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J. Robert Donnelly Husky Heritage Sports Museum

J. Robert Donnelly
University of Connecticut---Class of 1941

Robert Donnelly

Bob Donnelly personified the phrase "student-athlete" during his outstanding undergraduate years at the University of Connecticut (1937-41).

Donnelly of Nokomis, Florida and Republic, Michigan, died Sept. 26, 2005 in Venice, Fla., at the age of 87.

Donnelly was born Dec. 8, 1917 in Branford, Conn., and graduated from the University of Connecticut in 1941. While at UConn, Bob was a varsity athletic star in two sports, serving as captain of both the 1940 Connecticut football team and the 1940-41 Connecticut basketball team.

Donnelly served in the U.S. Army Air Corps from 1941 to 1946, rising to the rank of major.

In 1950. Bob Donnelly completed studies at the Ohio State University School of Law and launched a distinguished professional career as a highly-respected attorney. He retired as a partner in the law firm of Iddings, Jeffrey and Donnelly in Dayton, Ohio after 29 years.

A long-time major benefactor of the University of Connecticut Division of Athletics, Donnellyís generosity helped create the J. Robert Donnelly Husky Heritage Sports Museum. The museum, which opened in 2002, is a 3,000-square foot facility with contents that chronicle the history of Connecticutís intercollegiate athletic programs. The museum is located on UConnís main campus in Storrs.

Donnelly is survived by his wife MJ (Mary Jane) of Nokomis, Florida.

Donnelly made an immediate impact on the Storrs campus. He was elected President of the freshman class at Connecticut State College and starred on both the freshman football and basketball squads. Beginning in the fall of 1938, the name Bob Donnelly became well known to Connecticut fans throughout the region as he excelled for three consecutive years on both the football and basketball varsity squads. He was a multi-talented star halfback in football (running, passing, punting) and a high scoring forward in basketball. He captained both squads in his senior year. He never played on a losing team at Connecticut in either sport. His three varsity football teams (1938-1940) had an overall record of 13-10 and his three varsity basketball squads (1938-39 to 1940-41) posted an impressive overall record of 35-15. As a senior captain of the 1940-41 basketball team, Bob Donnelly led the Huskies to an outstanding 14-2 overall record, including ending his career with 10 consecutive victories.

The Nutmeg Yearbook at the University of Connecticut and The Connecticut Campus newspaper chronicled the numerous successes of J. Robert Donnelly and his Connecticut teammates. Following are some of the reflections from those two publications from 1938-1941.

