Her hair was scarlet, and she was the one who got away.
In 1989, Donna Mae Wold was outed around the world as the longed-for “little red-haired girl” in the “Peanuts” comics strip. “Good Grief,” Rheta Grimsley Johnson’s biography of Minnesota cartoonist Charles M. Schulz, devoted an entire chapter to Wold, the Minnesota woman who got away — from him and from character Charlie Brown.
In the strip, loosely based on the cartoonist’s childhood, Charlie Brown pined for the girl but never chatted her up — and then she moved, just before the sixth-grade swim party. Poof, gone.
The “little red-haired girl” faded out of Charlie Brown’s universe, but Wold lived decades longer in the real world, inspiring others beyond Schulz.
“Donna had a whole, complete life,” said Cesar Gallegos, an archivist at the Schulz Museum in Santa Rosa, Calif. “For her, that was a moment in her life.”
Wold, who lived in Richfield, died Aug. 9 of heart failure and complications from diabetes. She was 87.
She was born Donna Johnson in Richfield and attended high school in south Minneapolis. While working at the Art Instruction Schools in Minneapolis, she met Schulz. Later, she raised a family of four with her husband and served as foster mother to at least 40 children.
Wold’s own trail hit a fork in her early 20s. Two bachelors proposed — first Schulz, or “Sparky,” then Allan Wold.
Allan and Donna, both redheads, attended the same middle school, where they hardly talked. After Allan returned from the Navy, he saw Donna singing in the choir at church. He decided he had to meet her.
Determined, Allan dialed hundreds of Johnsons living in the city. He found her, and landed a date.
“It went on from there,” he said. They married in 1950.
Instead of comics, their story is the stuff of fairy tales.
“I was with her when she passed,” Allan said. “Every day, almost.”
The Wolds camped often, and even spontaneously, as Allan’s schedule as a firefighter allowed them flexibility. “I can be ready by morning,” Donna would say.
They visited the Grand Tetons, her favorite spot, at least 40 times. They honeymooned on the North Shore, along the Canadian border. (“And we froze,” Allan said.)
Wold enjoyed playing cards, an interest she shared with her father. Her family would play a game that she learned from Sparky. The game, originally called Hell, was renamed Predictions.
“We changed the name because she didn’t want to swear,” said her daughter Peggy Baumtrog of Memphis. “She didn’t want any of us swearing.”
The Wolds had been married for 38 years when the world learned of Donna’s long-ago encounter with the famous cartoonist. Letters flowed to the Wolds’ Twin Cities home, where many of Sparky’s doodles still sat in Donna’s hope chest.
“It was a nice interlude,” Allan said. “It got her out in the spotlight just a little, not too much. … It was a good thing for her to lift her spirits.”
After their children were grown, Wold fostered others, often naming them after “Peanuts” characters, including Schroeder and Lucy.
“It was a fun story,” said daughter Sally Wold. “We’re all lucky we got to be part of it.”
In addition to her husband and her daughters Sally and Peggy, Wold is survived by another daughter, Susan Trulen; a sister, Margaret Olson; seven grandchildren and 13 great-grandchildren. She was preceded in death by a son, Daniel, and two grandsons. Services have been held.