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CDC remembers Donna Head

The unveiling of the Donna Head Child Development Center gets helping hands from (left to right) Andrea Keilen, Academy superintendent Lt. Gen. Mike Gould, retired Brig. Gin. Jim Head and Margot Saltonstall. Mrs. Keilen and Mrs. Saltonstall are Mrs. Head's daughters. The CDC was renamed to honor Mrs. Head following her death in December 2007. (U.S. Air Force photo/Rachel Boettcher)

The unveiling of the Donna Head Child Development Center gets helping hands from (left to right) Andrea Keilen, Academy superintendent Lt. Gen. Mike Gould, retired Brig. Gin. Jim Head and Margot Saltonstall. Mrs. Keilen and Mrs. Saltonstall are Mrs. Head's daughters. The CDC was renamed to honor Mrs. Head following her death in December 2007. (U.S. Air Force photo/Rachel Boettcher)

U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. -- A permanent memorial to the passion, dedication and commitment of former Child Development Director Donna Head was unveiled July 17 at the center. 

In her honor, the facility is now the Donna Head Child Development Center. 

Mrs. Head died in December 2007 after being struck by a vehicle on Academy grounds. 

Lt. Gen. Mike Gould, Academy superintendent, said naming a facility after an individual is rare but the chief of staff of the Air Force approved the request, seeing it fitting to remember Mrs. Head who was considered universally as a leading expert in her field. 

"We celebrate her life and we are thankful for her life and her service," he said during the ceremony. 

Nearly 300 friends, family members, co-workers and Academy staff attended the dedication and renaming. Mrs. Head, whose full first name is Madonna, conceived the design for the center and wanted to ensure it would be a friendly, happy place. The "Wiggle Walls" and "Yellow Balls" which greet children as they enter the building were also part of her design plans. 

Her first assignment in child development was at Kirtland Air Force Base, N.M., and later Fort Carson and the Academy. She served as chief of Family Member Programs, including oversight of the Academy's Child Development Center, the Youth Center, youth sports, Family Child Care and Part Day Enrichment programs. 

"We're here to celebrate what she meant to the Academy and the Air Force," said Robyn Sleeth, deputy commander of the 10th Mission Support Group. "This dedication will keep her spirit and vision alive." 

He added her influence will remain. 

"Her fingerprints are all over the Child Development Center." 

Dean of the Faculty Brig. Gen. Dana Born recalled when Mrs. Head personally took her daughter's hand during her first fire drill at the center. The daughter was in child care at the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001, and was very fearful of sirens. 

"We all can hear her in our head and feel her in our hearts," General Born said, calling her "Our Lady," the translation of Madonna. 

"Mrs. Donna Head is definitely our lady," she said. 

General Born also recalled Mrs. Head's dedication to cadets, sponsoring more than 100, attending Falcon sports and her commitment to co-workers, parents and the children. 

"Donna's number-one passion is about everything 'Air Forcey'," General Born said with a smile. 

During the ceremony the Falcon Trail Youth Center Singers honored Mrs. Head with their selection "You'll be in My Heart." 

Retired Brig. Gen. Jim Head spoke fondly of his wife and her dedication to a strong family unit and her characteristic giving of credit to others, including supervisors and those she taught as managers. Daughters Andrea Keilen and Margot Saltonstall recalled their mother as "our strongest supporter and best friend." 

They also related basic values the daughters received from the collector of sun hats, the first being treating people well. Second, they were to "start small and work your way up" and to work "for country, friends, family and Air Force basketball." A third belief is to stay prepared, even in small things like keeping chocolate in a desk drawer. 

Granddaughter Emily Heiland told of her grandmother tucking her in at night with a warning "don't let the bed bugs bite." She also spoke of her grandmother teaching her to bait a fishing hook with worms and reading together. 

"When I was sad, she would always make me feel better." 

Academy Child Development Center staff member Susie Vinson also remembered Mrs. Head with great affection. 

"She loved the children and staff so much, and we miss her," she said.