I love reading old Shirley Donnelly pieces from the Raleigh Register and the Fayette Tribune. While attending Oak Hill’s Sts Peter and Paul Catholic School, we made a yearly field trip destination his library located on his farm, Upson Downs in Fayette County WV. His home was an amazing treasure trove of history. So much history. So many artifacts.
As a kid, I knew him as Mr. Donnelly. Reading his old articles, I have grown to know him as Reverend Shirley Donnelly. But this local historian has a pretty amazing World War II history of his own. From the articles I have been able to find between 1932 through the mid 1940s, the good Reverend served as a Major at Camp Shelby and was soon elected head of the chaplains there. He moved on to Camp Beauregard where he ascended in rank. By the last accounts in the articles below, he rose to the rank of Colonel and was the chief chaplain of the Seventh army in Europe.
A side note: in addition to the stories of his time during the war, there are NUMEROUS clippings where he officiated either a wedding, a funeral or spoke at some civic function. By 1936, he had officiated at 500 funerals (article noting that milestone is below). He was a beloved member of the Fayette County community right up to his death in 1982 (obituary at the end of the blog).
I will continue to post the regular transcribed Yesterday And Today columns as I find them. But, for now, I thought some of you might like to read about the historian’s history.
I hope you enjoy.
Going through old WV newspaper archives, it is telling of his popularity that so many announcements of funerals, wedding ceremonies, luncheons all note Rev Donnelly as officiating or the speaker of the event. This clipping though – it’s a little more interesting. It is always amazing, to me, the things that were reported in the 30s to 50s in small town WV newspapers.
DONNELLY THINKS WAR TO BE LONG
By: Register Staff Writer
OAK HILL – Called home by death of his stepmother, Mrs. H.P. Donnelly of Charleston, Major Shirley Donnelly is spending a few days at his home here.
Major Donnelly is a chaplain in the army at Camp Shelby, Mississippi.
He spoke at a special assembly at the local high school on Friday afternoon. His topic was, “The Present Situation.” He told the group that he expected the present war to last for at least ten years.
Mr. Donnelly, who is pastor of the Oak Hill Baptist Church and who is on leave for the duration of the war, will deliver both the morning and evening sermons at the church on Sunday.
He will leave on Monday for Camp Shelby to resume his duties.
Donnelly to Lead 5,000 Soldiers In Easter Service
By The Associated Press
CAMP SHELBY MISS — Instead of familiar bugle notes sounding reveille, soldiers of the 38th division will hear the voices of 5,000 of their number blended in favorite hymns at Easter sunrise services Sunday morning.
Major Clarence S Donnelly, division chaplain, predicted that 10,000 men who came mostly from Indiana, Kentucky and West Virginia, will attend the observance in an open field on the 126,000 acre military reservation.
In sharp contrast to the peaceful religious program will be the celebration of Army Day on Monday, when a mighty demonstration of Camp Shelby’s strength in men and machines will be reviewed.
Parents, wives, sweethearts and friends of the men of the 38th have been invited to the holiday observance. Additional housing has been provided.
Parents Need To Ride The Wagon Seat Again — Donnelly
Urging that parents ride in the front seat of the wagon again, instead of on the coupling pole, Major Shirley Donnelly, chaplain at Camp Beauregard, Louisiana and former Oak Hill pastor, has written to Judge Clay S Crouse, commending his efforts to end juvenile delinquency. His letter follows:
My Dear Judge Crouse:
You deserve the plaudits of the nation that are being so richly heaped on you for your recent great common sense decision.
The people who made this nation great filled their children full of the fear of God and when they didn’t do right they flailed their pants with an old ramrod. When parents get to riding in the front seat of the family wagon instead of on the coupling pole, the nation’s families will go places as they did in our yesterdays.
In the army, we run across the youngsters who have had their own way so long that they kick like bay steers when subjected to discipline.
In my experience in the ministry, I found that most problems among juveniles come from homes when they had been turned out to the commons.
Years ago I recognized in you those qualities which now are giving you the acclaim of the country.
Blessings on you in all your work.
Your old friend,
Col. Donnelly To Address Gideon Group On Dec. 16
Col. Clarence Shirley Donnelly, of Oak-Hill, now on terminal leave after five years of service as an Army chaplain, will speak at a field day to be conducted in the Beckley area on Sunday, December 16, by the state association of Gideons, it was announced Sunday night by J. C. Gingrich, secretary of the Beckley Gideons.
Approximately 50 members of Gideons associations throughout the state, Gingrich said, will take over morning and evening worship services during the day.
Col. Donnelly and Howard M. Jewel, internationally known evangelistic song leader will appear at a special afternoon service at The First Baptist church.
Others who will speak will be Marvin Steffin, zone director of six states for the Gideons, Bailey Harris, chief of the Huntington city police; and L. S. Smith, of Huntington.
Governor Clarence W. Meadows has indicated he expects to be present and take an active part in the program.
Donnelly and Jewel will be in Beckley on Saturday afternoon, their activities to be announced later.
Practically all churches in the Beckley area including those at Mt. Hope and Oak Hill, Gingrich said, are cooperating in the field day activities.
Tentative plans for the field day were made at a meeting of the Beckley organization Friday night by D.O. Totten, local president, and Thomas Campbell, state president.
The articles above are clipped from newspapers dated 1932 through 1946. An amazing amount of information for more than a decade for Shirley Donnelly. Below is his obituary. As I noted above, I will continue to transcribe his regular columns as I find them.
If you have a particular column subject you remember of his and would like me to look for it, just drop me a comment below and I will be happy to search.
OAK HILL WV–Clarence Shirley Donnelly, 87, of Oak Hill, Baptist minister and newspaper columnist, died Tuesday in Beckley Veterans Administration Hospital.
A native of Jackson County, he was an ordained Baptist minister and a graduate of Union Theological Seminary, Richmond, Virginia. He was pastor of Oak Hill Baptist Church for 21 years and of Crab Orchard Baptist Church from 1946 to 1971. He was chaplain of Beckley Veterans Administration Hospital until 1976. The author of a book of historical columns published last year, (1981) “Yesterday, and Today, a Keepsake”, he continued writing until about six weeks ago. He wrote more than 20 publications as well as historical notes on Fayette County history and the founding of Oak Hill. He also wrote books on the Hatfields and the McCoys and on David Creigh, a Greenbrier County martyr.
He founded the Fayette County Historical Society, serving as its president for 12 years. He had been president of the West Virginia Historical Society and the Oak Hill Historical Society. He was a member of the board of directors of the Merchants and Miners National Bank of Oak Hill from 1957 until his resignation in 1981. Subsequently, he was named honorary director for life. He was a member and a charter member of Oak Hill Rotary Club.
Surviving: wife, Mrs. Lessie Keffer Wooten Donnelly, stepson, Willis Walter Wooten of Dallas, Texas, stepdaughters, Mrs. Pat Ramsey of Charleston, WV, Mrs. Lana Cunningham of Parkersburg, WV, sister, Mrs. Mossie Jones of Charleston, WV; four step grandchildren.
Service will be 2 P. M. Friday in Oak Hill Baptist Church with the Rev. Randolph F. Johnson, the Rev. David White, and Sen. Robert C. Byrd officiating. Entombment with full military honors will be in Blue Ridge Memorial Gardens, Prosperity, WV. Friends may call from 1 to 9 P. M. today at Tyree Funeral Home, Oak Hill, and at the church one hour before the service.
From the Charleston Gazette, August 1982
Have you reached out to his son and grandson, they are a wealth of insight into the Rev Donnelly
I have not. I do not know who they are. Are they on social media at all?