Monday, December 29, 2014

Day 3 -- William J. Donnelly, 35, of 35 Lakewood Terrace, Bloomfield died yesterday ...

In 2006, I took my first genealogy research trip to New Jersey.  My partner and sidekick for that trip was my first cousin, Jeffrey Karl.  Jeffrey is the son of Vic and Joan Karl.  Joan is my mother Nancy's younger sister.  As Jeffrey and I were making our way south down the Garden State Parkway, we saw a sign for Bloomfield.   This prompted Jeffrey to say that our parents had been living in Bloomfield when our maternal grandfather, and their dad, William J. Donnelly, Jr, had died.  He died just two months shy of his 35th birthday and 6 days before my mother's 10th birthday.

From Newark News dtd. 9 March 1944 --
William J. Donnelly, 35, of 35 Lakewood Terrace, Bloomfield, died yesterday at St. Vincent's Hospital, Montclair, after a short illness.  He was a draftsman employed by Eastern Aircraft, Bloomfield.  Born in Newark Mr. Donnelly lived in Bloomfield for eight years.  He was a member of the Holy Name Society of St. Thomas the Apostle Church, Bloomfield.  Besides his wife Mrs. Marie Remmele Donnelly, he leaves four daughters, Marie, Nancy, Joan, and Clair, a son William III, all of Bloomfield, his parents Mr. & Mrs. William Donnelly of Newark and two sisters Miss Mary of Newark and Mrs. Frank Bolen of Nutley.  
Four daughters with their father Bill Donnelly, Jr., (Daughters from left to right Marie, Clare, Nancy, Joan)

I started a family genealogy website in 2005 --  I documented my 2006 trip to New Jersey under the title:  Eureka!  Discovering our Roots in North Jersey.  Here is a excerpt from that story:
On to Bloomfield . . . and to the house where I lost the grandfather I never knew. . .   
“Mom,” I said on the phone.  “I’m with Jeffrey and we’re headed off to Bloomfield.  Jeff and I are going to see your old church and house.  Do you know . . .”   Before I could finish the sentence my mom said:  “35 Lakewood Terrace.  Knock on the door and see if they’ll let you in and ask to see the attic.  Your grandfather finished off the attic in knotty-pine and I handed him every nail.”  Eureka moment #3.  I learned something again that I did not know.  I told my mother I would knock on the door and off we went.  
We found the house at 35 Lakewood Terrace without any problem.  I knocked twice and unfortunately no one was home.  I could see that attic windows on the front of the house and I thought for a moment that I could see the adoring smile on Nancy’s youthful face as she passed every nail to the father that she loved and lost in the same home.  And in the image I held in my mind was the overwhelming feeling of wanting to be there in 1944.  What I would have given to have known my grandfather.  
For the last eight years I have regretted not reaching out to the family residing at 35 Lakewood Terrace.  My goal on this trip was to visit eight cemeteries, document the grave locations, visit a few I recently discovered, and to research a few other graves that I had not yet found.  I had no intention to go to Bloomfield, but I found myself passing it twice over two consecutive days.  Coincidence? I think not.  Operating from principle that "there are no coincidences,"  I decided to exit the Parkway and swing by my mother's old home.  It was my last day in New Jersey and I thought -- I might not get this chance again for some time.

As I drove through Bloomfield I started to reflect on my grandfather's untimely death ... Who was my grandfather?   What were his dreams ?  How did he become the man that he was?   What made him fall in love with my grandmother Marie?

Again, I find myself in deep gratitude for my Uncle Bill Donnelly, III, and son of my grandfather Bill Donnelly Jr., who documented in quite significant detail, our family's ancestral biographies in his 1996 genealogical compilation simply entitled: Our Family.
Bill Donnelly, Jr., was born 6 May 1909 in Newark, NJ.  He was christened at St. Antoninus, in Newark.  By occupation he had been an engineer and food salesman.  
 As a youth, he went to Sacred Heart, in Vailsburg, after moving from South 9th Street to Mountain View Place.  He made a homemade radio from a Quaker Oats box wrapped in wire when radio was just starting up.  
Bill Jr.,  attended Central High School in Newark, where he was the starting center on the football team.  The team was considered the best in the state from 1926-27.  He played both offense and defense.  
Bill Jr., attended Newark Technical School at nights for four years receiving an associate engineering degree.  He worked for the city of Newark until the depression forced reductions in force.  He was introduced to his wife Marie, by his future brother-in-law, Joseph P. Remmele, who also was a Newark engineer.  
Bill Jr., married Marie Marguerite Remmele on 7 June 1932 at St. Ann's in Newark.   
During the depression he worked in the wholesale food sales area.  He handled Hormel and Land of Lakes among other products.  He also worked for the Eastern Aircraft Plant during WWII in Bloomfield.  
And then I contemplated Bill Jr.'s death from my mother's perspective ... What's it like to lose your father six days before your 10th birthday?  What memories did my mother have of  him?  What was it like for my grandmother Marie to tell her five children that they lost their father?   All these questions were playing in my mind as I pulled up to 35 Lakewood Terrace.

I noticed how beautifully landscaped and well maintained the home looked and how much the neighborhood itself had undergone a transformation and improvement since my last visit.  I knocked on the door and no answer.  Even though there was  a car parked on the street and one in the driveway, I realized that my holiday timing was not the best.  Disappointed, I drafted a note and left it in the mailbox for the homeowners.  The note told the story of one of my mother's enduring memories of her late father -- that of helping her dad finish the attic in knotty-pine.   I relayed that my grandfather had died in Bloomfield in 1944 when my mom was just 10 years old.  I told them that my mother was now 80 and that if the attic was still finished in knotty pine -- that she would be forever  grateful for a few photos of the attic.  I said a prayer, dropped the request in the mailbox and hoped for the best.

A few days went by and I got nervous.  Again, I found myself asking the good Lord for an intervention and some help.  And two days ago, I was pleasantly surprised to receive both via text and email the following note:
Hi Bob, I received your note ... My husband and I read your family's story.  We haven't done much to the attic since we bought the house 10 years ago as you can see.  Hope this helps -- Nadia and Marlon Richards.  
I am always humbled by the generosity of people - especially those I don't know and Nadia and Marlon are no exception.  I shall remain for ever grateful to them for these wonderful pictures of an attic finished in knotty pine more than 70 years ago:

As you can see, the attic is still very much finished in knotty-pine.  My grandfather's work lives on ... and my mother's connection to him abides.

This from my Uncle Bill:
William John Donnelly, Jr., suffered from scarlet fever as a boy and developed a rheumatic heart.  At the time of his death his heart was severely enlarged. It was also thought he was exposed to polio as a child.  
Everybody always remarked that Bill Jr., was a really nice guy and a wonderful father. His favorite song was "Paper Dolls" song by the Mills Brothers.   Take a listen.  (may not work on apple devices.)
Bill Jr., rests alongside his parents in Holy Sepulchre Cemetery, Orange, NJ.  May he rest in peace.

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