METAMORA - It is said that there is no great loss without some gain.
Lyons resident Karen Donahue turned the unfathomable sudden loss of her husband, Dennis, at 44 into a lasting and beneficial tribute. Mr. Donahue died from a massive heart attack in March, 2006, leaving behind a grieving widow and their three children.
Mrs. Donahue and Dennis' sister Kathie Brock decided to establish an annual 5K race to raise money for an all-weather track at Evergreen High School. The Donahues all attended Evergreen. The first Dennis Donahue Memorial Trot for a Track was held on Aug. 27, 2006, in Lyons.
Two races have been held since Mr. Donahue passed away; nearly $60,000 has been raised.
"It's been very rewarding," Mrs. Donahue said. "It shows there are a lot of good people out there."
In spring of 2007, construction crews broke ground on what grew into a total renovation of the football facilities at the Fulton County school. By the first football game, new bleachers, a press box, rest rooms, fencing, and lighting had been installed.
"When my brother died, I thought there is a purpose for everything," Ms. Brock said. "I thought, 'Gee our school needs a track, maybe we can raise some money for it.'"
The track, which cost about $300,000 itself, also was finished. The first high school track meet will take place April 24.
"It's made something good out of a sad, tragic thing," Mrs. Donahue said. "It's an awesome track."
Evergreen Athletic Director Kevin Stong, who helped design the renovations, said he was impressed with the dedication of Mrs. Donahue and Ms. Brock. "They were the driving force behind the whole thing," he said.
Mrs. Donahue is a 1983 Evergreen graduate and her husband graduated in 1980. She met him through her brother Jeff in high school. Ms. Brock also graduated from Evergreen, in 1975.
"Dennis did run when he was younger. But he did not run track," Mrs. Donahue said. "In the later years, he did not run."
Mrs. Donahue said she took up running as a stress reliever when her oldest son, Brandon, entered the military in 2001. "It was a whole health issue, too," she said. "I started out slow."
The older Donahue children, Brandon and daughter Taryn, did not participate in track and field for the Vikings. But the youngest, Blake, who graduated last year, took up the sport.
"My youngest son had started running just before Dennis died," Mrs. Donahue said. "It was his first year of running track."
But before he could watch Blake compete, Mr. Donahue suffered the fatal heart attack at home on March 27, 2006.
"There was nothing. No warning. He just had a cardiac arrest. It was instant and sudden," his wife said. "It's tough. We just had the two-year anniversary."
Mrs. Donahue said she and her sister-in-law decided quickly to collaborate on some type of memorial.
"Dennis died in March and we went to [Blake's] first track meet the first week of April," she said. "I just wanted to keep busy. But it was so sad to have to travel to all the meets."
Ms. Brock's oldest daughter, Melanie, a senior at Evergreen, also competes for the Vikings' track team. Her freshman daughter, Natalie, joined the team this year.
"She also had a daughter that ran track and we realized [all of the competitions] were away," Mrs. Donahue said.
"We thought maybe we could do a 5K and start raising money and then maybe 10 or 15 years down the road we could start the project. Kathie had the same idea. So we started the race."
Both Mrs. Donahue and Ms. Brock already competed in 5Ks and they took the idea to Evergreen Superintendent Ken Jones.
"He might have thought I was just an emotional widow or something," Mrs. Donahue said. "But I thought we could eventually raise a couple hundred thousand dollars. I thought we'd start making a little bit of money and put towards it and gradually raise the money."
The first race included a $50 entry fee. Funds also were raised through T-shirt sponsorships and other donations. More than 500 people participated in the race in Lyons that featured an out-and-back course.
"I was shocked," Mrs. Donahue said. "I was expecting to have 200 at the most. I would have been thrilled with that."
The race raised $32,000.
"I thought if we could clear $5,000 that would be great," Mrs. Donahue said. "Our community is incredibly supportive. Our town has been great."
Mrs. Donahue said the Toledo Road Runners club advertised the race on its Web site. The event organizers sent fliers out and took registration forms to other races.
"It really was word of mouth," she said. "It was awesome."
The second annual Dennis Donahue Memorial Trot for a Track took place in August and about 600 runners participated. The event raised $26,000.
"In a small community when you have a loss like this, people really step up to the plate," Ms. Brock said.
The entire project cost just over $1 million and was funded through the school district's permanent improvement budget. An official dedication was held at Evergreen's first home football game last fall.
"Everyone was really surprised by how fast it went," Mrs. Donahue said. "Everyone thought it would be a few years down the road."
The Donahue family was honored at the ceremony. A flagpole was dedicated to Mr. Donahue and a plaque on a boulder bears a memorial tribute.
"I cried like a baby," Mrs. Donahue said. "The whole family has been so supportive. They've been right there with me. They all run in the races. It gave me a lot to put my mind towards during that first year and it still does."
Mrs. Donahue said she is organizing three more 5Ks.
"It's really been an inspirational thing," she said.
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