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Community remembers former South Rowan principal Donnell

James H. Donnell Jr., a former South Rowan High School principal, passed away Saturday at Novant Health Rowan Medical Center.

Donnell, who was 90, joined South Rowan in 1978. He is remembered by peers and employees for his undeniable dedication to the school.

“Every time the doors were open, he was there,” said Henry Kluttz, who began working as a fellow Rowan-Salisbury Schools principal with Donnell in 1984. “Every ball game, every concert, every event — he had a full and total commitment to that school and to that community.”

His dedication to his school did not go unnoticed. The Rowan-Salisbury Board of Education renamed the school’s football stadium in Donnell’s honor shortly after his retirement in 1992.

Today, James H. Donnell Jr. Stadium still attracts those whose hearts “bleed South Rowan red,” according to former South Rowan teacher and current basketball coach Laurie Hefner Corriher.

Corriher said Donnell gave her her first teaching job after she graduated from Catawba College in 1988. She became close with Donnell and his wife, as Corriher had recently lost her mother.

“One thing about Mr. Donnell was that he treated everybody the same,” she said. “He didn’t care who your parents were; who your family was; what race, religion or gender you were. Every child that was at South Rowan was treated the same way.”

In doing so, she said, Donnell helped guide her own personal growth and development.

“He helped me see what I was doing would not only better myself but how it was good for the student,” she said. “He helped me realize why the students needed me, and not only am I a better teacher, but I’m a better person because I’m here for the kids.”

Kluttz, who was principal of West Rowan High School during Donnell’s tenure at South, called Donnell “old-school.”

“He really believed strongly that if you are a principal of a school then you have a total commitment to that school,” he said. “That meant all your time, all your energy, all your attention — your total focus was there.”

Because of this commitment, Kluttz said, it was easy to know that every decision Donnell made as principal was made with the best interests of South Rowan students at heart.

“If ever there was a person to called to what he did, he had that calling,” Kluttz said. “He was certainly missed when he retired, but he’ll certainly be missed on this earth due to his commitment to public education.”

A graveside service for Donnell will be be  held at 11 a.m. Thursday at Enterprise Moravian Church Cemetery in Lexington with military graveside honors. The Rev. Arkon Stewart will be officiate.

The family suggests memorials be made to the donor’s choice.

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