Linnea Donahue said she remembers the abuse starting when she was young.
A close relative was the abuser, and Donahue said the abuse was both psychological and physical. In a St. Louis Park home that Donahue described as fit for the show “Hoarders,” the relative once threw her across the living room and into a Christmas tree. Other times, Donahue said, the relative would hold her under water for long periods of time, or force food down her throat to the point where she’d throw up.
Because no criminal charges were ever filed and no arrests made, St. Louis Park Patch is not fully identifying the alleged abuser.
There were other times where Donahue and her three sisters were locked in their rooms, growing “weak and lethargic” as they lay in bed all day, she said. Donahue also remembers sexual abuse from another family member—facilitated by the close relative.
The abuse lessened as Donahue got older, and by her junior year in high school, the relative had moved away. But the scars remained, and from time to time during her adult life, Donahue would have vivid flashbacks.
“It was hell living through it, and re-experiencing it,” she said.
The low point came a little more than a year ago, when Donahue said she was close to suicide. This was also a turning point for Donahue, who said she “woke up.”
Instead of letting herself fall down, Donahue said she decided to help bring others up. The first order of business was re-booting the Parkettes, dance team that had folded years earlier. The team started practicing last May, and was on the field to cheer on the football team in the fall.
Next came T-shirts for charity. Using skills she learned in the retail world (Donahue retired from Target in April 2011), Donahue started making rhinestone shirts with the iconic Jack Jablonski circle logo, selling them at hockey games to raise money for the family’s foundation. Donahue also made shirts to support former Park baseball player Derrick Keller as he battled leukemia (Keller in June).
All of this giving back is part of Donahue’s healing process.
“I always wanted to do some good about what I went through, versus being a victim,” she said. “I’m motivated by helping others.”
By Donahue’s side has been her husband of 24 years, former St. Louis Park hockey coach Tim Donahue. Linnea said when she first started dating Tim, he was the first person she felt comfortable confiding in.
“He’s always been that type of boyfriend and husband,” she said.
Tim Donahue said he’s proud of how Linnea has dealt with the pain from her past.
“She’s never used it as a crutch. That’s what has impressed me most,” he said. “I think she’s finding that helping others is healing.”
Tim Donahue, who teaches health classes at the high school, said he will sometimes discuss his wife’s abuse with his students at a high level. Linnea Donahue said she hopes to someday speak to his classes—and to other groups—in an effort to spread her story and show people who might be suffering from a form of abuse that there is hope.
“I don’t feel it needs to be a secret,” she said of her past. “I’d love to be the poster child, and take away the stigma. I made the conscious decision that I’m not going to let (the abuse) define me.”
As she helps and heals, Linnea Donahue said she has other goals. She wants to grow her charity shirt operation, perhaps incorporating as a nonprofit. And the Parkettes’ second season back will be getting started soon, with Linnea Donahue once again the volunteer coach.
“The person that she has become through it all is so impressive to me,” Tim Donahue said. “I think her story is very unique and powerful.”