Donna Clausen Boone and Robert “Bob” Boone took writing their annual Christmas letter seriously. The couple were known for their elaborate Christmas cards and letters. Bob designed the cards and drew the illustrations while Donna wrote the accompanying text. Bob and Donna married in 1965.
Donna was a graduate of Laramie High School and the University of Wyoming, where she majored in zoology and physiology. She went on to become a pioneer in the field of physical therapy, specializing in the treatment of patients with hemophilia. Bob was a World War II veteran and aeronautical engineer. He founded an advertising and public relations firm and was a musician in a community jazz band. He was also a gifted artist.
In 1966, the Boone’s first Christmas letter started off typically enough. It was a newsy one-page summary of the highlights of their year. They reported on harvesting grapefruit and avocados from their Pasadena, California, garden and on their vacation travels across the Southwest and Rocky Mountains with their miniature Schnauzer, Degen. And they bought their first classic car, a fire engine red 1957 Thunderbird. It was the beginning of their hobby as vintage car aficionados.
By 1967, their letter had evolved into an 8-page travelogue, complete with Bob’s illustrations. Donna had been invited to speak at the World Congress for Physical Therapy, that was held in Melbourne, Australia. Bob and Donna relished the opportunity to explore Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, and Hawaii. Recipients of their Christmas letter were able to travel vicariously with the couple as they took sixteen different aircraft and eight different airlines zigzagging around the South Pacific. Donna wrote of the trip, it was “30 days of the most fabulous travel experience of our lives…Somewhere in Australia we made the resolve that every three years or so, we’ll plan a major trip to a foreign county, and if it’s possible, we’ll go!”
By 1970, Bob and Donna’s plan to travel every three years was realized. And their Christmas card that year offered up 20 pages of a “Holiday Sketchbook – Three Wonderful Months in Europe!” Once again Donna was invited to speak at the World Congress for Physical Therapy, this time held in Amsterdam. The couple capitalized on the trip and extended their visit, spending time in more than 30 European cities and capitals from London and Paris to Amsterdam and Oslo. Bob’s sketches became even more elaborate.
In 1973, Bob and Donna returned to Europe once again, so that Donna could lecture at a hemophilia conference in Heidelberg and the Blood Transfusion Center of Hungary. As was their habit, the couple had a year rich with new experiences, including wine tasting in Bordeaux and sipping Tokaji in Budapest. Then, in 1976, Bob’s sketches took an interdenominational turn. Their card that year highlighted symbols of faith from some of the world’s best-known religions.
The Boone’s 1979 Christmas card featured what was perhaps Bob’s most elaborate and detailed drawing yet, of the Washington Cathedral. Donna referenced their frequent travels to Washington, D.C., and noted that, when finished, the Cathedral would be the sixth largest in the world. Their card wished their friends and family “moments of tranquility as you pursue your daily life. And may the Washington Cathedral serve as a beacon of hope for world peace and understanding.” Bob shared his Christmas card with Cathedral administrators, who remarked both on his excellent calligraphy and his amazing drawing.
Over the years, Donna and Bob’s Christmas cards reflected both their travels and events of the day. In 1984, swept up in the fervor of the festivities, Bob drew a tribute to the Olympics, which were held in Los Angeles. In 1988, they visited Madrid, Spain so that Donna could participate in the World Federation of Hemophilia. Their card read “Feliz Navidad de Espana,” with a beautifully detailed drawing of the Royal Monastery of El Escorial – the most important architectural monument of the Spanish Renaissance.
In 1997, the couple moved from Pasadena to a new home on California’s Central Coast. Bob had been taking watercolor classes for several years, and for their 1998 card, he used his new skills to create a colorful drawing of their local Episcopal church in Lompoc.
By 1999, Bob and Donna had adapted with the times and were including color photos in their Christmas cards, annotated with Bob’s familiar calligraphy. In 2001, the Boone’s 34th home-made Christmas card was a departure Bob’s usual drawings. Reflecting on the shock of the terrorist attacks, Donna wrote “September 11, 2001, will go down in history with sharply etched memories that will remain with us forever. Our lives have been changed by the shocking realization that we are vulnerable to unseen evil existing within our borders. The challenge is to cherish and protect freedom, liberty, and justice.”
In 2004, Bob and Donna moved to Fort Collins, Colorado and their cards became computer generated. Then, happily in 2008, Bob’s distinctive watercolors made a reappearance in their firsthand drawn card in more than a decade.
2011 marked the last Christmas letter from Bob and Donna together. They had both struggled with health challenges. Donna wrote, in rhyming verse:
For when I send a Christmas card that is addressed to you – It is because you’re on the list that I’m indebted to. For I am but the total of the many folks I’ve met; and you happen to be one of those I prefer not to forget!
Bob passed away in 2012 and Donna passed away seven years later.
Get into the Christmas spirit by viewing their collected Christmas cards in the Donna Clausen Boone and Robert Boone papers at the American Heritage Center.
Post contributed by AHC Writer Kathryn Billington.