Donna Sue Groves
Creator of the Barn Quilt Trail movement dies at 73
By Julianne Donofrio and Christy Farnbauch
Donna Sue Groves, the creator of the barn quilt trail movement and champion of Appalachian culture, passed away on November 13 at the age of 73 after a long illness.
A community organizer and arts enthusiast, Donna Sue is best known for having created the concept of barn quilt trails, a grassroots public art project. The “clothesline of quilts” started in 2001 in Adams County, Ohio, with neighbors agreeing to be part of a driving trail for which they would hang painted wood squares that resembled blocks in a quilt on their barns. Developed to promote regional tourism, support artisans, and preserve old barns, similar barn quilt trails can now be found in almost all 50 states and in parts of Canada. Thousands of individuals have created quilt squares for their home, business, or storage shed, outside of the coordinated trails simply because they love the colorful pieces of art.
Born on June 9, 1948, in Creed, West Virginia, to the late Warren Blaine Groves and Nina Maxine Green Groves, Donna Sue was a proud, sixth-generation Appalachian who never forgot her roots. Donna Sue graduated from Charleston High School and attended West Virginia University before moving to Xenia, Ohio with her parents.
For more than forty years, Donna Sue was devoted to helping Appalachian artists and underserved communities. As an elected Xenia City Commissioner, she helped rebuild the city after a devastating tornado in 1974. Her true passion for uplifting her community continued through her roles at the Community Development Corporations VISTA project (Volunteers in Service to America), Ohio’s Appalachian Arts Initiative, and the Ohio Arts Council.
She was the recipient of numerous awards for the many contributions she made to her community, including: the 2001 Friends of Southern State Community College; the 2004 Outstanding Philanthropist by the Foundation for Appalachian Ohio; the 2006 Sinclair College Wayne White — Unsung Hero Award; the 2010 Friend of the Arts by Ohio’s Appalachian Country; and the 2010 Ohio Governor’s Award for the Arts in Community Development and Participation. Donna Sue was given the Jenco Award from the Jenco Foundation Fund at the Foundation for Appalachian Ohio in 2004, and again in 2015 in recognition of her model service and leadership throughout the region.
However, it was her work with Planning Adams County’s Tomorrow (PACT), where Donna Sue truly left her mark through the barn quilt project. The idea was sparked by wanting to decorate the old tobacco barn on the property she shared with her mother Nina Maxine, a retired schoolteacher and celebrated quilter.
In 2008, at the age of 60, Donna Sue lost her job with the Ohio Arts Council in the nationwide recession and was diagnosed with breast cancer. A year later, filmmaker Julianne Donofrio met Donna Sue and documented her personal health struggles, and the impact of the barn quilt trails in the award-winning film Pieced Together. In 2012, Donna Sue and Suzi Parron co-authored the book Barn Quilts and the American Quilt Trail Movement.
Donna Sue suffered from chronic health challenges and spent her final years in Hillsboro, OH. She was preceded in death by her parents, and brother Michael Blaine Groves. Surviving to cherish her memory is Sharon Paxton, her cousin; Christy Farnbauch, the “daughter of her heart”; Julianne Donofrio; dozens of friends and colleagues across the globe; and the hundreds of people who speak her name when they talk of their love for barn quilts. She was grateful for the excellent care provided in the final months of her life by Charleen Strunks and family, Kelly Teeters, and the loving staff of Hospice of Hope in Maysville, KY.
“It’s been a good life,” Donna Sue said recently. “I want to be remembered for how much I loved people, and how much joy there was in my life.”
Contributions can be made to the Donna Sue Groves Arts & Culture Fund for Appalachian Ohio to continue her legacy of supporting the community she loved. The fund is graciously hosted by the Foundation for Appalachian Ohio, with every dollar contributed in her memory matched 1:1, as long as matching funds are available.
Visit the online giving page to make a gift: https://appalachianohio.org/donnasue/
Gifts can be mailed to the following address: Foundation for Appalachian Ohio, P.O. Box 456, Nelsonville, Ohio 45764.
Learn more about Donna Sue at www.PiecedTogether.com.