Margaret Rose “Peggy” O’Donnell, 88, formerly of Junction City, passed away peacefully surrounded by family on Friday, January 19, 2018 at her home in Stevens Point.
A Mass of Christian Burial will be held at 10:00 am on Saturday, January 27, 2018 at St. Michael’s Catholic Church, Junction City, with Rev. John Ofori-Domah officiating. Burial will take place in Guardian Angel Cemetery, Stevens Point and serving as pallbearers will be Peggy’s 7 sons and her oldest grandson, Garrett Ameigh. The visitation will be held from 3:00 pm until 8:00 pm on Friday at Martens / Rembs Funeral Home, Junction City, and from 9:00 am until service time on Saturday at St. Michael’s Catholic Church.
Peggy was born on June 5, 1929 in Chicago, to Thomas and Grace (Healy) Keefe, and was the 5th of 9 children. Peggy graduated from St. Casimir High School in 1947. Following High School, Peggy enrolled in Chicago Teachers College at Navy Pier. While there she took a few months off to travel to Europe in 1950 with her best friend, Mimi. She went to Rome for the 1950 Holy Year, and she often recounted the story to her children. On returning from Europe, Peggy finished up at Navy Pier and received her teaching degree. She began her life-long teaching career by teaching middle school English for Chicago Public Schools.
While teaching Peggy met a handsome young police officer recently back from Korea named Jack O’Donnell. Peggy – who besides being very beautiful, was blessed with an amazing singing voice and an outgoing personality – used to enjoy singing Irish songs with her friends at the Red Circle bar. That’s where Jack met her, and their whirlwind romance resulted in marriage on St. Patrick’s Day, March 17, 1954 at St. Brendan’s Catholic Church, Chicago.
Their family began to grow right away, and Peggy had the first of her 9 children in the summer of 1955 with the birth of Mary. They bought their first home on 77th and Keating and their Irish family continued to grow with John 1956, Robert 1957, Margaret 1958, Daniel 1961, Stephen 1963, Michael 1965, and Timothy 1967.
In 1968, Peggy and Jack decided to leave Chicago to start afresh, relocating near their favorite camping destination in Central Wisconsin. They purchased an old farm house without electricity or plumbing near Junction City. She quickly landed a teaching position in Stevens Point and was assigned to McKinley school. In 1970, James, their 7th son, was born completing the family of 9 children. She requested a maternity leave, just as she had done many times before in Chicago.
When Peggy requested to return to work after her maternity leave, she was informed that the district had no such maternity leave policy; the only option was resignation. Always a fighter for women’s rights, she sued the Stevens Point School District for sex discrimination…and won. From then on, and as part of the settlement, the district was obliged to give her back her teaching position, AND to implement a maternity leave policy. She was a force to be reckoned with and in the face of unfairness, would never go quietly. Peggy continued to teach from then on and was a highly acclaimed and recognized teacher at Washington School and Kennedy School in Junction City. Later, she fought for equitable funding for girls sports in the District where girls athletic programs, at the time in the early to mid 1970’s received about 1/100th the funding of boys sports. She counseled her daughter’s basketball teammates to write letters to the newspapers and lobby the school district for increased funding. They did.
Peggy was an exceptional teacher, and if you were lucky enough to be in her class, that meant that you were destined to take part in one of her school plays or musicals. For many students, this enriching experience would mark the only time in their lives that they would be in a such a performance. Further, her expertise was science and she was a naturalist and lover of the great Wisconsin outdoors. She taught her children and her students about caring for nature and about recycling everything, including water, long before the words “recycling” or “grey water” were part of our vocabulary. As a teacher she was known to be unconventional and experimental and many of her ideas were adopted by others and implemented district-wide. While at Washington School, she maintained a pond in her classroom, with various plants, including lily pads, and aquatic animals, in the very center of the classroom. Rather than desks, the children would pull their chairs up around the pond for classwork in all subjects. In 1988 she was awarded Science Teacher of the Year by the Department of Public Instruction. She was also recognized as an Outstanding Teacher by the State of Wisconsin.
