Nature 14

Harold “Hal” E. Donnelly

June 24, 1931 ~ September 4, 2020 (age 89)


Hal was born at the Oak Park, IL Hospital on June 24, 1931 to Hugh and Annette Rosa Donnelly. He attended Oak Park/Riverforest High School and graduated in 1949. Right out of high school he became a life guard at the Cermack Pool until July when he became the equipment manager for the Chicago Bears, kind of just a gofer really! In 1950, he started at the Chicago Screw Company, when he was promised a raise when he could make so many screws a day, he met that challenge, however, they said he worked too fast so he didn’t get that raise. Hal went on to work at Lytton’s Dry Goods in Receiving and stocking, until he and two friends decided to adventure along the Alcan Highway just out of curiosity.

The Dean of Men at Oak Park High School was acquainted with a professor at the University of Colorado in Boulder, Charlie Vavra, Hal was introduced to him and things went so well he ventured off to school in Colorado in January of 1950. While in school, Hal joined the Alpha Tau Omega fraternity and worked his way through school with odd jobs  including as a hasher at the Alpha Phi Sorority house.  Hal bought a mining claim for back taxes up Sunshine Canyon and when he could he would buy concrete blocks to build what would become in infamous “Donnelly Cabin”. Over the time at school, he finished the cabin and there were many parties and lots of fun to be had at that cabin.

Hal graduated in 1955 with a degree in Civil Engineering and at that time was drafted into the Navy. Hal was in boot camp in San Diego, and then went to Long Beach where he worked out with the swim team in hopes of making the US Olympic team in the butterfly, he came up a little short and was an alternate.  Hal was then stationed at Port Huenimi where he was the equipment manager for the basketball team which gave him the opportunity to travel to other colleges. Hal was then stationed in Adak, Alaska, which at that time was considered “Foreign Soil” and was on a project of building an airstrip there.  Hal was released in August of 1957, which was three months early.

Hal returned to Boulder and worked for Brackton and Sutherland in Denver surveying and laying out roads for the Air Force Academy that was being constructed just north of Colorado Springs.  After Several months he landed a wonderful job at Adolf Coors in Golden as a structural engineer. Hal received his Professional Engineer and Land Surveyor License from the State of Colorado.

In the fall of 1957, Hal attended a CU football game and afterwards he was at a Frat party where he happened upon a beautiful lady, she was with a Frat Brother that he didn’t particularly like, so a few days later he asked he out on a date.  Well, things turned out pretty well. So at Christmas in 1957 when her parents announce that they were to be engaged with a grin on his face, Phyllis reached into his pocket for her ring to find that it was not there, but on the string of lights on the tree,  they were married on June 28, 1958.

Hal and Phyl were blessed with a son in March of 1959, do the math, that’s 9 months to the day of their wedding, he always said, “they shouldn’t have left us alone between the wedding and the reception! Colleen Cay followed in August of 1960, Kelly Jean in October of 1961, and the caboose, Douglas Patrick in December of 1962.

Hal left Coors in 1963 and ventured out on his own with Harold E. Donnelly Engineering and Consulting, designing septic systems, drainage and foundation designs around Boulder and Boulder County.  He could tell you exactly what the soil conditions were in Boulder and Larimer County if you asked him.  Hal was the Gilpin County Engineer, and Land Surveyor for 20 years and knew all the 4 wheel roads in that county in his famous “Orange Jeep”.

Hal was a member of the Alumni C Club at the University and served on the board for 20 of those years. In the 70’s a program was formed for the incoming freshman football players to help adjust to the college life but still have a family to turn to. Hal and Phyl continue to have some very treasured friendships to this day. Hal received an alumni recognition award for loyalty and service from the University of Colorado.

Hal’s family was the most important part of his life. They lost the first born son Donald in January of 1973 and Douglas in  January of 2004, they always continued to be strong parents for their surviving children till the day of his death.  Before his health deteriorated Hal made sure that Phyl and the children were able to experience so many adventures including camping at various spots in our beautiful Colorado.  There was a road trip to Canada in a Ford Bronco with each child in their assigned space and a treasure box under Phyl’s seat for the good travelers! Each of his grandchildren were able to take a “special” trip with him over the years which included his love of scuba diving or to a warm climate.  On Sunday evenings you would find him gathered around the television with his children watching Wild Kingdom with a quiz afterwards to make sure they were paying attention. If they answered their questions correctly, they were allowed to watch the Wonderful World of Disney. Although Hal was an only child, he had no problem fitting in with Phyl’s large family and loved every minute of family gatherings on the holidays. Hal absolutely thrived on  being in the loving care of his wife, children, grandchildren and great grandchildren as his health deteriorated over the years. He passed in the loving arms of his wife, just the two of them, just as the whole loving family started. They truly were the inspiration for all with their amazing marriage!

Hal is preceded in death by his parents and his beloved sons, Donald in 1973 and Douglas in 2004.

He is survived by his wife, Phyllis, his daughter, Colleen Dean (Mark), and daughter Kelly.  His grandchildren, Tyler (Amanda) Dean, Timmie (Rick) Hansen, Tenille (Clayton) Weaver, and their youngest granddaughter,  Kylie Wilkinson and his great grandchildren, Mathieu and Lizzy Dean, Lillie, Landon and Laycie Hansen, and Hunter and Hudson Weaver.  And his many nieces and nephews, and of course all of his wonderful friends. You will all hold a very special spot in our hearts forever.

A memorial service will be held at a later date when we can share hugs and stories together.

Donations in Hal's name may be made to the Alumni C Club Endowment which provides programmatic support for the operation of the Alumni C Club at the University of Colorado Boulder:

or Special Olympics Colorado:, P.O. Box 13979, Denver, Colorado 80201-3979


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Alumni C Club Endowment In Memory of Hal Donnelly

Special Olympics-Colorado
P.O. Box 13979, Denver CO 80201-3979
Tel: 1-720-359-3100
Web: http://

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