Mardi McDonough

Obituary of Mardi Ann Lowry McDonough

On June 1, 2020, Mardi Ann Lowry McDonough (McDowns), age 51, joined the chorus of angels following a valiant battle with breast cancer. She passed away peacefully in her State College home, surrounded by her loving husband, daughters, and friend, Kris Hall. Unsurprisingly, Mardi wanted this Obituary to be written a particular way, and those who were blessed to know her will understand this to be a part of her nature as "the planner". She wanted to make sure that it was not simply a list of accomplishments, but a well-told story, just like her life has always been. So, here for you today, the story of a real-life hero, Mardi. On December 26, 1968 in State College, the world welcomed Mardi, and she became a lifelong resident of the town (a "Townie"!). Having a birthday the day after Christmas was never easy, so for the majority of her life, she celebrated her birth on her half birthday, June 26th. "Just cards and cake on my actual birthday, please, and we'll celebrate for real in June!" She is survived by her husband, Nick Downs, and two "miraculous daughters" (these are her words), Colleen Eireann McDonough and Grace Aine McDonough, all of State College; step-daughter, Sierra Downs of Boston, MA; father, Lee Lowry of State College and mother, Carol Spangler of Huntingdon, PA. Also survived by her brother, Eric Lowry (Dr. Marta Villaraga) and nieces, Sofia and Isabela of Ardmore, PA.; Uncle Jack (Beverly) Spangler of Goodlettsville, TN, Aunt Marcia (Dr. Rudolph) Sharpe of Hummelstown, PA, Aunt Denise (Ned) Zechman of Sarasota, FL and Ocean City, NJ. , Uncle Wayne (Audrey) Lowry of Lake Stonycreek, PA. and Uncle Bob Sarver of Meyersdale, PA. Mardi is preceded in death by her grandparents Milton and Marie Lowry, Vernon and Lois Spangler and Aunt Joyce Lowry Sarver. Mardi was loved dearly by her many cousins: Greg, Gina, Michael Todd, Maret, Lisa, Beth, Rodney, Stefanie, Todd, Amy, Jeremy, Brad and well as her furry puppy dog, Murphy Dumbledore McDowns (the middle name was entirely Mardi's idea). Mardi was a 1987 graduate of State College Area High School and the second female Drum Major for the marching band and her daughter, Colleen, followed in her footsteps. She became the 1987 PA Jr. Miss, participated in District and Regional Choruses, and the Track Team (she loved the triple jump and the 100m dash, though she said that she somehow always had to go to the bathroom once she got into the blocks!). From the age of 15 all the way through to her college graduation, she worked diligently at The Tavern Restaurant in every role she possibly could: cashier, bartender, server, and cocktail waitress. Many of her high school classmates will tell you that the things they remember most about Mardi are her smile, infectiously loud laughter, her wit, and her dedication to hard work. Mardi treasured her "Renaissance Weekend" high school friends. She always spoke about the immense joy that this group of friends brought to her, and in turn, brought to her daughters, husband, and other lifelong friends. She later earned her B.S. in Elementary and Kindergarten Education (1991) and Masters degree in Curriculum and Instruction (2003) from Penn State University's College of Education. During her time at PSU, she was a member of the Golden Key National Honor Society, and at her August 1991 graduation, she was honored as the Student Marshall, leading the College of Education into graduation ceremonies with PSU faculty. Mardi's first love was her family, but she fiercely loved her teaching career, students, and fellow teachers. Her father, Lee Lowry, told her that if she could find a job that she liked half the time, she was lucky. Mardi loved her job far more than half the time, and shared laughter and love with her colleagues every single day. She was the person who would bring coffee, each week, to her fellow teachers at school, and there is no doubt that this small gesture brought joy to both her and her friends. She spent her 27 years in the State College Area School District (SCASD) teaching 6th grade math, english, and science, starting at Ferguson Township Elementary and then at Park Forest Middle School. During that tenure, she took a 4-year sabbatical to work with the PSU/SCASD joint program called "Professional Development Schools" (PDS), mentoring student teachers. In mom's words, "this was my favorite part of my career! It filled my cup so full because of the people I worked with and the interns I mentored along the way." This is where she met her husband, Nick Downs (who brought her homemade strawberry jam the very first time they met). She was also President of the SCAEA Union Committee for