Class of 1959 honors classmate Joe O’Donnell

Photo by Joyce Ervin
Photographed during Milan’s 2017 Homecoming Parade are, (b) Geneva (Hall) DuBois, Shirley Hack, Irene (Kormos) Smith, Sallie (Pepper) Bancroft. John Hazlett and Jerry DuBois. (f) Jerry Lund, Jim Brasfield, Mary (Petty) Brasfield, Carolyn (Bruckner) Gotts and Gail (Birch) White, MHS class of 1959.

By Joyce Ervin

The 1959 graduating class of Milan High School participated recently in the Homecoming Parade to honor classmate Joe O’Donnell for whom the school’s football field was dedicated, as part of their reunion celebration.
They rode in a wagon proudly displaying a banner with his name.  He was also the topic of conversation when they met the next evening at a local restaurant for a celebration dinner. A favorite story to tell was when O’Donnell carried an injured O.J. Simpson off the field.
O’Donnell was a four-year varsity player in football, basketball and track.  Playing as a fullback, he set the record for the most touchdowns in those four-years and the record held for 57 years before being bested in 2016.
That wasn’t his only record.  In one basketball game against Dundee, he scored 49 points, more than any other player ever scored in a game.  It is noted that at the time there were no three-pointers making the achievement even greater.
After graduation, O’Donnell played for the University of Michigan as a punter and team captain.  He was drafted by the Buffalo Bills and once again was a punter and team captain in 1963.  He played professional ball with the Bills and Birmingham Americans for 11 years before retiring and returning to Milan.
O’Donnell along with fellow classmate and athletic teammate, Joe Szabo, donated many hours to keeping the high school field in top playing condition.  He also lent his name and his professional football experience with the acquisition of an $8,000 NFL grant that contributed to a new bleacher project.
The MHS football field was named in O’Donnell’s honor in 2009. O’Donnell now resides near his son in Oregon, but is fondly remembered by his Milan friends and classmates.

Joyce Ervin is a freelance writer reporting on Milan.  She can be contacted at: jlervin42 [at] yahoo [dot] com.

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