A look at Red Deer’s longest serving mayor: Albert M. Donnelly

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Over the past 110 years, there has been no other former mayor in our community who has come close to the record of longevity as Albert M. Donnelly. Donnelly, who served as the mayor of the Village of North Red Deer in 1924-1925, lived to be 107 years old.

Albert Michael Donnelly was born in Brechin, Ontario on August 11, 1888. He initially worked as a plumber in Toronto, but his business was hit hard by the recession of 1913. He consequently decided to try a new life in Alberta.

He got a number of farm labour and threshing jobs. He worked on the construction of the Painter Wing of the Chateau Lake Louise. He also worked as a member of a C.P.R. bridge gang and worked on the painting of the High Level Bridge.

In 1917, he married his first wife Mary, who had been born in Peru, Nebraska in 1889. Albert and Mary were to have a family of five sons and one daughter – John, Thomas, Robert, Donald, David and Mary Elizabeth.

In 1918, the Donnellys moved to Red Deer where Albert got a permanent position as a car inspector for the C.P.R. They bought a beautiful small stone house on the southeast corner of what is now 58 St. and 57 Ave. The house had originally been built by an early French settler, who had moved back to France during the First World War. The house then belonged to Emanuel Cronquist, who rented it out before selling it to the Donnellys.

Almost immediately after arriving in North Red Deer, Albert became very active in community affairs. In 1919, he became a trustee on the Red Deer Separate (Catholic) School board and served for the next 31 years.

In 1923, Albert was elected to the North Red Deer Village council. The following year, he was elected mayor and held that position until the end of 1925. In 1931, he returned as a village councillor, serving an additional one-year term.

Meanwhile, tragedy struck in August 1920 when Mary Elizabeth passed away at the age of six months. She is buried in the Roman Catholic Cemetery on the North Hill along 67 St.

In 1933, the Donnellys moved to a small farm in what is now the south part of Oriole Park. In 1937, they bought a large brick house on the top of the Oriole Park Hill.

Tragedy struck again on Oct. 23, 1948, when Mary passed away. Like her daughter, she is buried in the Mount Calvary Roman Catholic Cemetery on 67th St.

In 1951, Albert married Justine Roth Maller. In 1953, he retired from the C.P.R. After living in Edmonton for a number of years, he and his wife moved to Salmon Arm, British Columbia, where they felt that the weather would be better.

In 1970, the library at Saint Martin de Porres School was named in Albert Donnelly’s honour. He also received a special long service award from the Alberta School Trustees Association.

Sadly, Justine passed away in 1984. Albert moved to Edmonton to live with family. However, he eventually moved to his own apartment in Osoyoos, B.C., near his son Bob.

Albert believed in keeping as active as possible. He drove alone from Osoyoos to Edmonton when he was 100. When he was 101, he moved back to Edmonton and took great delight when his new bank found itself unable to fully register his age as it only had room for two digits, instead of three.

In 1992, when he was 104, he made a rare visit to hospital, but only to help officially open a new geriatric assessment unit at the Misericordia Hospital. The following year, he helped to drive the first spike for the End of Steel Park in the Strathcona district in Edmonton.

When he was 107, Albert Donnelly finally decided to move into a nursing home. Unfortunately, he had a fall and had to have a hip operation. He decided that he had lived long enough and stopped taking any nourishment. He passed away 10 days later on April 21, 1996.

2011 marks the centennial of the Village of North Red Deer. Celebrations of this important community event will be held on Aug. 27, 2011 at the Koinonia School on 60 St. in Riverside Meadows.

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