O’Donnell family named 2018 Rushford Days Grand Marshals

SUBMITTED PHOTO Pictured is Dorothy O’Donnell, seated center, with her children. Front row: Christi O’Donnell, Nancy Warnken, Dorothy O’Donnell, Joan Kauphusman, and Mary Neyers. Back row: Kathy Zacher, Jack O’Donnell, Pat Georgens, Jim O’Donnell, and Teresa Ebner. The O’Donnells have been chosen as the 2018 Rushford Days Grand Marshals.
By : 
Chad Smith
Tri-County Record

The O’Donnell family has been a part of life in Rushford and the surrounding area for generations, and their commitment to community service has been well-known as far back as anyone can remember. 

To honor that commitment, the Rushford Days Committee has chosen the entire family to be Grand Marshals at the Rushford Days parade.

“It was definitely a surprise,” said Jack O’Donnell, a former Rushford city council member, and a retired deputy. “We were totally surprised. I don’t know who made the decision or how it came to be, but it’s pretty cool. I’ve personally been a Grand Marshal before. I’m not a big parade guy but I got through it okay.”

Karen Eich, Rushford Days chairman, said the O’Donnells were among several worthy candidates nominated by Rushford Days Committee members, as well as the public, to be Grand Marshal(s). Eich said the nominees are always individuals or families that have lived in the community a long time and put forth an effort to make the community a better place, and the O’Donnell family meets those qualifications.

“We’re looking for an individual or family that’s been involved in their share of community activities,” Eich said. “The O’Donnells have been a lifelong family here in town. They’re a big family and many of the kids have really gotten involved. One of her daughters (Kathy Zacher) is the Rushford City Clerk. One of the sons was a Fillmore County Deputy. Several of the kids have been heavily involved in Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts. 

“The whole family has been very involved with the community from day one,” Eich added. “We’re very impressed by that. We’re very happy that they were chosen, and I feel they are a good representation of what community spirit is.”

Jack O’Donnell said it’s always been important to their family that they give back to the community. Most of the family members have always made time to do that, even if they were busy with their own families. 

Jack’s son, Jeffrey, is a perfect example. Though busy with his own family and a business, Jeffrey also serves as a volunteer firefighter in Rushford and said giving back to the community was something he remembers from childhood. 

“It starts with my parents. They’ve been involved as long as I can remember with the Lions Club, which is all about service. My family all did scouts activities. My sister achieved the highest rank in the Girl Scouts, while my younger brother and I were both Eagle Scouts, which is all about service-driven community projects as too. I guess it was drilled into us from a pretty early age.

“Being a member of the fire department is just one way I can give back to the community,” Jeffrey added. “There aren’t a lot of firemen that like to be front and center. It’s a way I can give back and stay behind the scenes. My grandpa was a member of the fire department, too, so there’s some family history there as well. It’s a great group of guys and I enjoy doing it.”

Jack O’Donnell said the community has been very good to his family, who’ve all been born and raised here. He’s never pressured his kids to be involved, telling them “you don’t have to be involved in ten things, but it would be nice if you’re involved in at least one thing.” Jack says his family’s involvement in community activities goes back even further than his generation.

“My mother (Dorothy) did a lot of volunteer stuff at the church, as well as at Semcac.” he recalled. “My dad was a volunteer fireman, putting a couple decades in there. We actually had nine kids in the family, so he didn’t have a lot of time to volunteer for other things. We grew up in that kind of environment. If our parents weren’t involved in a particular event, there were usually other relatives that were.”

Rushford City Clerk Kathy (O’Donnell) Zacher is especially pleased for her mother, Dorothy, who’s thrilled that her family has been chosen to lead the parade. In the early days, Dorothy did a lot of work at St. Joseph’s church and still gets involved as much as possible.

“She’s (Dorothy) pretty excited about it,” Zacher said. “She thinks it’s pretty special. For years, she’s done all kinds of things at the church, and even now, still stays involved in as many things as she can. Her main thing was working in the church, and then rest of the family branched off into a lot of different areas.” 

Teresa O’Donnell-Ebner, the middle child of the nine O’Donnell kids, said some of her earliest memories include helping clear the tables during church dinners. Teresa calls Dorothy the “ultimate church lady,” who has served as the church bookkeeper for many years and has been an Altar Guild member her entire adult life.

“The O’Donnell crew and our spouses have been on the Rushford-Peterson School Board, Library Board, Church Councils, Planning Commissions, the Fire Department, and Rushford City Council,” Teresa said. “Many of us have been active members of the Rotary, Lions, and Jaycees Clubs, with at least five of us as past presidents. We’re also proud to say that five of the grandkids are Eagle Scouts, and a sixth is working on his project right now.”  

Eich said Rushford Days workers are putting together a special float for the entire family to ride on in the Rushford Days parade. She’s heard through an O’Donnell family member that Dorothy, the O’Donnell family matriarch, is looking for as many family members as possible to come and ride with her in the parade.

“She’d like to have all of her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren that can possibly make it, to come and ride on the float with her. That’ll be really neat to see.”