  • Campus paper (1938 football vs. Wesleyan)---"Donnelly thrilled the State partisans with runs of 15 and 30 yards...Donnelly scored the first touchdown of his college career...Donnelly intercepted a Wesleyan pass at the goal line and ran it back to the 18-yard line, where, a moment later, the game ended in a 13-6 Connecticut victory."
  • Yearbook & Campus paper (1938 football vs. Rhode Island)---"Donnelly made runs of 12, 18 and 25 yards and scored during Connecticut's 69-yard drive...Early in the second quarter, Donnelly directed Connecticut's second touchdown drive and late in the same period, Connecticut got a third score on a pass from Donnelly...Outstanding for the Huskies was Bob Donnelly, whose spectacular running is always a sight to see."
  • Yearbook (1938-39 basketball)---"After losing six of their first nine games, Head Coach Don White found the right combination of players and Connecticut won nine consecutive games to finish the season 12-6...Standouts on a team a standouts were Herb Peterson and Bob Donnelly, forwards par excellence."
  • Yearbook (1938-39 basketball vs. Rhode Island)---"In the most nerve-racking game of the season, the Huskies defeated Rhode Island in Kingston 68-67. With Bob Donnelly and Johnny Yusievicz providing the scoring punch, garnering 23 and 29 points respectively, the Whitemen beat Rhode Island for the first time in eight years..."
  • Campus paper (1938-39 basketball)---Bob Donnelly finished his first varsity season No. 2 on the team in scoring with 217 points. He was a Second Team All-New England Conference selection as a sophomore, scoring 105 points in eight league games (13.1/game).
  • Yearbook (1939 football vs. Coast Guard)---First game for the University of Connecticut since the school name changed from Connecticut State College and first floodlit game at night at Gardner Dow Field. "Bob Donnelly...a hard running, accurate passer...dashed across the goal line after he had outwitted Coast Guard with a fake pass to Yusievicz...Connecticut won 14-0."
  • Yearbook (1939 football vs. Mass. State)---"The most thrilling game ever played by a Connecticut eleven took place in Amherst when the Huskies defeated the Bay Staters in a last minute score 7-6...Several Mass. State rooters started ringing the victory bell (late in the game with a 6-0 lead)...Bob Donnelly threw a 50-yard pass to Ed Waltman, who was tackled at the 20-yard line with one minute left to play...Donnelly found Mike Cimino with a touchdown pass to tie the game and, with an awed crowd standing on its toes, Cimino calmly kicked the ball through the uprights for the extra point, winning the game just before the gun."
  • Yearbook & Campus paper (1939 football vs. Maine)---"Donnelly, outstanding back on the field throughout the game, ran the Maine line ragged, then mixed in a few passes, one of them culminating in a touchdown...Donnelly, with his bullet passes and flashing runs without interference, was a constant threat to the Bears...Donnelly's elusive running was phenomenal-as time and again he broke away from a host of Maine jerseys to pick up big chunks of yardage."
  • Campus paper (1939 football vs. Buffalo)---"Donnelly threw a perfect pass over the middle to Herb Peterson who galloped 72 yards for the first Connecticut score...At this point, a heavy snowfall and a whistling wind forced the Connecticut team to forego a passing attack and stick to the ground...Bob Donnelly scored Connecticut's third touchdown on a four-yard run. Connecticut won the game, 25-7."
  • Campus paper (1939 football wrap-up)---Bob Donnelly was an Honorable Mention Little All-American halfback and was named to the Hartford Courant's All-State Small College First Team.
  • Yearbook and Campus paper (1939-40 basketball)---"Bob Donnelly was the scoring star of the game (50-46 win over New Hampshire) as he cut the basket for 25 points...He followed that game with a matching 25-point effort in a 71-68 double overtime victory over Maine...Bob Donnelly is in the midst of a hot scoring spree. Those 50 points in two games looks like some sort of record for a Connecticut player and they were enough to shove Rhody's Stutz Modzelewski out of the scoring leadership spot in conference games."
  • Yearbook (1939-40 basketball vs. Rhode Island)---"Donnelly had his best night of the season, scoring 30 points..."
  • Campus paper (1939-40 basketball)---Bob Donnelly was a First Team All-New England Conference selection. He finished third in the conference scoring race. He played in 13 of 16 games, missing the first three because of an injury (9-7 overall record), scoring 233 points and averaging 17.9/game on a team that averaged just 58 points a game.
  • Yearbook & Campus paper (1940 football preview)---Co-captain Bob Donnelly will be at a halfback post while also punting and passing...Co-captain Donnelly has no peer as a passer in small college circles."
  • Yearbook & Campus paper (1940 football)---"Bob Donnelly scored once from the one on a run and threw a touchdown pass to Waltman in a 13-0 win over Massachusetts...Donnelly had a key interception and also punted expertly in a 6-0 win over Wesleyan...Connecticut won its first four games and co-captain Donnelly's kicking, passing and brilliant running played a large part in the Husky victories.... Probably the most brilliant play of the year was Donnelly's 69-yard touchdown dash after intercepting a Rutgers pass and evading a host of would-be tacklers...Picking up the ball from his shoetops in as pretty a shoestring catch as most of the 7,000 suddenly silent fans had ever seen, Bob Donnelly intercepted a pass heaved by Rutgers' Ray Foster, picked up two blockers (Mitchell & Mohr), and streaked down the sidelines evading a whole host of Crimson jerseys to run 69 yards for a score."
  • Campus paper (1940 football wrap-up)---"Last Saturday marked the last football game at Connecticut for Bob Donnelly...Bob Donnelly has been the spearhead in the Connecticut passing and running attack for many a game. His passing is rated high in small college circles and his dazzling footwork has placed him on many all-star teams."
  • Campus paper (1940-41 basketball preview)---"Bob Donnelly, an outstanding player, is a cool ball player and one of the best shots ever to play in Hawley Armory."
  • Campus paper (1940-41 basketball vs. Springfield)---"Sparked by the brilliant Donnelly...his basket near the end clinched the game against the favored Springfield five as Connecticut won 47-44."
  • Campus paper (1940-41 basketball)---After four early-season wins, Connecticut lost its only two games of the season to Rhode Island and Villanova. Connecticut then ran off 10 consecutive wins to conclude the season-the longest single-season winning streak in school history to that point. Donnelly scored 23 points in a 78-47 win over New Hampshire that started the winning streak.
  • Campus paper (1940-41 basketball vs. Maryland)---"Following a seven hour train ride for a road game at Maryland, Bob Donnelly scored 18 points in a 52-43 Connecticut win."
  • Yearbook & Campus paper (1940-41 basketball vs. Rhode Island)---"In the most exciting game ever played in Hawley Armory...Bob Donnelly's late basket gave Connecticut a 61-58 lead and insured the 63-62 victory before an overflow crowd."
  • Campus paper (1940-41 basketball vs. Wesleyan)---"Bob Donnelly concluded his career with a 17-point effort in a 57-42 victory."
  • Campus paper (1940-41 season wrap-up)---"Never again will we see the beautiful one-hand ringers made by Bob Donnelly."
  • Campus paper (1940-41 season wrap-up)---Bob Donnelly scored 240 points in 16 games (15.0/game average), earning First Team All-New England honors. For the second consecutive season, he was an All-New England Conference First Team All-Star selection. The 14-2 final record for the 1940-41 team captained by Bob Donnelly was the highest winning percentage (.875) for any pre-World War II Connecticut team. In three varsity basketball seasons at Connecticut, Bob Donnelly averaged 14.7 points per game, scoring 690 points in just 47 games.

