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James F. O’Donnell

James F. O’Donnell ’60, 80, passed away on Thursday, December 29, 2022.


Jim’s father, James Sr., died in his son’s arms in 1956. He was survived by Jim and brothers Andy and Joe and their mother Evelyn, at the time living in Jeffersonville, Pennsylvania.
From that tragic event became a string of lifelong opportunities, that looking back, even Jim had found incredible.

Later in that year his mother placed him in the Milton Hershey School, an orphanage for needy boys sponsored by the Hershey Chocolate company founder in a small town near Harrisburg, Pa.

Shortly after graduation he returned to the Hershey area and found employment pushing a hand mower at the local country club. It never occurred to Jim that once the grass stopped growing, in November, he would be unemployed.

He made an impression on one of the owners of a prestigious clothing store in Harrisburg. Over the years he was moved from the basement, unpacking new clothes, to the haberdashery area, and finally to the suit department where he was basically the University Shop manager.

One day he assisted an executive of the Hershey Company by delivering a new suit to his home in Hershey. It happened again a year later and this executive invited Jim to interview at the headquarters for a sales job. He did not get that job but a little later did get hired as a lower level assistant to help with packaging and point of sale Advertising. It is too long of a story but this was at the same time Harvard consultants were helping the company move into brand management and consumer advertising.

Eventually he was promoted to a sales rep in Detroit, then District Manager in Toledo and then District manager in Chicago where he was able to provide leadership to earn the region the “President’s award for highest achievement”.

He was successfully recruited, by a former Hershey associate to join the Western Publishing Company, (known for Children’s Book products (Golden Books) and Cookbooks (Betty Crocker) and a deep affiliation with Disney and Sesame Street, to be the manager of their Ohio Valley Region. After four promotions, over 10 years, and after a development program at Harvard, he became Vice President where he helped this company become the largest Children’s book publisher in the world.

Jim also became President of a successful Graphics producer headquartered in Racine…“Color Arts”. During the 10 year period manufacturing was greatly automated. Commodity printing was reduced. A creative Art department was established, the customer service and estimating positions were cross trained into Project Managers and several of those project managers have become some of the most effective sales executives in the industry. The company also, with the creative design abilities, became a national leader in retail theme décor.

In his almost 40 year professional career he successfully mentored nearly 40 women and men into manager or executive positions.

While in the Chicago Market he met a young woman, Karen Ellen Nicely. After the Hershey departure they became best friends. Eventually, in 1976, just after the 200th anniversary of U.S. Independence, they married and moved to Racine, Wisconsin, where they lived for 30 years. She was not only his copilot in airplanes but was his copilot in life!

Jim brought to the marriage his 3 children, Jimmy, Chris and Beth and they were joined in what became a beautiful blended family by daughters Kelly and Trish and later neighbor Carol (Neu). All six are successful in their chosen careers and between the 6 of them have produced 19 grandchildren!

In 1986 Karen and Jim purchased a condominium on Marco Island, Florida. In 2001 he retired and in 2003 they moved to Marco Island where they spent 7 months of the year. As part of the plan, they spent almost 5 months of the year on Trawler “Hemisphere Dancer” as Great Lakes “live aboard” mariners and spent most of their summer months in Canada, northern Michigan and Wisconsin.

In 2011 they moved full time to Florida.

Jim served his community at Shipp’s Landing, first as chair of the Marina committee and 8 years on the Board, several years as Secretary and President.

In his “retirement career” he became a Marco Island Realtor, getting true joy from helping people achieve the same dream that he and Karen had almost 40 years ago.

If he were here tonight he would be on the Balcony with the love of his life, each with a glass of wine, both saluting and toasting,..

“Here’s to the good life”.


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