WITTER TRADER SURVIVED
By Edwardo Lullu- Home Reporter
Donna Olsen, a Dean Witter trader from Bensonhurst who survived the first terrorist attack on the World Trade Center in 1993 fought a running battle with life-threatening Diabetes, and loved animals all her life, died recently. She was 51.
Family and friends remember Donna as a courageous and caring person who had a unique love for animals. She worked for a long time to rescue stray cats.
"Since she was a little girl she loved animals," said her sister Eileen Olsen. "She would come home with them all the time claiming they simply followed her. "Yeah right, "we'd say, "look at the scratch marks on your arm."
When Donna moved from Bensonhurst to Indiana three years ago she had 20 cats.
One Christmas she bought everyone in her family a whale through the World Wildlife Foundation's adopt-a-whale program.
But she was also a pioneer on the trading floor and was a double-amputee whose body was ravaged for over four decades by Diabetes.
"Despite all of that, she was always very upbeat," said Eileen. "Her friends would tell me how she would make them laugh and laugh."
DONNA OLSEN WAS BORN and raised in Park Slope. She and her siblings attended St. Francis Xavier Grammar School there and for high school Donna attended John Adams in Queens.
After high school she enrolled in St. John's University and also did coursework at Brooklyn College on her way to earning a B.A. in speech therapy, though she never used the degree.
"She found an apartment in Bensonhurst and she needed a job that paid," said her sister.
Donna Olsen, therefore, stayed with what she knew - commodities.
Her father worked for years in the New York Cotton Exchange and Donna had worked with him in college during her summer breaks from college.
With this experience she found a job as a trader with Dean Witter after she graduated.
"I remember when women didn't want to be on the floor," said Olsen. "And men didn't want women there either. It was rough."
But Donna Olsen spent 25 years on the floor, first with Dean Witter and then with Commodities Federal Trade Commission.
Donna's office was in Tower One of the World Trade Center where she was working when it was bombed by terrorists in 1993. That day she had to walk down 37 flights of stairs and she injured her back in the process. That injury eventually affected her legs. BESIDES THE PHYSICAL PAIN, the attack "affected her a lot emotionally," said Olsen. Five years later, with her body continuing to deteriorate from her fight with Diabetes, Donna Olsen was forced to retire from her job.
"It got to the point where it became difficult for her to walk to and from work," said Olsen. For six months the CFTC kept her working by bringing papers to her home in Bensonhurst. But then Donna called it quits.
"People don't realize what she went through," said Olsen. In June 2000, two years after she retired, she had one leg amputated, and last August, one week after her 51st birthday, she had the other one amputated.
"She asked my "Why do you think God did this to me?" said Olsen. "She wanted to know why he took her so far into agony only to save her." For her sister, the answer came on September 11, 2001. "I told her that it would have taken her 45 minutes to get out of there," said Olsen. "She never would have made it. That's why I think God did that to her. So she wouldn't be there." Donna agreed with her sister. But she was upset because people in wheelchairs, like her, couldn't get out of the towers after the attack.
"SHE WAS A WONDERFUL PERSON," said Jude Lassow of Muffin's Pet Connection on Third Avenue. "Whenever I get a headache I just think about what Donna went through and it doesn't hurt as much."
"All through her suffering," she added, "her concern was for other people and for her cats"
Donna and Jude Lassow struck up a friendship and working relationship one day when Donna called regarding some cats that needed a home.
"She did rescue and helped with our spay and neuter service," said Lassow. "In 18 years of doing animal rescue, she probably saved the lives of thousands of animals."
"She did it in her free time," said her sister Eileen. "She fit it between work and laundry and going to church."
Her fight with Diabetes finally ended her work with animals as it had her career on the trading floor.
SHE STILL HAD BOTH LEGS but walking up and down four flights of stairs became too painful. So Donna made plans to move to Indiana where her brother Edward lived.
While she was in Indiana she lost both her legs. "After the second amputation she went through four months of terrible infections and rehab," said her sister. "But she had a lot of determination, a lot of spunk."
She could still feed her cats but needed help changing the litter box. Jude Lassow came to her friend's aid.
Through Spay USA Lassow found Indy Feral in Indiana to help Donna with her cats.
"She put her cats first." said Lassow. Parishioners from St. Jude's Parish, where Donna attended Mass in Indiana, also visited and helped with her pets.
"She got the kitty litter cleaned three times a week," said Lassow, "and even had Holy Communion delivered by St. Jude's on Wednesdays." "She didn't think people would want to read about her," said Lassow. "But her legacy of love and determination will live on."
DONNA OLSEN'S CONCERN for animals, however, was only part of her story.
"We'd find out years later how she helped anyone around her who was in need," said her sister Eileen.
Eileen recalls a poor family in Bensonhurst with lots of kids that Donna reached out to. Donna saw the mother coming and going without a warm jacket during the winter.
"She bought a coat for the mother and had a Santa Claus deliver it to her," said Eileen. "She wanted to help her, but not embarrass her by bringing it over herself."
When she worked at the World Trade Center she tried to help the homeless that would gather around the buildings. She bought them coffee or muffins or even gloves for the cold weather. "How could I not help?" Donna would ask. "She wasn't rich either," Eileen pointed out. "She had a lot of medical expenses over the years."
THE FAMILY HELD A SERVICE for Donna at her parish in Indiana before bringing her back to Brooklyn for services here.
After the Mass in Indiana, there was a reception for her friends there. "Everyone told us how Donna brought so much life to the place," said her sister.
She remembers one man in particular who suffered from Cerebral Palsy. He didn't have many friends until Donna began eating lunch with him at the retirement home where they lived.
"He told me that he didn't know her long but he loved her and would never forget her," said Eileen Olsen. "That's something else when someone says that."
DONNA OLSEN IS SURVIVED by her sister Eileen, brother Edward Jr., father Edward Sr., and four nieces and nephews: Eddie Olsen, Eleanor Meador, Jason Meador and Leah Meador.
She also leaves behind Cleo and Emma, the last two cats that lived with her. Before she died, she found them a new home in Indiana.
She was reposed here at McLaughlin & Sons on Third Avenue and Mass of Christian Burial was celebrated at Saint Ephraim's Church in Bensonhurst.
Donations can be made in her name to Muffin's Pet Connection at 9728 Third Avenue, Brooklyn, New York 11209.