Donell McCanless passed away at age 96 on April 17, 2023, at her home on the family dairy surrounded by her family. She is survived by her three sons and their wives/partners, Jack McCanless (Nina), Kurt and Judy McCanless and David and Debbie McCanless, seven grandchildren Randy McCanless (Ashley), Tami McCanless (Theresa), Jason McCanless, Beckie McCanless, Kenny McCanless, Lucas McCanless (Nichole), and Katie Chisam (Matt), and eight great grandchildren Korbin McCanless, Tatum McCanless (and her mother Dana McDonald), Tanner & Tinnley Pidgeon, Grady & Miles Chisam, and Hunter & Wiley McCanless.

She is also survived by her very special friends: Jackie Amos, Lucille Scilacci, Mary Enos, and Karin King.

She is preceded in death by her husband Jack McCanless, parents Claude and Ruth Hunter, twin brothers Elias Don Hunter, and William Austin Hunter, brother Dean Hunter, grandson James McCanless and daughter-in-law Marian Qualls

Donell was born September 22, 1926. Her mother instilled in her the importance of education from a very young age. She spent her life pursuing her own education and building the knowledge of others. She attended Petrolia High School until her senior year where she attended and graduated from Mountain View High School while living with a cousin in Mountain View. She married Jack McCanless on July 15, 1946, in Oakland, CA while attending the University of California at Berkeley. She graduated from U.C. Berkeley in 1948 before she, Jack and their first son, Jack Jr. moved back to Ferndale. A few years later, once all her sons were in school, she continued her education at Humboldt State and got her teaching credential. Her first teaching job was at Price Creek Elementary (Grades 1 through 8). Donell was a substitute teacher at many local elementary schools and established her own preschool in her home. Lastly, she taught Special Education for many years at Ferndale Elementary, retiring after 40+ years teaching in 1994.

During WWII, she wrote to many service men she grew up with in Petrolia who were overseas, knitted scarves for the Red Cross and worked on a drydock as a welder in 1944. Donell was a life member of the Ladies’ Auxillary of the Veterans of Foreign Wars for over 75 years, a volunteer/historian for the Ferndale Museum for 45 years, and a member of the Ferndale Garden Club for 49 years, just recently making a trip to Petrolia (along with her good friends, Mary and Karin) to help start a new Garden Club. But, this amazing lady was perhaps most well known in Ferndale for her talents in spinning wool and her many knitted creations, from hats, sweaters and slippers to stuffed kittens and chickens, items most adored by her own great grandchildren. One of her proudest projects was the spinning of llama wool from an entire pack of llamas. Donell came by the art of spinning naturally, at a young age, and was taught by her grandmother, Lucy Hunter. Donell never met her great grandmother, but she learned that she had spun wool from a spinning wheel to make yarn many years before. Being the lifelong student that she was, she enrolled in a class to learn how to do just that. She was a much loved and proud member of the Humboldt Handweavers and Spinners Guild. She was one of the founding members of the well known and loved “The Folks” Craft Fair, where she met customers from all over the world, many who later became friends. This craft fair has continued for over 50 years.

Donell was a regular participant and blue ribbon winner for her baking, gardening and knitted creations at the Humboldt County Fair, and on one or two occasions won the prize for most blue ribbons overall. One year, she and her mother both entered apple pies, and when Donell came out the winner she joked that her mother likely wasn’t too pleased about it. She was also quite the historian, she loved the Ferndale Museum, and took pride in her many contributions of stories and historical artifacts.

Donell loved having her family close by, and was proud of the growth and success of her family members. She enjoyed supporting the many sporting events which her grandchildren and great grandchildren played, including soccer, basketball, football, baseball, softball and rodeo. When asked what she was most proud of, Donell mentioned her own graduation from U.C. Berkeley as well as seeing several of her grandchildren graduate from college, and one graduate from the California Highway Patrol Academy.

Donell was always curious. She delighted in meeting new people and learning their stories. She had many penpals around the world over the years, and loved to share stories of the people she met and corresponded with. Donell was always game for adventure, and took so much joy from trips she got to take with her sons, their families, and her grandchildren.

Donell was the cornerstone and matriarch of her family, and a pillar of the Ferndale community. She will be remembered as a fiercely independent woman, who lived a story of her own willful creation. To quote her dear friend Buck Miner, “If all the world could be like Donell, well it sure would be a wonderful spot to enjoy.”

A heartfelt thank you goes out to Beckie (granddaughter) and Mary Enos for their special TLC they provided to our Mom, Grandma, Great Grandma and friend, especially in her final days. We will remember this always. This grand lady was so loved and will be remembered by too many to count. Donell left her mark on this world, and gave each of us many stories to share and countless memories to treasure. Hers was a storybook life, with a storybook ending. She lived it her way.

Donell will be laid to rest at a private family burial service at the Ferndale Cemetery. There will be a celebration to honor her remarkable life on May 13, 2023 from 1 to 4 p.m. at The Ferndale Community Center. In lieu of flowers, memorial donations may be made to the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Ferndale Museum or to your favorite charity.


The obituary above was submitted on behalf of Donell McCanless‘ loved ones. The Lost Coast Outpost runs obituaries of Humboldt County residents at no charge. See guidelines here. Email