SCASD until illness forced her to relinquish this position. Her fellow educators had these kind things to say about her, as well as much more not written here: "Everyone is a friend in Mardi's classroom. Her classroom is characterized as a dynamic learning environment in which everyone is loved and valued. Mardi frequently calls on her students saying phrases such as, 'Yes, friend. That would be correct. Good job!'" "Every day, Mardi stands at her doorway greeting students with a big and genuine smile letting her students know she is happy to see them. Each student is called on by name and she always has a personal remark to say to her students to brighten their morning." "Mardi can frequently be seen sitting with her students on the carpet or right beside them at their eye level letting them know that they are important and that she is right there with them in the learning process." In Mardi's own words… "I always wanted to be a teacher. Why? For all the reasons you read and hear: to make a difference in the life of a child, to be part of the village of care, to watch the proverbial light bulbs go on. The bottom line: I like kids, I love to learn alongside them, and I am challenged and encouraged by their questions and wonderings." Mardi's mission in life was to teach and to do it well. No student was left behind in her classroom. In recognition of this work, on November 20, 2018, Mardi, along with nine other Centre County teachers, was recognized during Educator Appreciation Day, on the field at the Penn State/Maryland football game. Music and jogging were her catharsis and family and friends were her strength. Music was a passion of Mardi's early on in life, which she fulfilled by playing the flute and piano, and participating in school and community choirs, district and regional high school choirs, and music programs at Grace Lutheran Church, where she and her family are members. In Junior High, Mardi was chosen to sing with the Fred Waring Summer Choral Workshop at Penn State. Mardi was happiest when she could travel the world with Nick, Colleen and Grace. She was always fond of her Irish heritage and as a nod to that, she and Nick agreed to be married on March 17th (St. Patrick's Day), 2018. While traveling, her beautiful joy at seeing the Pieta in the Vatican may only be surpassed by her love of Brown's Donuts on the OCNJ boardwalk, which she used to eat six - yes, SIX - donuts (chocolate, of course) for breakfast, washed down with a big glass of milk. Mardi's life may or may not have revolved around donuts, and where she could find the next great donut shop. Mediocre donuts were not acceptable! Mardi was also happiest when she could spend time with family and friends, and walk her dog, Murphy. She believed that her family's nightly walk with Murphy became an important "catch-up time" for all of them. Mardi's family will be forever grateful for her lifelong friends (you know who you are) and their unwavering love and support, the State College Area Education Association (SCAEA), the State College Area School District (SCASD), and Asera Care Hospice for sending us our amazing hospice nurse, Brooke, and their unwavering support throughout Mardi's final journey. During her first battle with cancer in 2014, Mardi filled her home with colorful post-it notes that covered every surface in the living room and her bathroom mirror. These post-its were covered in messages of hope, love, humor, kindness, chemo countdowns, and anything else that she needed and/or wanted. This was a part of her joyful life, because she filled every room that she entered with light, love, color, and beauty. Mardi managed to figure out how to choose joy in every moment of her life, a lesson that her loved ones will carry with them forever. Her mantra was manifested in the following quote: "Joy is a decision, a really brave one, about how you are going to respond to life." - Wess Stafford Mardi's immediate family will hold a small, outdoor service at the Grace Lutheran Church Columbarium next week. Once COVID-19 restrictions are lifted, we will hold a public visitation at Koch Funeral Home, as well as a funeral service and celebration of life at Grace Lutheran Church the following weekend. All who loved Mardi will be welcome, and we look forward to seeing you and sharing in your memories of this amazing woman who was loved by so many. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to The Mardi Lowry McDonough '87 Student Opportunity Fund and Grant Program via the link below: Arrangements are under the care of Koch Funeral Home, State College. Online condolences and signing of the guest book may be entered at
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