Thursday, August 25, 2011

Donna Christanello 1942-2011

It seems as if just as we resign to the thought of a wrestling hero passing yet another is taken from us. I don't care to remember how many years in a row this has been the case, as it has been far too many.

Just a few short hours ago, many of us fans learned of the passing of yet another wrestling legend. The losses seem to get tougher and tougher. For me, this is very much the case.

Donna Alfonsi, a pioneer in women's wrestling, passed away today at the age of 69. In the industry, Donna went by the last name of Christanello, Christianello, or even Christentello depending on where you saw her perform. In real life, she only asked that you call her Donna.

A native of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Donna caught the wrestling bug sometime in the 1960's while attending matches with a friend. Shortly thereafter, Donna was trained by The Fabulous Moolah and began not only her career but also a lifelong friendship. In an article on WWE's website shortly after Moolah's death, Donna proclaimed her mentor to be her "chosen sister." In her autobiography, Moolah had similar terms of endearment for her protege.

In the '60s and '70s, Donna dominated the singles and tag team scenes in women's wrestling. Donna and longtime partner Toni Rose held the Women's Tag Team Championship for many years and are closely associated with the titles to this day.

Donna would go on to assist Moolah in training many other female stars of the industry, but her career was not nearly over. In the 1980's, Donna made many appearances in the WWF. A quick search of YouTube will unearth many treasures including a pinfall victory over Wendi Richter, who at the time was red hot due to her association with Cyndi Lauper. Donna will also always be remembered for her appearance in the very first Survivor Series pay-per-view event.

From speaking to many of her colleagues over the years, it was obvious that Donna was a very beloved individual. I feel so very fortunate that I was able to find this out for myself.

Several years ago, the KSWA promotion here in Pittsburgh brought in Demolition for one of their shows. Before the event, Ax and Smash were set up near ringside meeting their fans. After my friends and I had visited with the legendary tag team, I noticed a familiar looking woman going up to see them. For a moment, I thought that the woman was Donna Christanello. Not wanting to pass up a chance to meet her, I approached the woman. That night, I did indeed meet the pioneering ladies star and came away with an autograph as well as a photo.

Donna and her niece (former wrestler Angie Minelli) attended many of the KSWA shows after that and I always took the opportunity to stop and chat. Donna would ask how I was doing with my writing and was always more than happy to sign autographs and pose for pictures.

A particularly memorable night was when the KSWA inducted Donna into their Hall of Fame. Many of Donna's family members came out for the honor, but one of her most lovable traits was present as well: her humbleness. A pioneer in her industry, member of several Hall of Fame's (including the Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame), and definable legend, visiting with Donna was more like spending time with an aunt than a Hall of Fame wrestler.

It was a mere two months ago that I last had the pleasure of seeing Donna. For several weeks my job brought me very near to Donna's workplace and I had the opportunity to visit her on several occasions. Greeting me with a big smile and a "Hi Josh!," I hope that our short chats brightened her day as much as they did mine. I had some memorabilia from her career and told her that I hoped to give them to her the next time we saw each other outside of our respective jobs. Sadly, that was not to be.

I could probably go on forever about what a special lady we've lost tonight, but I will confine my thoughts to only a few more paragraphs.

In Donna's memory, I think that everyone should seek out to learn more about her amazing career. In addition to the match that I mentioned above, several of Donna's other matches are available on YouTube. One pitting Donna and Toni against Joyce Grable and Vicki Williams is particularly memorable and will show you just how underrated the ladies were in the 1970's. Be sure to also check out Donna's official site which is run by a great guy, wrestler, and friend of Donna's by the name of Shawn Blanchard. Many of Donna's personal photos are included and take you through her entire career. The site can be found at: http://www.donnachristantello.vze.com/

If her friends and fans feel this stunned, shocked, and saddened, I cannot begin to imagine how her family feels. My heart, thoughts, and prayers are with them tonight.

I think that I will most remember Donna for being as humble as she was. Unlike so many other stars of the wrestling industry, Donna was the most down-to-earth lady you would ever have the pleasure of meeting.

Miss Donna Alfonsi, you'll always be our star. Your fans and friends love you...

...till we meet again. Goodnight, my lady.

2 comments:

LisaN said...

Thanks for this article. I wotrked with Donna in accounting at the walmart here in SC. She had moved away and I just learned today that she passed. I hate to hear it.

J\/\/ said...

I'm glad that you found it, Lisa. Wasn't she great? I really do miss her every day like she was an aunt. She'll never be forgotten.