By Julie Kayzerman
The legacy of beloved former Assistant Provost Pat Donohue was honored by the campus community, family and friends who gathered to participate in community service projects in Trenton during the College’s Day of Service on Saturday, Oct. 17.
Donohue, 50, worked at the College for nine years and was responsible for the Bonner Institute for Civic and Community Engagement, the Institute for Prison Teaching and Outreach and TCNJ TrentonWorks. Donohue retired on Wednesday, July 1, and died by suicide days later on Tuesday, July 7.
“It sounds cliché, but Pat really dedicated his whole life to helping others, trying to fix problems and trying to help those less fortunate,” said Pete Donohue, Pat’s twin brother, at the event’s opening remarks.
Under the leadership of Donohue, the Bonner program increased from 24 to 101 students and the number of First Seminar Program community engaged learning sections grew to over 40, according to a May email from Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Jacqueline Taylor that announced Donohue’s retirement.
“I used to joke that the only way I was ever going to get into heaven was if I got up there first and Saint Peter thought that I was my twin brother because he did all the good work,” Pete said, “but the bastard beat me to it, so I’m in big trouble.”
While Donohue’s death was a shock to family, friends and the campus community, Pete urged the audience to take a lesson away from it before beginning the day.
“Stay true to your principles, you can’t let external pressures define you,” Pete said. “There (are) always going to (be) people, problems, whatever, but you can’t let them define you… Don’t let any outside forces, pressures, people, because somewhere along the line… you’re going to encounter difficulties, don’t let that define you.”
Participants of the Day of Service were transported by bus to several different service sites in the Trenton area where volunteers helped children create art, build gardens, clean classrooms, organize a food pantry and more, all in remembrance of Donohue’s work and passion for bettering the Trenton community.
Once a year, the Bonner Center completes a day of service known as a serve-a-thon, however, they decided to turn the event into a day that honored Donohue and was open to the entire College community.
“The Day of Service meant so much more to me than any normal day of service,” said Caitlyn McNair, a sophomore communication studies major and Bonner student. “This day was in honor of the man who continues to inspire me day after day even though he is no longer with us.”
Even though McNair spent her day of service pulling weeds, picking up garbage and getting rid of fallen branches at the SAGE Coalition site on a block in East Trenton, she knew she was making a difference.
“The words of Pat Donohue echoed through my head as I was helping with a beautification project: ‘Not only can you change the world, you must change the world,’” McNair said. “He encouraged us to never give up, to always ‘fight the good fight.’”
Devyn Montemarano, a freshman health and exercise science major, also volunteered at the SAGE Coalition sight where she worked on a mural with a local graffiti artist who paints murals to beautify the area. The mural reads, “East Trenton Grew Me,” a tribute to Jay-Z’s song, “Blueprint (Momma Loves Me).”
“I wanted to participate in this event because, even though I did not know Pat, I thought this would be a good experience and a way to honor Pat’s memory,” Montemarano said. “But what I actually experienced was so much more than that.”
Gordon Filmyer, a freshman mechanical engineering major, volunteered at the OTN Gardens to distribute mulch to nearby gardens and move planters.
“During my day of service, I learned that helping a community, even just superficially, can teach you a lot about it, and help the community to make positive strides on its own,” Filmyer said.
As the day came to a close, the participants reconvened in the Decker Hall Social Space at 1 p.m. to share their experiences.
Jim Donohue, Donohue’s father, closed the day with his remarks saying that before today, he didn’t know much about the amount of work his son did, or of the quality and devotion of those he worked with.
“He was a hero, and so are you because heroes volunteer to get involved in important issues which takes them into uncharted waters,” Jim said to the participants. “You work in territories where the traditional answers and strategies are often inadequate.
“Nobody bats 1,000 when they are working in unchartered waters and sometimes those who do pay a price for their noble efforts.”
McNair was specifically touched after hearing Donohue’s father speak about his son as being a “hero.”
“Pat was a hero in so many ways,” McNair said. “He helped where no one else wanted to, he fought for causes that others gave up on, he inspired and encouraged individuals to follow their dreams and he taught me that I am never too small to change the world.”
Donohue brought the campus community together in the name of service on Saturday. While his life was dedicated to helping others, his twin brother Pete reminded those in attendance that they should always consider themselves a success and not let outside forces impact them.
“My main message to you today, on behalf of my entire family is to thank you for your dedication to Pat and for your continuing heroic efforts to carry out his initiatives,” Jim said. “Thank you, each and every one of you.”