The year Tim Donovan was born — 1919 — former President Teddy Roosevelt died, Congress approved an amendment giving women the right to vote, and Babe Ruth was sold to the New York Yankees by the Boston Red Sox.
On March 18, Donovan joined the rare — but growing — segment of the population to celebrate a 100th birthday. Accordingly, a birthday celebration took place at Crosby Commons, where Donovan has lived for the past 10 years. A native of Haverhill, Mass., Donovan has lived in Shelton since 1962.
Donovan’s response to achieving his centenary? “Wow!” he exclaimed, in an exchange with Kelly Coppola, Crosby’s activities director. “How did I ever get to be 100?”
“Still, there he was, in the Commons’ main dining room, hosting a celebration attended by friends, family and other residents of Crosby Commons. It was held, appropriately, a day early — on St. Patrick’s Day, March 17 — and was followed by a celebratory mass and St. Patrick’s Day party, complete with Irish coffee and soda bread.
Centenarians are a growing segment of the population, including at Crosby Commons, where five other current residents were born in 1919. According to the publication Genealogy in Time, about one person in every 6,000 reaches a 100th birthday today. Fifty years ago, only one in every 67,000 reached the century mark.
What’s the secret? In Donovan’s case, the key has been staying active and engaged in a variety of social and creative activities. His strong Catholic faith was also instrumental. His wife, Ruth, died in 1989 followed by the death of the couple’s only son, Michael, in 1991. That faith, coupled with an upbeat personality, kept him from letting anything get him down.
A beloved pastime
For starters, after retiring after a 44-year career as a design engineer, Donovan pursued additional education in his first love: art, drawing and painting.
A tableau of Donovan’s works was on display at the birthday celebration, including a few nature studies, such as an Australian fig tree, as well as a drawing of the Derby-Shelton bridge. But portraiture is Donovan’s forte. In the grouping were works described as a beautiful portrait of his late wife, Ruth, as well as a striking portrait of an unidentified older man, noteworthy for his thick white hair and beard.
Donovan’s affinity for drawing dates to childhood: He credits his dad, a house painter and interior designer, with giving him an artistic sensibility. Yet he also liked to design and take apart objects, and as a young man earned a degree in engineering from Villanova. Subsequent jobs occasionally utilized his drafting skills.
Donovan’s longest stint was at New Haven-based MITE Corp., which was acquired by Emhart Corp. a year before he retired in 1986. Now shuttered, MITE was a supplier to the aviation industry.
“We designed and manufactured actuators, which are electromechanical devices that operate aircraft control surfaces, such as the tails and flaps” Donovan said. “Earlier aircraft used hydraulic systems to control and operate these surfaces.”
When he became a widower, Donovan threw himself into artistic endeavors. After taking courses at Housatonic Community College, Donovan began teaching classes at the Shelton Senior Center. A longtime member of the Connecticut Classic Arts Association, Donovan earned an honorable mention award at an exhibition several years ago. His winning painting was a watercolor of a historic house in Derby.
Donovan continues to spend time each day on his works, though his current preference is for colored pencils.
“I’m not working on anything in particular right now,” Donovan said. “I moved to drawing with colored pencils, the advantage being ‘there ain’t any cleanup!’”
Other lively pursuits
“In addition, until a few years ago, Tim led our morning exercise class at Crosby Commons,” said Coppolla. “And I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that he often makes me look bad doing knee bends and abdominal crunches!”
Donovan’s niece, Ann Marie Janaczek, chimed in with a similar observation. “Uncle Tim still does his own taxes,” Janaczek said. “I don’t do them myself, so that really is something.”
“I can honestly say that in my four years working here, I have never encountered Tim in a bad mood or having a less than upbeat day,” Coppola added.
Sharing in the festivities were a half dozen of Donovan’s relatives. They included Ann Marie Janacek’s husband, Tony; nephew David Chandonnet and his wife, Carol; and another niece, Maureen Trostal and husband, Bob. Most of Donovan’s grandchildren and great-grandchildren now live in Texas; they were scheduled for a video call later in the day utilizing Facetime.
Donovan’s centennial also caught the eye of Gov. Ned Lamont and Shelton Mayor Mark Lauretti. Lauretti issued a proclamation declaring Monday, March 18, 2019 “Timothy F. Donovan Day.” In addition, the Villanova Alumni Association issued Donovan its Wildcat Century Certificate in honor of his 100th birthday.
Coppola saved the best surprise for last. In several conversations with Donovan that preceded the party, she learned that he spent childhood summers at his family’s cottage in Hampton Beach, N.H. More recently, he raved about a vacation he spent in Wildwood Crest, N.J., with his late sister Agnes. He described himself as much more of a “beach bum” than a “snow bunny.”
“So, I pulled some strings,” Coppola said. “We booked you an overnight getaway at the five-star ICONA Diamond Beach resort in Wildwood Crest on May 20. You’ll be in a fifth-floor penthouse suite and we will drive you there. To get you back on that beach, we’ve arranged for a golf cart as well as a wheelchair. So you’ll get onto the sand and you might even get to put your toes in the water.”