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McDonnell, John J

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December 16, 1941 - October 12, 2016

McDonnell, John J

John Joseph McDonnell

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December 16, 1941 – October 12, 2016

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Strong-willed.  Compassionate.  Loving.  Curious about the world.  Curious about the people he met.  Father.  Adventurer.  Friend to strangers.  Dancer.  Singer.  Visionary.  Eternal optimist. 

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He was born in Philadelphia on December 16, 1941, making him a teenage boy in the famous era of the 1950s.  He loved the diners.  He really loved the cars, with the Ford Edsel being his favorite.  He had that good 1950s hair and he wore those cool 1950s clothes.  He grew up going to those 1950s dances that we all only hear about now.   He loved the whole scene… the anticipation, the music, the dancing, and the sweet girls with whom he would get to dance.   As life moved on from the 50s, John’s heart and mind remained lingering in that decade for the rest of his days.  He would even recall times when he got to dance with specific girls as if those were moments that stayed still in time for him.  He could always return to the 1950s in just a moment, appreciating and experiencing it all over again with just his memory, imagination, and emotions.

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After the 50s came the Vietnam War.  John served our country for several years in Vietnam and, as it was consistent with his nature, he absorbed everything that was going on around him.   He took in the culture, the language, and the food.  It was there where he met Tai.  They married, returned to the Philadelphia area, and had their first child, Donna.  Seeking work, John and his family ended up in

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Los Angeles, where Johnny was born.  Soon, John and his family returned to Vietnam for work in a non-military capacity.  Just before the war came to a close, John and his family moved back to the states permanently, moved to upstate New York, and had their third child, Diana. 

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Seeking work and his love for adventures led John and his family to more places for several more years.  Indiana was one stop.   And then Georgia, where John followed his vision and opened his first sandwich shop, Philadelphia Steaks and Hoagies, showing that wherever he went, he was still a Philly Boy at heart and in mind and spirit.  He bought equipment to start a band so that live music could be performed in the sandwich shop.  Eventually, those very instruments were played by his children in their garage.

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A few years later, John and his family left Georgia to move to Killeen, Texas so that Tai could live close to her sister who also married a soldier during the war and whose last station was at Ft. Hood.  It was there in Killeen that John and his family settled for many years.  They reopened Philadelphia Steaks and Hoagies in a little red brick house next to Renaissance Records, which was in a little yellow wood house, just outside the East Gate of Ft. Hood.  From there, many soldiers were served Philly style sandwiches for years and years to come.

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Although settling geographically, changes continued to take place in John’s life.  He and Tai divorced.  John moved on from Philadelphia Steaks and Hoagies and opened a couple of more sandwich shops in Killeen.  In the second one, Philly Sandwiches, he introduced Italian Ice, a Philadelphia favorite, to the Killeen area.   After his final stint with sandwich shops, John worked on Ft. Hood with civil service.   All the while, John stayed very involved in the lives of his children.  He attended local and away Ellison High School football games on Friday nights.  He took his children on many adventures, local and far away.  From rock hunting and panning for gold in the Hill Country of Texas to road tripping to places like California and Philadelphia, John introduced a beautiful, exciting world to his children. 

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John eventually found himself working in the Middle East and following his dream by visiting Ireland on his way home.  He loved Ireland and he was proud of his Irish roots.  And he loved the famous Irish song “Danny Boy.”  For the rest of his years, John enjoyed recalling the places he saw in Ireland and, more than anything, the people he met during his cherished time there. 

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John loved people.  He talked to people everywhere:  the grocery store, the post office, the gas station, the football games, restaurants, diners, and donut shops.  Donut shops were probably his favorite places for many years.  In Killeen, he was a regular at Jack-N-Jill Donuts.  He and a handful of other strong-minded and strong-willed men would go there every day to have donuts, coffee, conversations, and heated arguments with each other.  It was always entertaining to think of how these men, including John, would argue and complain about each other, but still return daily to repeat it all over again. 

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John stayed in Texas until his youngest child, Diana, graduated from college – he wanted to stay close by in case his children needed him.  While rooted in Texas, he became a truck driver and drove across the country.  During his off days, he obsessed over singing at The Common Interest, a karaoke club in Austin.  One of his favorites songs to sing was “Blue Sky” by Willie Nelson.  John made a new community of friends with other regulars at The Common Interest and they shared life through Karaoke.  They knew each other’s songs.  They encouraged each other.  And they sought praise from each other as they sang their hearts out when the DJ picked up their slip and called them up for their turn. 

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After Diana’s graduation, John finally followed his long-lived desire to return indefinitely to the place of his youth, the place that he daily dreamt and talked about – Philadelphia.  There in the greater Philadelphia area, John returned to his memories.  He found old high school friends.  He frequented diners, especially The Melrose.  He explored the places that once were.  He drove by the old dance halls including The Holy Cross.  He spent a lot of time with his brothers George, Raymond, Arthur and their families, all of whom were very important to John.  He found new karaoke places, especially with his brother, George.  And he found a new donut shop, Dunkin’ Donuts, and new donut shop friends. 

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More things about John:  He loved Breyer’s ice cream because it was originally from Philadelphia.  He loved Wildwood, New Jersey.  He loved guessing where people were from.  He talked a lot.  He liked jokes.  He would have loved to have a remote control car when he was a kid.  He liked singing “Corinna, Corinna” by Ray Peterson.  Marty Robbins’ songs “White Sport Coat” and “El Paso” were a couple of his favorites because of their stories.  He would sing the chorus of “Moonlight Bay” with his children just as his parents did with him and his siblings when they were children.  He always had a brown Gideons Bible in his home.  He taught his children The Lord’s Prayer.  He called himself a Presbyterian.  He seemed always available to help others, including strangers.  He loved nature.  He loved and appreciated the beauty of clouds, skies, and sunsets.  He would spontaneously stop in parking lots just to watch a sunset and he would say, “Look at those clouds… They will never be like that again.”  He understood how special each sunset was and how special each moment in life was.  A few weeks ago, he was asked, “Did you ever watch the sunset from Stillhouse Lake Dam?”  His response was, “Why are you asking me that kind of question?!  Of course I have.  I have watched sunsets from everywhere!” 

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Also a few weeks ago, when Diana and McCarthy told him they saw the end of the rainbow going down onto the VA where they were visiting him, he said with sparkly eyes and a smile, “It’s for me.”

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John was in this world long enough to make such a difference in it.  His life continues on through his children Donna, Johnny, and Diana, his grandchildren Sumia and McCarthy, and through his brothers George, Raymond, and Arthur with whom he shared what it truly and deeply means to be from the City of Brotherly Love.  When we dance, eat donuts, go to diners, eat ice cream, listen to “Danny Boy”, remember the 50s, hear the words Philadelphia, Ireland, and karaoke, and when we see sunsets, we will think of him and remember him, his big personality, his strong will, and his deep love and appreciation for life.  He had profound and life-giving hope all of his days in this world and he left this world with that same hope for days eternal.  We will always miss him.  We will always love him.


Service Information

Interment: A graveside service was held on 2016-10-21 at Houston National Cemetery.


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