Donna Colon, who for 13 years greeted students in Timothy Dwight College’s dining hall, died suddenly Thursday night of a brain aneurysm. She was 49.
Master Robert Thompson announced the death in an e-mail to Timothy Dwight students Friday, describing Colon as a “bright light in a large room” who “will be very much missed.” Colon worked as the morning swipe counter attendant on weekdays. In this role, students interviewed said, she gained a high level of visibility and became the face of the dining hall.
Students and co-workers interviewed expressed shock and remorse over the sudden death of a woman they described as “energetic.”
When kitchen staff learned of Colon’s death, Timothy Dwight dining hall manager Jeff Kwolek said, they reacted with strong grief for a colleague who was “tremendously loved.”
Kwolek attributed this adoration to Colon’s genuine care for students.
“The students were her first concern,” Kwolek said. “She did whatever she had to do to take care of the students.”
Born in New Haven in 1960, Colon graduated from Wilbur Cross High School near East Rock in 1978.
For years, Colon worked alongside her sister, Roseann Colon, in the Timothy Dwight dining hall.
“They were each other’s rock,” Kwolek said.
Jared Dworken ’11 said Colon had become a “very close friend” during his two years in Timothy Dwight. Upset by her sudden death, Dworken wrote a letter to the Timothy Dwight community both to release his grief over Colon’s death and to encourage students to donate to a fund Kwolek established to allow Roseann Colon to take a leave of absence. In the letter, Dworken, who last year dressed up as Colon for Halloween, wrote that Colon’s caring demeanor helped him through his entire Yale career, and he recalled his first encounter with Donna on his first day at Yale.
“She could see how little blood there was in my face,” Dworken wrote. “ ‘You’re gonna see me every morning, and I’m gonna take good care of you,’ she repeated. Indeed, she did, and hers was the first face I saw nearly every morning for the next two years.”
“Donna was, in a way, like a mother to me,” he added.
So far, about $500 has been collected from students and faculty, Kwolek said.
John Yi ’12 said that Colon, through a blend of attitude and kindness, brought a unique spirit to the dining hall.
“She was really sassy, but in a really fun, playful way,” Yi said. “She always made you smile when you walked into the dining hall.”
As brunch began Sunday, students began scrawling messages of support and care on a poster displaying a photo of Colon with “A Colleague. A Friend” printed below.
By the end of brunch, not an inch of white space remained on the sign.
“You are missed,” one student wrote.
The now-graffitied sign displayed in the Timothy Dwight dining hall Sunday morning will be given to Roseann Colon, along with six condolence cards that students filled with messages of support and care.
A wake for Colon will be held Nov. 3 from 5 to 8 p.m., with a funeral the following day at Iovanne Funeral Home on Wooster Place at 10:30 a.m. She will be buried at All Saints Cemetery in North Haven.
In addition to her sister Roseann, Colon is survived by brothers Paul and Ralph Colon, sister Armista Torres, companion Billy Laden and son William Laden, as well as eight nieces and nephews and two stepbrothers.