Robert Donnelly and Wife

In addition to his superb career as a two-sport collegiate athletic star and captain, Bob Donnelly contributed in many other ways during his undergraduate years at Connecticut. He was a three-year member of the Student Senate, the most powerful student organization "on the hill". He was an honors student. Bob Donnelly was one of only six students announced in 1941 by President Jorgensen as "Druids"---members of a secret Honorary Society that promoted improvements and change on the Storrs campus. He was President of Phi Mu Delta Fraternity. He represented his senior class by reciting the "Ivy Poem" at commencement. He was crowned "Campus King" during his senior year at Connecticut.

In a summary about Bob Donnelly's numerous accomplishments during his days at Connecticut and his potential for continued success in his chosen career, the campus newspaper said, "How can he miss?...being an honor student while also being an outstanding two-sport star."

As one of the finest two-sport captains in Connecticut athletics history, and as a proud and active supporter of his alma mater, J. Robert (Bob) Donnelly has proven the 1941 Connecticut Campus newspaper correct.

Following graduation from UConn, Bob Donnelly added his law degree from Ohio State University and enjoyed outstanding professional success as a highly respected attorney. Bob Donnelly has been a major benefactor of the University of Connecticut Division of Athletics, establishing endowments for the J. Robert Donnelly Basketball and Football Scholarships at his alma mater. In 1994, The UConn Club bestowed its highest honor on Donnelly, awarding him the "Red O'Neill Award" that is given to former Husky student-athletes who have gone on to distinguish themselves in their chosen careers.

Bob Donnelly's life has been a continuing success story and his generosity will allow the J. Robert Donnelly Husky Heritage Sports Museum to proudly honor the past, present and future achievements of the intercollegiate athletics program at the University of Connecticut.