Peggy was one of those amazing personalities that was larger than life. She was always the life of the party, getting others involved in the fun, and she loved the spotlight – she loved to sing and dance. Every St. Patrick’s Day, also her wedding anniversary, was observed with great fanfare, and always meant that Peggy could be heard singing old Irish ballads at the top of her lungs, boldly and proudly. In later years, she was accompanied by the O’Donnell Brothers Irish Band comprised of some or all of her 7 sons. Her enthusiasm was dynamic, energizing everyone around her with her irrepressible joy of living. Her children and all her siblings and nieces and nephews knew that if Peggy was around, loads of fun and excitement were sure to follow. And the love of performing was part of Peggy. She performed in several productions, often accompanied by her children, with the Central Wisconsin Area Community Theater including Oklahoma, Fiddler on the Roof, Sound of Music and Brigadoon.
Peggy was a devout Catholic and a member of St. Michael’s Parish in Junction City, Wisconsin. She shared her gift of singing with the choir. She also taught CCD classes and was a member Rosary Society. The responsibility to devote herself to community service ran deep in Peggy. As a charter member Wisconsin Right to Life, she worked tirelessly to protect the lives of the most vulnerable people and was also a hot-line volunteer at Birthright. And, in line with her non-conformist attitude, espoused the power of reproductive superiority from a feminist perspective. Her hero was Elizabeth Cady Stanton, pro-life feminist founder of the early women’s rights movement and mother of 7. Like Stanton, Peggy’s philosophy was pioneering for her time, in that, she believed women need not neutralize that which makes them female, in order to try to fit in, whether in academics, the workplace, society, politics, or at home. She was an activist for the cause, leading by example. She was a voracious reader and always had stacks of newspapers, news magazines, congressional records, and biographies on her nightstand. She regularly communicated with legislators in local, state and national levels. She highly valued continuing education, earning a Masters Degree during her career. Six of her children graduated from the University of Wisconsin Stevens Point (UWSP) after which they started the O’Donnell Family Scholarship in 2014 to help needy students.
In 1992, Peggy decided to retire to spend more time traveling to visit her children and grandchildren, at home and abroad. She was a regular at the YMCA, a volunteer at St. Michael’s Hospital, went hiking and loved gardening. She helped anyone who asked and welcomed everyone, unconditionally, into her home, especially those down on their luck.
Peggy’s death has left a huge gap in the lives of her family and friends. Those who were lucky enough to have had their lives touched by her realize what a loss we have all suffered.
Peggy is survived by her husband of 63 years, John O. “Jack” and their children, Mary (Don) Ameigh of Bentonville, AR, John (Donatella) O’Donnell of Cardiff, Wales, Robert O’Donnell of Appleton, Maggie (Tony) Diamantidis of Athens, Greece, Dan (Laurin) O’Donnell of Stevens Point, Stephen O’Donnell of Stevens Point, Michael (Michelle) O’Donnell of Rosholt, Timothy (Helen) O’Donnell of Norfolk, England and James (Michele) O’Donnell of Stevens Point.
She is also survived by 29 grandchildren (grouped by siblings); Garrett, Carolyn, Connor, Daniel, and Jack Ameigh; Christopher, Claire, Jennifer, Andrew, and William O’Donnell; Katherine, Hilary, Mary, Sophia, John, and Thomas Diamantidis; Cecelia, Daniel, and Shannon O’Donnell; Kelly Howard; Michael, Megan, Brianna, Amelia, and Keegan O’Donnell; Eva, Erin, and Harry O’Donnell; Lily O’Donnell; and 15 great grandchildren.
She is further survived by 5 sisters, Mary Ackley, Cecile Elliot, Betty Landolf, Grace Doss and Eileen Hayes.
She was preceded in death by her parents, 2 brothers, Jack and Tommy Keefe, a sister, Theresa Breheny and a granddaughter, Gracie Ameigh.
People often asked Peggy why she had so many kids. Her response was always the same, “Because I’m taking over…”
In lieu of flowers memorials may be designated in Peggy’s name to the Thomas More Society, Susan B. Anthony List,
Or St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital.
Condolences may be sent online to www.rembsfh.com