Always, front and center

Donnelly active in causes, from museums to bridge to fighting TB

Donnelly active in causes, from museums to bridge to fighting TB

May 18, 2008|By MARLO BARNHART

Editor's note: Each Sunday, The Herald-Mail publishes "A Life Remembered." This continuing series takes a look back -- through the eyes of family, friends, co-workers and others -- at a member of the community who died recently. Today's "A Life Remembered" is about Adele Cohill Donnelly, who died May 7 at the age of 97. Her obituary was published in the May 11 edition of The Herald-Mail.

Born in 1910, Adele Cohill Donnelly was a spirited child and a spirited young woman, and she accomplished some amazing feats in her near century-long life.

In an era when women often faded into the background, Adele always was front and center. She nurtured several museums, helped found a historical society in Hancock, worked to further the preservation of Fort Frederick and strove to help eradicate tuberculosis in Washington County.

Her grandson, R. Hank Donnelly, recalls sitting astride his grandmother's shoulders as she hiked the C&O Canal National Historical Park alongside then-U.S. Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas.


It was the late justice who was credited with turning the canal into a park, thus saving it for future generations to experience. And Adele was there working with him toward that goal, Hank said.

"I think what I would say about (my grandmother) is that she saw it all," Hank said. "Her life spanned across nearly the entire 20th century."

Adele saw the rise of automobiles, telephones, radio, television, computers, the space program and the Internet.

"I sometimes find it a little daunting to think back on the amount of change that she experienced," Hank said. "I also realized, as I helped to write her obituary, that I probably didn't know even half of what she had done and seen in her life."

Adele was instrumental in preserving the historic Wilson Bridge on Conococheague Creek. She volunteered for Meals on Wheels, helped create Rails to Trails and worked for the U.S. Census Bureau.

Adele always was passionate about protecting animals and adopted many strays.

"When my sons were middle-school age, they found a gray kitten and named it Mittens," said Adele's pastor, the Rev. Allan Weatherholt of St. Thomas' Episcopal Church in Hancock. "We decided to find a home for it."

On their own, Stephen and Daniel Weatherholt thought of Adele, and she agreed to take the wayward kitten in, Allan said.

"Mittens had a great life with Adele," he said.

Allan will lead a memorial service for Adele, who died May 7 at the age of 97, at the church next Saturday at 11 a.m.

Adele's only son, Ralph H. Donnelly Jr., died many years ago, and her husband, Ralph H. Donnelly, passed away in November 2003.

Until she was a resident of Homewood at Williamsport her last three or four years, Adele lived in the Cohill family's Hancock home, Sunshine Hill, which was built by her mother in 1910 -- the year Adele was born.

"I spent a lot of time there," Hank said of the family home. "I grew up in Hancock."

Hank said his grandmother taught him how to tie his shoelaces, ride a horse and drive a car.

"We spent a lot of time in the woods and along the (C&O) canal," he said.

Hank said his grandmother still was riding her horses well into her 70s.

Adele began volunteering in the early 1930s, serving on the Western Maryland Health Planning Commission and the board of the Washington County Health Department for more than 20 years.

She also was a leader of Washington County Youth Red Cross, a bloodmobile coordinator and a nurse's aide volunteer during World War II.

"Through my life, the things I have done have given me so much pleasure ... I'm rewarded almost every day," Adele said in published reports in 2001.

Hank said his grandmother's accomplishments were many, but he also recalled her fondness for the simple things in life and her passion for wildlife.

Adele and Ralph, her husband of 68 years, often would drive through the countryside in their Chevrolet Corvair, coasting down hills so they could get closer to the deer.

"I will miss her," Hank said of the woman who hoisted him high to see a canal, the hills beyond and the world.

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