By Anne Marie Amacher
BETTENDORF – On Dec. 1, Deacon Bill Donnelly gave his 28-day notice that he would be retiring from delivering newspapers for the Quad-City Times. On Dec. 4 he fell during his route and fractured his wrist.
He knew that meant he and his wife, Louise, would take a long time delivering the papers each day until his final day on Jan. 2. “I couldn’t just quit because of my wrist,” he said.
But he couldn’t have anticipated the blessing that would follow. When word got out at St. John Vianney Parish in Bettendorf where the retired deacon still assists, parishioners came forward to help the Donnellys keep their commitment. “That doesn’t surprise me. That’s St. John Vianney,” he said from his home last week.
The 80-year-old had retired at age 75 from his full-time work, but picked up the paper route 3 ½ years ago to help pay expenses. “It was extra income so we wouldn’t have to go into our savings,” he said.
Typically the Donnellys get up at 1 a.m. and arrive at the distribution center about 1:30 a.m. Then it is a waiting game to pick up their papers. Typically Sunday’s and Monday’s papers are ready at 1:30, but the rest of the week can vary. The number of newspaper carriers waiting in line makes a difference, too.
Deacon Donnelly said he and his wife deliver 160-165 papers Monday through Friday, around 170 on Saturday and 190 on Sunday. “It usually takes us two hours, with Sunday an extra half-hour.” That time also includes placing the newspapers in bags.
The couple had nearly finished his route around 4:30 a.m. Dec. 4 when he was making his way back to his vehicle. “My feet went out from under me and I fell back. I put my left arm out and tucked in my head and I hit the street.” Despite the pain, the couple finished up and he sought treatment. Deacon Donnelly fractured his left wrist, tore ligaments and sustained other injuries.
His arm is in a cast and his wrist and hand are still purple. “At least I am in the color of the season right now (Advent),” he laughed. He still has pain, but that hasn’t stopped him. He has a job to complete.
Parishioner Ken Miller was at the distribution site on Dec. 5 to pick up newspapers for his wife’s route. Miller also was a regular sub for Donnelly on his paper route. “I saw Bill and asked him what happened and he told me the story.”
After Miller finished the route with his wife, he went across town to find the Donnellys delivering their papers. “I grabbed about 60 of the papers from him and did a portion of his route,” Miller said.
Later, he informed St. John Vianney’s pastor, Father Robert McAleer, about Deacon Donnelly’s injury.
Usually, Deacon Donnelly serves at the 11 a.m. Sunday Mass at St. John Vianney. “I knew I couldn’t serve, so I went to 7:30 a.m. Mass with my wife, who was serving as a eucharistic minister,” he said.
Fr. McAleer promptly volunteered to help the Donnellys with the newspaper route Monday morning. Then the pastor rounded up volunteers to help the couple through the end of their paper route obligation. “Once the word got out I had people volunteering – including high school students with a parent,” Fr. McAleer said.
Each morning the Donnellys meet their helpers for the day. Deacon Donnelly drives the car and tells the assistants which houses get newspapers. Both the deacon and pastor appreciate the willingness of St. John Vianney parishioners to step up to the plate when asked to do something.
Now Deacon Donnelly is looking forward to his second retirement. “It will be nice to get back to a normal life and sleep in,” he laughed.