By Kevin Gross
The Donnie Project
At a little before noon on Nov. 11, I posted a message on The Donnie Project’s Facebook page, asking anyone who knew Donnie Farrell to email me with stories or information that could “help shape the story of his life and personality.”
A month later, there were more than 240 people following the page, but not comments on that post. Not a single share, or even a lone “like.”
For a guy who was so well-liked, it was sometimes tough to find people other than his family to give real insight into who Donnie was. A few were willing to, but communication was usually brief.
We kept trying, reaching out, walking the line between being eager and annoying. After a while it sunk in — there was so much affection for Donnie that often his friends simply found it too difficult to talk about him. The love is deep, but the pain is still real.
The semester wore on.
On the afternoon of Dec. 13 — two days before our Investigative Journalism class’s last meeting — I got an unexpected email. In it were four stories about Donnie from four different people, including Katie Stahl, who collected and sent them.
I’m happy to share them here, and welcome your stories, too. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com .
Kurt T. Hanisch (Secondary Supervisor of Instruction):
One of the many memories I have of Donnie is freshman year in Honors Biology, when I first met him. Initially he was a quiet kid who did his work and didn’t have much to say. After a relatively short time, that all changed (in a positive way). He began participating in class and typically had a joke to relay to me or the class. One of those funny times was when he performed his (I assume World Famous) impression of SpongeBob SquarePants. An absolutely amazing performance!This was one example of numerous times during the year that I enjoyed Donnie’s superb sense of humor. I enjoy a joke or two in class myself.Beyond that, what impressed me about Donnie was how he always made sure to say “hi” to me whenever we passed in the hallways, or when I saw him in another class for the next three years.In the Spring of 2006, Lew Ludwig initiated a letter-writing campaign for the staff of Mountain Lakes High School asking parents and/or students to send along a note to their respective teachers if they felt so compelled to write. Among others, I received a note from Donnie that so moved me, I kept it filed away not really knowing what to do with it. It is now among one of my most cherished possessions and memories of one of my students and I am so grateful I kept it. It contains memories of Donnie’s experience in my class, but it also speaks volumes about Donnie, his integrity and his perceptions of the people around him relative to his experiences at Mountain Lakes High School. I’ll never forget him. He has touched my life.
David Fewell (H.S. Bio Teacher):
I would like to add to your scrapbook of special memories of Donnie. I was particularly impressed with his giving, helpful spirit. In my A & P class, he took another student under his wing, supported him, encouraged him, and studied with him — all of this often accompanied by some degree of irritation from the student involved. Donnie did this without being prompted or asked in any way — he quite simply saw a need and filled it. There is simply no way this kid would have passed my course without Donnie’s intervention.I especially remember one occasion on which Donnie paid me the highest professional complement I have ever received. That year, Mr. Ludwig “conspired” with the students and surprised the faculty with “thank you” letters from the kids. Most of the letters were what you would expect. “Thanks for writing my letters …” “Thanks for being so funny…” “Thanks for not giving me detentions when I am late…”But Donnie’s stood out. He spent a page and a half telling what a good job I was doing trying to get the student he was mentoring to learn! He was very specific and emphatic — he noticed every strategy and bragged on my efforts with such clarity and insight that you would think it was his job to evaluate teachers! I have always considered this letter more precious than any teaching award I have received.
Yomari R. Alvarez (Rowan)
I met Donnie last year in the Magnolia courtyard. He lived on the other side of my friend Jackie and across the hall from my friend Pete. Right off the bat I knew he was a fun person to be around and good hearted. We all went to a party one night with Donnie and it was one of my best times here at Rowan. Every time I saw Donnie he was always smiling and making someone laugh, even if it was doing something stupid. He was “The Don Wan” and we all loved having him around. That kid truely was a riot. I would have to say that his parents raised a great son. He was a great friend too.
Katie Stahl (Close family friend from Boonton):
I fondly remember our trip a few years ago with the BMLRV All-stars softball team.We were headed to Jersey City for the first game in the State Championship. The team was ready and excited to play. But the families were even more excited. We loved going to the games and spending time with each other!We met at the High School and wrote well wishes on the cars. Donnie and all of the other siblings helped, joking around and having fun. The cars lined up in a caravan. Coach Stahl and his Met Flag led the way!It was perfect weather for softball…or so we thought. We flew on Rt. 287 but as we continued on Rt. 80 traffic began to slow. The players and their families stared anxiously out the front window as the cars came to a complete stop. There was an accident up ahead and we were going to be there awhile. After several minutes, everyone was getting nervous. We hoped that we would make it to the game on time.As we called from car to car on cell phones, there was a knock on our car window. It was Donnie! He was running up and down the rows of cars stopped on Rt. 80. He was passing out Twizzlers…and a smile!! Wow! How we laughed and enjoyed the looks on the faces of the passengers in the other cars that Donnie went up to. I wonder if they remember that day too.