Jo Ann Donnelly

Jo Ann Donnelly (nee McCarthy), age 94, of Grand Rapids, MI, formerly of Forest Hills, NY, Birmingham, MI, Harbor Springs, MI, and Scottsdale, AZ, died in her sleep, of natural causes, on January 30, 2021, surrounded by family and so much love.  She lived a long, wonderful, and faith-filled life.

JoAnn graduated from Georgian Court in 1948 and Columbia University with a Masters in Early Childhood Education. Though standing barely over 5 foot 3 inches, she met a tall, lanky Fordham Law School student from Toronto named Charlie Donnelly on a blind date in 1951, and despite their mismatched statures she at once realized he was the love of her life.  The two were married in June of 1952 in her hometown, New York City.  She adored Charlie although as a young mother she famously scolded him when he came home for lunch midweek, unannounced, telling him, “I married you for better or worse, but not for lunch.”  In later years she relaxed the rule, somewhat, and after Charlie retired, she rarely enforced it (though she reserved the right to do so).

JoAnn devoted herself to her family, her Church, and community.  For most of her life she attended Mass daily, and only in the last few months did she miss Sunday Mass, and even then, she tuned in by television.  She exuded faith, but never pushed it on anyone, except her children and grandchildren – and always for their own good. She prayed constantly and earnestly.

She was a gracious hostess and loved to throw a party – for any reason and for no reason.  Always prepared, indeed, JoAnn dressed up every day as if it were a party, complete with sensible flats, a broach, and matching bow in her silver bun.  She was perhaps too particular about glassware, but once drank Grand Marnier from a shot glass at a roadside tavern up north under exigent circumstances.

Throughout her life JoAnn cultivated wonderful friendships.  She nourished long-standing relationships but always had room for new friends, as the dear women of Beacon Hill will attest.  JoAnn spent a lifetime quietly making sure people were seen and heard and loved.  In later years, however, she had a complicated and sometimes fiery relationship with Alexa, as her neighbors at Beacon Hill would confirm.

Generous with her time and talent and treasure, JoAnn was especially devoted to the Christ Child Society chapter in Detroit.  Upon retirement and moving from the Detroit area, she co-founded Christ Child Society chapters in Northern Michigan and Phoenix. AZ. When her children were young, she served as a Girl Scout leader and worked tirelessly to ensure all children had opportunities to grow and thrive in the schools where she volunteered. She was also active in the Village Women’s Club among other groups.  She volunteered until the last days of her life, founding the Mary Martha Guild at Beacon Hill.

Her husband, Charlie, preceded her in death (2012), as did her infant daughter, Anne Marie (1961), and her sister, Mary Catherine (2015). JoAnn leaves behind her children, Charles (Lyn) Donnelly, Sister Mary Donnelly, OP, Kathy Rogers, Mark (Susan) Donnelly, David (Rose) Donnelly and Joanna (Scott) Dales; grandchildren, Sean (Courtney) Donnelly, Mark Joseph Donnelly, Anna Grey (Daniel) Mims, Sarah (Frank) Fischler, Jessica (Rich) Cook, Zachary Rogers, Peter, Megan, Joseph, Katherine, and Ella Donnelly, Charles, Jack, and Will Dales; and her great-grandchildren Elliot Donnelly, Aurelia and Elora Fischler, and Grayson Cook, and many special nieces and nephews.

The family will formally celebrate her life when it is safe to do so.  In lieu of flowers, please consider a contribution in JoAnn’s memory to Christ Child Society of Phoenix (4633 N. 54th Street, Phoenix, AZ  85018,, Christ Child Society of Northern Michigan (P.O. Box 132, Harbor Springs, MI  49740-1430, or Beacon Hill Benevolent Fund, (1919 Boston Street, SE, Grand Rapids, MI 49506,

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9 Responses

  1. This is a lovely story of a life well lived. The legacy of this gracious woman allows me to work with her daughter Joanna Dale’s At the Kalamazoo Community Foundation. We continue to send love to the entire Donnelly family.

  2. What a beautiful and fabulous tribute! I recall your mom being a wonderful, welcoming force of nature! May your stories keep her memories going! Many prayers, Nini

  3. This made me laugh: “She was perhaps too particular about glassware, but once drank Grand Marnier from a shot glass at a roadside tavern up north under exigent circumstances.” And this warmed my heart: “She nourished long-standing relationships but always had room for new friends… JoAnn spent a lifetime quietly making sure people were seen and heard and loved.”

    I feel privileged to have met “Grandma Donnelly,” shared a summer afternoon on the playground driveway we shared with Scott and Joanna, and watched as she expertly taught my kids the fine art of jump rope.

    My deepest sympathy to the Donnelly family and all who loved and will miss this lovely woman.

  4. Our thoughts and prayers are with you. I really enjoyed reading the story. She had a full life and a family that loved her m.

  5. JoAnn and Charley were dear friends of ours and were sadly missed when they left Scottsdale. Always good fun at their home. Never a dull moment.Funny memories of JoAnn learning to use the computer and the names she called the darn thing. She was an amazing woman of great faith. She was never too busy or too tired to do something for our Phoenix chapter of the Christ Child Society. As a long time member, I owe her a lot. Rest in peace dear friend.

  6. Sending condolences to the entire Donnelly family. Your mother was lovely and a generous lady. So many fond memories to be cherished by everyone. Love to you.

  7. What an outstanding obituary for a beautiful woman, who scared the crap out of me if she returned from dinner early, but was always the most gracious and fun hostess. I’m happy she’s back in the food with Mr D.
    May they embrace the heavenly arms of God together again.
    Love to the Donnelly clan

  8. What a wonderful, devoted life that JoAnn led. She did so much for so many, and raised a big family and shepherded all those grandkids too. Beautiful tribute to a beautiful lady. I love the details of this rich life story, especially the hair bow and brooch detail. May she Rest In Peace.

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