Helping those in need has always come naturally to Charles “Chuck” Donovan Jr. While growing up in Syracuse, he and his three brothers and four sisters often watched and learned from the example set by their mother, Katherine Burke Donovan.
“My mother would give the money from my father’s pay to some unfortunate and we’d go without. Our family was always a giving family,” Donovan recently recalled.
Donovan took those lessons to heart, and after moving to Lyons in 1947, he became known around the village as someone who could be depended on to lend a hand whenever necessary. On Jan. 26, 2004, he was recognized for his efforts when he was awarded the 2003 Lyons Chamber of Commerce Citizen of the Year award.
Deb Housel, pastoral administrator at St. Michael’s Parish in Lyons, was one of nine people who wrote letters nominating Donovan for the award. Donovan, who has been a St. Michael’s parishioner since he moved to Lyons, has been involved with the church in a variety of ways, she wrote.
“He doesn’t discriminate — he will help anyone at any time and for any need. He always pitches in and helps,” Housel wrote.
Donovan serves the parish as an usher, rings the church bell, hands out the bulletins, takes care of the collection and closes the church for the night. He helps with the parish’s annual blood drive and sets up both the indoor and outdoor Nativity scenes and decorations each Christmas.
Donovan also leads a group of parishioners who meet at the church every Wednesday morning and take care of whatever the parish needs done. This group started in 1998, when the parish’s maintenance man was out of commission for a few weeks with a broken arm, Donovan said. The group has done everything from mopping floors and painting to doing masonry and minor plumbing work. Donovan and the rest of the group decided to continue their work even after the maintenance man came back, and they’ve been showing up for work each week ever since.
“It doesn’t matter if it’s snowing or whatever, we’re there. We’re a good bunch of workers,” Donovan said.
Many of Donovan’s neighbors also wrote letters nominating him for the citizen of the year award. Donovan takes care of his neighbors, often plowing or shoveling their driveways, unplugging their gutters, mowing their lawns and checking on their safety, according to the letters. Donovan puts the welfare of his neighbors above all else, often skipping his golf outings to drive friends and neighbors to doctor appointments or cancer treatments.
“He always looks after the elderly and young. Chuck has been my angel,” wrote Jim Fabino, who has lived near Donovan for 50 years.
For Donovan, helping his friends, neighbors and parishioners is nothing special; rather, it is a way of life.
“Well, if something happened to me, they’d do the same thing,” he said.
Donovan also credits his late wife, Sylvia Wertz Donovan, with setting a good example for him to follow. Before she passed away in 1994, she used to drive people to the doctor or help them pick up groceries, he said.
“I think I took after her. She was a real, real lady,” Donovan said.
Donovan said he likes people in general and gets along with everyone. For this reason, some of his friends once asked him to run for mayor of Lyons, but he refused.
“In politics, you lose a lot of friends. I’ve got a lot of friends. It doesn’t matter if they’re Democrat or Republican; friendship comes first,” he said.
When Donovan accompanied Fabino to the Chamber of Commerce dinner on Jan. 26, he didn’t know he would be the recipient of the citizen of the year award. The award came as a big surprise, Donovan said, and he couldn’t believe that all the people at the dinner knew about the award but hadn’t told him.
Donovan is glad and honored to have been named citizen of the year, however, and said the award meant even more because it was unexpected.