
“There were family members of people who had lost loved ones to colon cancer,” Kellerman says. “It’s almost a celebratory event for them, just being there and feeling like they’re helping other people and kind of enhancing the legacy of the loved ones they’ve lost. On a nightly basis she has an impact through television screens, helping to update people and help them make informed decisions, but the face-to-face interaction and message and inspiration she’s able to give people, it’s just neat to see.”
There will be a second Yoga Warriors event this year, though details aren’t firmed up.
“Yoga Warriors has partnered with Rebel Kettle and we are going to be doing an event in the fall,” Terrell says.
Jean Block, who met Terrell in 2007, serves on the Yoga Warriors board.
“This year it blossomed into a full-fledged, concerted effort,” Block says of the Yoga Warriors.
Garver, a Little Rock-based engineering company, sponsored the organization, and T-shirts, baseball hats and yoga mats were sold to raise money. There was a social media campaign too.
Block, chief legal officer at Little Rock Wastewater, considers Terrell “a dear friend.”
“It would be easy to see Donna as nothing more than a local celebrity — but that doesn’t even begin to touch the person that she really is. She really has a genuine heart and she is one of the most real people you’ll ever meet,” she says. “Donna is led by love for her daughter.”
• DATE, PLACE OF BIRTH: Feb. 20, Ann Arbor, Mich.
• MY ALL-TIME FAVORITE BOOK IS: Everything I Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.
• IF I WERE STRANDED ON A DESERT ISLAND, THREE THINGS I WOULD WANT WITH ME: My cellphone and Wi-Fi access and some exercise equipment.
• SOMETHING FEW PEOPLE KNOW ABOUT ME: I dropped out of high school -- for two weeks.
• MY FAVORITE PLACE ON EARTH: Mykanos, Greece.
• MY MOST PRECIOUS CHILDHOOD MEMORY: Centers around home. My mother would cook dinner and we would eat it on the wooden picnic table in our backyard. It was such a treat.
• THE MEAL I LOVE MOST IS: Seafood, especially crab legs, sometimes with a baked potato. Queah used to make it for me. When I go to a restaurant that's what I get.
• I'M MOST COMFORTABLE: At home.
• THE FIVE PEOPLE I WOULD INVITE TO A FANTASY DINNER PARTY: My daughter Queah; Meghan, Duchess of Sussex; Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.; Steve Jobs and Serena Williams.
• I'M MOST PROUD OF: My daughter. Everything goes back to her. I'm proud of my career, I'm proud of the person that I've become, I'm proud that I've created this organization ... but there is nothing like being a mom and feeling like you were successful with that person.
• ONE WORD TO SUM ME UP: Determined.
“I had been 16 one whole week when she was born, and I knew I didn’t want to be a statistic. I didn’t want to be that person that people expect you to be when you’re a teenager and pregnant.”
High Profile on 07/08/2018
Print Headline: Donna Terrell