Donelan brothers closed Berthoud grocery store and enlisted in U.S. Air Corps

By Mark French

The Surveyor

Bill Donelan came to Berthoud in 1937 looking for an opportunity. Donelan and a Kansas grocer for whom he had worked for several years found that opportunity in an IGA store they opened at 324 Mountain Ave. Donelan was a native of Colby, Kan., who would have graduated from high school in 1936. Instead he skipped his senior year and came to Berthoud with Lester McGinnis, where they became partners in an IGA (Independent Grocers Alliance) store. The business was located in the east half of the building presently occupied by Berthoud Drug.

Photo courtesy of the Berthoud Historical Society
From 1937 to 1942 Bill and John Donelan operated an IGA store in the 300 block of Mountain Ave. in Berthoud. This Larimer County Assessor’s photo, circa 1949, shows the building (currently occupied by Berthoud Drug) where the Donelans sold meat and groceries.

Donelan and McGinnis began business in Berthoud by purchasing a stock of groceries that Vern Cady was liquidating from his general merchandise store at 312 Mountain Ave. The men located their business in a storefront that was owned by Rev. W.H. McCormick and formerly occupied by Henry Dunbar.

Upon the men’s arrival in Berthoud the local newspaper noted, “Mr. and Mrs. McGinnis and 4-year-old son, with William Donelan will live in Mrs. Mary May’s house at the corner of Fourth and Mountain.” The Bank of the West is currently located in the footprint of the May house. The dwelling was razed to make way for the bank.

On Oct. 21, 1937, the Berthoud Bulletin announced, “The Donelan & McGinnis IGA store held an open house last Friday and Saturday, and the store was thronged with customers a greater part of the time.

“A feature of the opening was the amateur broadcasting tryouts in which a number of the young people had parts. There was a vocal trio—the Misses Rosemary McCormick, Jane Bein and Sarah Fagan, with Miss Marceline Reisbeck as accordion accompanist. There was a vocal solo by Miss Esther Kauffman, solo by Robert Ostermiller (with accordion). There were accordion solos by the Misses Marceline Reisbeck and Bonnie McBride. Robert was the winner in the entertainment broadcasting…Mrs. Kinchley of Denver, IGA demonstrator, was in the store both days serving IGA coffee and other products.

“Donelan & McGinnis are well pleased with the sale, and more than pleased with the friendly interest shown by the people of this community.”

Bill Donelan quickly became active in the Berthoud community, making friends with Irv Lutener, Wilfred and Don Meining and scaling Longs Peak with the young men. He also joined the local volunteer fire department and helped raise money to purchase a rescue boat and life belts.

When McGinnis decided to sell his share in the business in 1940, Bill recruited his younger brother John to come to Berthoud and run the store’s meat department. In August 1941 the brothers purchased the Townsend Market that adjoined their store to the west and combined the two storerooms by connecting them with an interior archway.

Everything changed for the Donelans when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. Within a matter of hours Bill enlisted in the U.S. Air Corps and readied for duty in St. Louis. Younger brother John sold their Berthoud business the following spring and also joined the Air Corps.

In June 1942 the Berthoud volunteer fire department held a farewell chicken dinner for the Donelan boys at the Wayside Inn with Bill of Camp Victoria near Corpus Christi, Texas, and the newly enlisted John as their guests of honor. At the time of the dinner Bill was home on a few days’ furlough.

Following WWII Bill Donelan returned to Colby, Kan., where he made a home for the rest of his life. Following the war he was presented with an opportunity to work as a commercial pilot but chose to re-enter the grocery-store business instead. A pillar of the Colby community, Donelan served as mayor and helped established Colby Community College in 1964,       

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