For anything asked of Donna Milligan Cline within the Buford fine arts’ department, she answered the call.

She had two children, Emma Grace Cline (now Turnipseed) and Mara Eva Cline, who are nine years apart and joined the program at different times. Emma Grace joined the school system as an 11th grader and joined musical theatre classes. Mara Eva started working with musical theatre as early as elementary school, and played roles in the Shrek, Mary Poppins and Titanic musicals.

All the while, Donna contributed in any way she could as a box-office manager and silent auction coordinator within the theatre department, helping construct costumes for the annual Variety Show and helping the choral department with tuxedos and gowns for concerts.

“She was the epitome of servant leadership,” said Kimberly Staples, who started Buford’s theatre department in 2000.

Added Emma Grace: “She loved each of those kids as if they were her own.”

On Aug. 20, 2023, a seismic shock was sent through the Buford community. Donna was killed in a fatal collision on Interstate 20 near Tuscaloosa, Ala. She was returning home after visiting Mara Eva days before starting her freshman year at the University of Alabama.

The Cline Family asked for proceeds to be donated to the Buford fine arts department — which Donna loved most — in lieu of flowers at the funeral. Eight months after her passing, which first-year theatre director Leila Bowman said she was “crestfallen to hear,” Buford has found a way to allow her spirit to live on. The Donna Milligan Cline “Hearts for the Arts” Scholarship will debut at the school’s graduation on May 24.

The scholarship will be granted to three students — one each in chorus, dance and theatre. Each student will receive $1,000 toward their future academic studies. Emma Grace told The North Gwinnett Voice that the family learned of the scholarship extending beyond the theatre program Tuesday morning. She added that the chosen student does not have to be majoring in one of the fine arts, but instead showed dedication to the programs while representing immense kindness as her mother did.

“It is everything that she would want,” Mara Eva said. “It means helping a student pursue their future endeavors. It also shows that the fine arts program was impacted by her help and presence.”

Bowman said that Donna frequently reached out in an effort to help when she began the middle school theatre program two years prior. Donna helped facilitate auditions for the middle school musical Frozen while running front-of-house operations. Donna learned, months before her passing, that Bowman readied to take the jump into the acclaimed high school director seat. Staples said Donna always had an “OK, what’s next?” mentality in every facet.

Donna never got the chance to continue helping after that tragic night on the Alabama interstate.

Now, the scholarships in Donna’s honor are Buford’s first step toward honoring her. The program knows it can never match what she did for it.

“We will never measure up,” Staples said.

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