The following remarks were made on behalf of the Donley family at “A Musical Celebration of Life” memorial for my late father Loren D. Donley on Sunday, October 1, 2017 at Point Pleasant Borough High School, in Point Pleasant, New Jersey.
My name is Kevin Donley and I am the second son of Loren Donley. I am truly proud to stand before you today and give remarks on behalf of the Donley family at this, “Musical Celebration of Life‚“ for my late father, Mr. Loren D. Donley. This is indeed a fitting celebration and I want to thank each and every one of you for being here this afternoon to remember and honor with music an extraordinary man that we loved and who deeply touched all of our lives. I want to express special thanks to all of those who prepared this celebration and are making it available on social media. In particular, I want thank Mrs. Muraglia, who put so much effort and time into making this event possible.
I would like to begin by introducing to you my family members who have in many cases traveled long distances to be here today:
First of all, we have my dad’s loving wife Lynn, from Jupiter, Florida Lynn’s two daughters Shalon with her husband Ray Weinel from Carmi, Illinois and Jacque Young with her fiancé Charlie Ingram from Westminster, Colorado. We also have Lynn’s brother Steve Appel from Encindas, California and Lynn’s sister Kim with her husband, Dave Hanrahan from Point Pleasant. We have my older brother Mark, with his wife Cheryl and their three sons Eric, Scott and David from Toms River, New Jersey;My younger brother Dana, his wife Margaretta and their son Aidan from Novi, Michigan; My sister Cheryl, her husband Don Warren and their son Zachary and daughter Rebecca from Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio. Don and Cheryl’s middle child Matthew cannot be here today because he is serving in the US Army and stationed in the United Arab Emirates. My wife Denise and my youngest son Brian are here with me from Southfield, Michigan. My two older sons Brandon who lives in Pontiac, Michigan and Brent who lives in Dallas, Texas are not able to be here today.
I also want to recognize our first cousins from the Fisher family, Debbie, Barry and Melanie, who are here with their families and they have traveled from Coshocton, Ohio and Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Their mother is my father’s sister Glenna who many of you know as Mrs. Fisher the music teacher for many years at Ocean Road School. Glenna is 90 years old and could not make the trip today. She lives in Coshocton, Ohio near Debbie and Barry. Lastly, we have my cousins Bob Blake and his family from Linwood, New Jersey and Ben Reinke from Washington, DC.
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I am the first of the Donley children to be born in Point Pleasant and I am old enough to remember the early days of the high school before there were any choral facilities to speak of. I have many fond memories of my father both at the old Ocean Road School and here at the high school before the performing arts wing was built. This auditorium and stage bring back many memories for me as I was in chorus, band and theater and performed here with my dad many times in the 1970s. My first appearance on this stage was as a middle schooler and part of the cast of “Fiddler on the Roof” in 1973, the first high school play to be performed in this auditorium.
I remember in the mid-1960s when I was in elementary school across the street—at that time Memorial School was Kindergarten through 3rd grade—I would come with my dad to the high school early in the morning. I helped him push the piano down the hall to one of the classrooms across from the cafeteria. He would let me sit at the piano with him and listen to the students as they practiced their choral music. It was truly the most uplifting experience for me and I was the proudest little 5 or 6 year old you could imagine since everyone knew that I was Mr. Donley’s son. After those morning rehearsals he would take my hand and walk me across the street to school.
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In celebrating and remembering the life of my father, it is natural for us to do so through the prism of our own experience. However, I think it is necessary to take a step back and view his life in a broader context. When I think of my father today and consider his entire 83 years, three things stand out for me: Family, Music and Life. I would like to take a few moments to explain these things and I hope to shed some light on both why and how my father was the man that we loved so much.
Everyone who knew Loren Donley, knows that family was at the center of his life. He learned about the importance of family from his own parents Daisy and Millard Donley during his upbringing in Belmont County, Ohio. Some of you may know that my dad occasionally referred to himself as a “hillbilly.” This was not a derogatory term, but his way of recognizing the connection he had to the folks that lived in the hills across the Ohio River from Wheeling, West Virginia.
