October 30, 1931 – Wednesday, November 25, 2015
St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church-Buffalo, MN
Saturday, December 5th, 2015
AT THE CHURCH
Friday, December 4th, 2015
James P. McDonnell, Jr., 84, longtime publisher of the Wright County Journal-Press and The Drummer, died peacefully at his residence surrounded by his loving family on Wednesday, Nov. 25, 2015. He had worked in the community newspaper business at Buffalo for more than sixty years. The cause of death was pulmonary fibrosis.
A native of Buffalo, Minn., Jim was born Oct. 30, 1931 in what was then the Catlin Hospital located in downtown Buffalo. He was the son of James P. McDonnell, Sr. and Sadie (Hatcher) McDonnell.
During his growing up years, Jim attended St. Francis Catholic Elementary School in Buffalo and graduated from Buffalo High School with the Class of 1950.
At the University of Minnesota, Jim earned both his BA degree in Journalism and his ROTC commission as a Second Lieutenant in the U.S. Air Force Reserve in June 1954.
On June 26, 1954, he married the love of his life, Jean E. Wandersee, his high school sweetheart and classmate. The couple lived in Buffalo briefly before leaving for Texas together when Jim entered the Air Force.
Jim served three years on active duty with the Air Force, plus several additional years in the Air Force Reserve. He graduated from jet pilot training with Pilot Training Class 56-H at Laredo, Texas. He completed his military service with the rank of Captain.
Jim felt privileged to have served his country as a combat ready pilot in the Strategic Air Command. His 337th Bomb Squadron of the 96th Bomb Wing was equipped with the latest Boeing B-47, 6-engined swept wing bombers based at Altus AFB, Oklahoma and also deployed overseas to Guam and Okinawa at times.
He firmly believed that America’s arsenal of nuclear armed jet bombers, standing ready to launch on a moment’s notice, went a long way toward insuring the peace during those turbulent Cold War years of the 1950’s. Over all the decades to follow, Jim thanked God many times that his hydrogen bomb equipped squadron, and dozens of others just like it, were never launched in anger.
Jim’s love of aviation continued all through his life. He especially enjoyed flying his Lake Amphibian seaplane to secluded lakes in Canada during summer fishing trips with both of his sons.
Jean and Jim were blessed with three children. Two of their kids were born during their Air Force years. Daughter, Cathy, was born at Laredo, Texas in September 1955 and son, Jim III, at Altus, Oklahoma in November 1956. Their son Tom was born at Buffalo Hospital in November 1959, after the family returned home.
Jim resumed his community newspaper career after returning from military service. He felt especially blessed by the opportunity to work with his Dad at the newspaper for a few years before Jim, Sr. died in 1963. Jim, Jr. then took on the additional responsibilities as the newspaper’s publisher. He continued to work with his mother, Sadie, in the family business until her death in 1983.
During all his years at the paper, Jim was appreciative of those treasured long-time newspaper staff members, whom he had worked beside for decades and sometimes whole careers. He witnessed their fine work and enjoyed their lasting friendships.
By the time their kids were all in school, Jean began working regularly at the newspaper. She started by helping out with the weekly mailing when they were shorthanded, but before long was deeply involved full time in the day-to-day operations. Jean and Jim continued working together for more than five decades.
In the 1960’s, Jim became very active in the Minnesota Newspaper Association (MNA), serving on several committees. He was elected to the MNA board of directors and spent 10 years in various capacities on the board, including a year as MNA’s State President in 1976.
In November of 1971, Jim and Jean founded The Drummer, as a new shopping publication providing blanket coverage across the greater west metro trade area to better serve advertisers and readers.
When their kids were old enough to lend a hand at the office, each one put on a printer’s apron and began learning about the newspaper business. Today both Jim III and Tom are the principal partners in the business and are vitally involved with its operation. Having both sons choose to make their careers here in the newspaper, working with their dad and mom, was the major highlight in Jim’s working lifetime.
Daughter Cathy also worked at the newspaper while she was growing up. In 1977 she married Frank Schiefelbein III, and became a part of his family’s purebred Angus cattle business at Kimball.
Meanwhile, Cathy and Frank’s daughters, Erin, Carly, Jill and Sonny have all spent years working on the staff. These grandchildren have represented the fourth generation of the family working here in the community newspaper business – a fact that delighted Jim, Jr.
Son Tom married Char in 2001 and brought two grandsons, Jack and Andy, into the family, carrying on the McDonnell name. Jim and Jean were thrilled because there are no other grandsons to carry the family name.
Nothing in this world was closer to Jim’s heart than his family.
Over the years, Jim served on various community organizations. He spent about year as an appointed member of the Buffalo City Council, having been asked to fill a vacancy created by the sudden death of then Mayor Marv Gilbert. Jim agreed to finish out the term, but chose not to file for election, feeling it would create a conflict of confidence for some residents if the community’s newspaper reporter was also involved within the city’s government.
Some of his other community activities included serving several terms on the Buffalo Airport Committee, including as chairman during the planning, building and dedication of the new Buffalo Airport.
Jim also served during the early years of the Buffalo Planning Commission. He was a longtime member of the Buffalo Association of Commerce (later Chamber of Commerce) and was especially active with the Association’s Retail Committee over many years. He served on various School District planning committees during the 1960’s and 70’s.
Jim was invited to become a member of the Buffalo Rotary Club in 1957. He was active with Rotary for about 10 years until the club’s Wednesday noon meeting times began overlapping directly with the deadline for going to press on the newspaper.
He relished a number of recreation and hobby interests during his lifetime. Jim especially loved motorcycles, aircraft, classic cars, bird hunting, fly-in fishing trips to Canada, photography and history, especially WWII aviation history. He met so very many interesting friends in all phases of those activities across the decades.
Both Jean and Jim enjoyed traveling together whenever there was enough time to get away. Decades later in their careers, they were thankful for the chance to load up the van in mid-January and drive the long road to Arizona for a month of glorious sunshine to take the frost off their old Minnesota bones.
Even in his later years, when the tank was nearing empty and he was, “running on fumes,” Jim kept his dreams and interests alive. Above all he strove to keep his sense of humor keen and to honestly remain a truly young man on the inside, even as the passing years brought limitations and worsening disabilities on the outside.
All of his life, Jim felt totally blessed to have met and married his sweetheart, Jean. He loved walking beside her hand-in-hand, raising a family together, running a business together and totally enjoying each other’s companionship.
Whether their path ahead seemed easy or difficult, they took each stride together and always remained soul mates, even as their wedding anniversaries numbered into the 60s.
Spiritually, from the very beginning, Jim nurtured a quiet and abiding faith and hope in Jesus Christ the Lord. He believed in the power of prayer and this positive force constantly influenced his life, informed his conscience and shaped his character.
Jim’s survivors include his wife Jean; a daughter Cathy (Frank) Schiefelbein III of Kimball; son Jim III (Kris) of Buffalo, and son Tom (Char) of Buffalo. Also surviving are 14 grandchildren; 16 great-grandchildren; a sister, Marilyn Legacy of Sun City West, Arizona; several nieces, nephews and cousins.
A Mass of Christian Burial will be held for Jim on Saturday, Dec. 5 at 11 a.m., with Reviewal at 10 a.m. in St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church, Buffalo, and with burial in the family plot at St. Francis Cemetery. Reviewal is also taking place Friday, Dec. 4 from 4 to 8 p.m. at St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church.
Memorials can be given to the charity of your choice.