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Oakdale airport founder Dan Donnelly dies at 94

Dan Donnelly, a local aviator and founder of the Oakdale airport, died Saturday at the age of 94.

Mr. Donnelly was a longtime Oakdale resident and feed store owner. In 1993, the airport was renamed for him -- Dan Donnelly Field.

"He had a tremendous life," said his son Corky Donnelly. "The day the airport was renamed after him, he told me his life was now complete."

Mr. Donnelly was born in Oakland in 1915. When he was 6, his father moved the family to Oakdale and settled on a ranch east of town near the Stanislaus River.

He graduated from Oakdale High School in 1933 and spent a year at Modesto Junior College before transferring to St. Mary's College in Moraga in 1935.

That year, he left school after his father died suddenly.

About a year later, he answered a newspaper ad calling for young, single men who wanted to learn to fly.

The flight training was provided with the agreement that the young men would be called into military service if the United States went to war.

He became a Navy fighter pilot during World War II. He had married and started a family by the time the Navy sent him to the Pacific.

Mr. Donnelly left the Navy in 1945 and returned to the valley, where he built what became the Oakdale Municipal Airport. He was a member of the Oakdale City Council when the city bought the airport. He served on the city's Airport Commission for 24 years.

He opened Oakdale Feed and Seed in 1950, adding stores in Modesto, Madera and Sheldon, east of Elk Grove.

"He endured many hardships like Prohibition, recession, a war and the passing of his wife and three sons," Corky Donnelly said. "All we can do is celebrate his life."

He was preceded in death by his wife, Helen Donnelly, and his sons Jerry, Steve and Dan Donnelly Jr. He is survived by his daughter, Kathy, and his sons Corky and Kevin.

His family on Saturday was still making funeral arrangements.

Bee staff writer Rosalio Ahumada can be reached at rahumada@modbee.com or 578-2394.

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