Actually, the strength of the Donley family ties go back many generations and are rooted in deep traditions. Our family comes from an area of Appalachia in eastern Ohio that was settled at the beginning of the 19th century by immigrants from the Scottish Highlands. They came to America seeking prosperity and a place to practice their Protestant doctrine without persecution. They established their farms and communities around Presbyterian and Methodist churches. This area became known as Scotch Ridge due to the concentration of Scottish and Irish immigrants that made this place their home.
It was here that the ancestors of Loren Donley instilled in their children and grandchildren the principles of faith, family, love, respect for the ideas others and a very pronounced egalitarianism. It should be mentioned that many of the Scotch-Irish families that settled in this region of Ohio were supporters of the Underground Railroad and opponents of slavery. In fact, the Donley family counts among its ancestors Henry H. Mason of Hog Run, West Virginia who at age 19 joined the Union Army during the Civil War and was later captured by Confederate troops and imprisoned at Andersonville, Georgia. A decade after the war, Henry died at age 34 from the ailments he suffered during his imprisonment.
All of these traditions were present when my dad was born in 1934 in the small town of Shadyside, Ohio during the Great Depression. He was the youngest of the four children of Millard and Daisy. Times were very difficult for the Donley family as they were for everyone during those years. My Grandpap Donley had worked as a coal miner and a railroad caboose-man and eventually became a steel worker at the Wheeling Steel mill in Yorkville, Ohio. The Donleys survived these rough times by relying upon the support of their extended family.
Throughout the years of the Depression and World War II, my dad was a model of good behavior. When I was young, I recall asking my Grandma Donley what kind of child my dad had been when he was growing up. She would always tell me, “Your dad was the perfect lad and he never once got into any kind of trouble at all.” Well, since I had accumulated a lengthy resumé of trips to the woodshed already, I thought to myself‚ “Gee Willickers Kevin, you are really off to a bad start.”
My dad’s love of music and education stems from these same family traditions and it is no accident that he became a music teacher along with his two sisters Carol and Glenna. My grandmother was a school teacher and a public school principal. My grandfather, like my dad after him, had the gift of a golden baritone singing voice and loved to sing forthrightly in church. As my dad became active in the vocal and instrumental music in high school, his interest in choral music and conducting was born.
After high school graduation, he decided to pursue his love of music first at Kent State University and then as a graduate student at The Ohio State University. While other young people of his generation were listening to Elvis Presley, Loren Donley was in the university library studying liturgical choral music and preparing to become a schoolteacher.
His path to Point Pleasant came through his enlistment in the US Army following college. He was stationed at Fort Dix, NJ for basic training and upon completion of his obligation got the opportunity from district superintendent Dr. Lawrence DeBellis to become the music teacher at Ocean Road School in 1959.
I will leave it to the other speakers today to talk more about my father’s role here at the high school as a teacher. I would only say, as one of his students, that we learned to appreciate some of the greatest choral music ever written, we learned about folk music, we learned gospel music, we frequently sang in Latin and we even learned the right way to sing pop music on occasion. These are things that made all of our lives culturally more rich and, I believe, demonstrate the value of music in the public schools.
I would like to close with something that I truly admired about my dad and it is something that I think we should all remember. My father was a man of very strong moral convictions and principles of faith that he learned while growing up. I would ask you to picture in your mind this young man from Ohio who at the age of 25 arrived at the Jersey Shore in the late 1950s. There is no question that he experienced what we might refer to today as “culture shock.”
Yet, as was in some ways inevitable, my dad changed over the years. But he changed without ever compromising his core values. He remained the same approachable, kind, helpful, reserved and hard working man who loved his family, loved music and loved his students all the way through to the end. He was able to find his way and in the process had a lasting impact and left a legacy in this community. This event today is proof of that fact.
I want everyone here and everyone watching this event online to know that my father was very proud of his students, that he cherished the relationships he had with the teachers, administrators and staff here at the high school, that he loved directing and singing in the choir at Point Pleasant Presbyterian Church and he always enjoyed hearing from you over the years. I want you to know that as much as he influenced your lives, you also influenced his.
Thank you very much.