Donovan, Tom

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                               TOM DONOVAN
                            By Doug Underhill


RENOUS – Tom Donovan of Red Bank died last Friday. He died in the Renous rink, a building he helped build, doing something he loved to do, play hockey. He was 61.

Donovan was featured in the Leader as recently as last February when reporter Kristen Murphy wrote about his new strategy of overwintering his carrots under heavy mulch in the garden and harvesting them as needed through the winter months.

The retired teacher led an active life, recently chronicled in a story done by his colleague at Miramichi Valley High School, teacher Doug Underhill. Underhill describes Donovan as a man whose love of life included growing giant pumpkins, making a 500-foot toboggan slide for children, and struggling with deer and bears who loved his apple trees and honey.

He was a driving force in the building of the Rink and Recreation Center in Renous, on the committee which raised money for the MVHS pool, and helped push for the community college here, Underhill said.

Here are excerpts from his story:

One of his largest projects was to follow in the footsteps of Nova Scotia’s pumpkin king Howard Dill. Donovan bought a package of Dill’s seeds, then called him for advice on how to grow monster pumpkins.

Donovan won first prize at the Miramichi Agricultural Exhibition with a pumpkin that weighed approximately over 200 pounds. Donovan’s second pumpkin went to the Fredericton Exhibition where it won the $100 first prize weighing in at 317 pounds, with the next closest being 60 pounds less.

He said trying to grow large pumpkins is no easy task.

“We had heavy rains early in the summer and you have to shield the pumpkins like that. I built a 100-foot wind shield to protect mine from prevailing winds,” said Donovan. “The leaves are so big that a wind will actually turn the plant over.”

Hand pollination spawning jokes

You have to hand pollenate the blossom for optimum results. “There are ten spots that must be touched with the male pollen. A bee might only get five or six. The pumpkin would still grow, but not to its greatest size. “Some of my friends would make fun of me when I was hand pollinating my plants. You can imagine what they were saying about me being kinky with my pumpkins,” he said at the time with a laugh.

There was always a bit of the imp in Donovan. It showed itself when school kids came to visit. “I have buried a wire under the pumpkin and have a tape with 20 second delay on it. I’ll step in the barn and turn it on and then take the kids to the pumpkin patch. “When the kids get too close the tape inside the pumpkin says, ‘don’t sit on me. How would you feel if someone sat on you?’ Then it says, ‘don’t just stand there, say hello Mr. Pumpkin’ and the kids usually do what it says.”

Over the years, Donovan built and operated a lighted outdoor rink where the community played hockey and skated for 14 years. He built a toboggan slide that went down his side hill close to 500 feet and he flooded it every few days.

He had an apple orchard of close to 600 trees, although harsh winters and overly friendly deer and bear have reduced the number to 300. “Most of my friends drive miles and miles to hunt deer, and I can’t get rid of them, and I don’t hunt myself,” he said.

He also planted a huge garden with over an acre of corn. The bears helped themselves, so every night Donovan would drive his car back to the orchard to scare away the deer and bears from his trees.

He also had bee hives, but didn’t reap the honey. The bears again.

His yard includes a huge two seat wooden airplane chained between two trees on the hillside. Many a kid has taken a ride on Donovan’s plane.

Home built be hand

His home was a huge barn-shaped three-storey structure with a 21-foot high cathedral ceiling and fireplace in the living room. He cleared about a dozen acres of forest for his home and surroundings, drew up the blueprints for his house, cut his own lumber, had the logs sawed, then planed them before building the house.

His barn was like a community center and small museum, with stained glass windows from the former church in Blackville and pews around the inside. He held annual dances there, giving money from the door to charities.

He created a covered bridge and picnic area beside a huge spring that actually becomes a brook which flows the length of his 100 acres. During a visit he was also working on a hiking trail.

Underhill recalled of the interview, “Before I go, I am told to pick some apples to take home, but not to pick off the two flagged trees as there are two classes coming that week. He wanted to make sure that each of the children actually have the experience of picking an apple themselves.

“(Then he) tells me his brother will not be pleased as they are to shingle his roof the next day, because he will be off to play his first game of hockey this year at 8 a.m.

“When I hear people complaining about nothing to do, I think of Tom Donovan and his zest for life.”

Tom Donovan’s funeral was Monday.


Source: Miramichi Leader – February 2, 1999

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