Foundation Sparks Creativity

Foundation Sparks Creativity

The woman the Foundation honors was born and raised in Vienna.

When Donn Marshall's wife, Shelley, died in the attack on the Pentagon over a year ago, a grief counselor told him that the most important thing he could do was to give his sorrow meaning.

A light went off in his head. With Shelley's retirement money, Marshall decided to create a foundation that would share his wife's love of tea, reading and creativity with others.

"That's been my biggest challenge, keeping her memory alive for them," said Marshall of his children. When Shelley died at age 37, she left two children, Drake and Chandler, now ages 4 and 2, respectively. "We have to make new memories. They're going to associate her with children's hour."

Although Shelley Marshall moved to Maryland with her husband, she was born and raised in Vienna and graduated from Oakton High School in 1981. But despite living in Maryland, the Marshalls returned to Vienna often. Her children's pediatrician was also Shelley's physician. When they took their children to their grandparents in Vienna, they'd get a bite to eat at Anita's or Amphora, or they'd buy bread at Cenan's Bakery.

After being married to her husband, Donn, for a little over seven years, Shelley Marshall died with six other officemates during the attack on the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001. As senior management officer at the Defense Intelligence Agency, where she and Marshall first met, one of her last projects was to find money in the budget to pay for armored cars for defense attaches in Europe.

She was also in charge of coordinating the office move to another office, which was going to happen on the 13th.

"I think that was one of the things her co-workers liked about her, that she did her job right, no matter how small," Marshall said.

Marshall heard the news about his wife's death on Sept. 15. Encouraged by the grief counselor's words, Marshall created the Foundation in memory of his wife. He chose Vienna and his hometown of Morgantown, W.Va., to start the activities. His mother and Shelley's mother helped him come up with activity ideas that would honor Shelley's love of reading, writing, creativity and motherhood.

"Those are all the things Shelley liked to do," Marshall said.

After brainstorming activities with his family, Marshall approached organizations in Vienna and Morgantown where those activities could take place.

For the storyteller’s hour, Marshall walked into the Patrick Henry Library one day and talked with the librarians. He wanted to do something with the library that would promote children and writing.

For the librarians, it was a wish come true. They had wanted to have a story hour but didn't have the money for it.

"It was a real blessing when he came in last year," said children's literature specialist Salomea Swaim.

As a result, the storytelling hour was born. During every month of the school year, a storyteller comes in to weave tales with a multicultural theme. Families and people of all ages have come to hear storytellers tell tales from the British Isles and the Native American tradition. In September, a Jewish woman came to spin a tale about peace. In December, a deaf storyteller will stop by.

"We've had a real range," said Swaim.

Bobbi Longworth, executive director for the Fairfax County Public Library Foundation, agreed. Longworth worked with Marshall to establish a memorial gift for the Patrick Henry Library.

"The story hours all have a wonderful turnout. I think it's a wonderful reason," Longworth said. "He's turned it around to do such good."

While the library storytelling hour presents tales to children, students at Oakton High School can participate in a writing contest and a teatime hour at a local nursing home. The writing contest held its first competition last spring, and it will continue this school year. Twenty-one students from all grades participated in the contest, with the winner receiving a $250 award. Several students also read their stories aloud at the Barnes & Noble in Reston.

The contest stressed creativity above all, something Shelley would've supported.

"I just hope they keep doing it," Marshall said of the student authors. "I was impressed by all the entries, and the diversity of the entries."

The Oakton coordinator for the contest, career specialist Rachel Wilson, was also impressed by the students' work.

"It really challenges the students to be creative," Wilson said.

"Hearing the stories at the read-aloud was amazing for me, personally. I don't often get to see the things that students produce. I was just completely amazed by the creativity."

The other activity for Oakton students is an afternoon tea at the Sleepy Hollow Nursing Home in Annandale, where Shelley's grandmother lived. Students with the National Honor Society have a quarterly tea with residents and swap stories and conversation.

Marshall said the idea for an afternoon tea came out of one of Shelley's loves. When Shelley was alive, she'd take time out of the day to have an afternoon tea. She'd get the tea from the Coffee Caboodle whenever they were in town.

"At the end of the day, she would take 10 to 15 minutes for herself and make a perfect pot of tea," Marshall said, illustrating Shelley's perfectionism.

The teacups and saucers for the afternoon tea came from all over the United States, Canada, Australia and the UK. Marshall, wanting the students to use special ware for the tea, went to Internet chat rooms and asked for donations, explaining his purpose. He received over 250 pieces of fine china.

After finding out where the china came from, "students' faces lit up," Marshall said.

Although the Foundation is a little over a year old, Marshall has plans to expand the programming to other areas, including Loudoun County and Charles County, Md., where he and Shelley lived.

"The Foundation is something I can be passionate about, and it's something I need right now," Marshall said.

And as the Foundation grows, Marshall hopes he can keep Shelley's memory alive with his children. He wants them to know of her loyalty to her friends. He's told them that whenever the wind is blowing, it was Mommy giving them a kiss.

"I'll ask when the wind's blowing, and they'll tell me who it is,." Marshall said.

For more information about the Shelley A. Marshall Foundation, go to or write to the Foundation at or Shelley A. Foundation, P.O. Box 521, Marbury, MD 20658.

The next storytelling hour at Patrick Henry Library will be Tuesday, Nov. 26, at 7:30 p.m.