The Mayo “Person of the Year” award is bestowed upon an individual of County Mayo, Ireland heritage who is an outstanding member of the community. This year’s honoree, Kevin O’Donnell, has shared his special talents in many areas of the local, national, and international community.
Kevin grew up on the west side of Cleveland and the eastern part of Lakewood. Educated in his early years at St. Rose’s and West High School, he went on to receive degrees from Kenyon College and Harvard Business School. After serving in World War II, he married Margaret Ann O’Donnell, and soon became established in his business career. Sadly, Peg O’Donnell died shortly after giving birth to the O’Donnells’ sixth child, and Kevin knew that life, as he had known it, would be changed.
Later, Kevin married Ellen Blydenberg and their combined family included eight children. Knowing that he wanted to dedicate this new phase of his life to mission-oriented work, Ellen was supportive. She and Kevin and their eight children moved to Korea in 1966 when he was appointed the first Country Director of the Peace Corps in South Korea. His assignment was to establish educational programs in English, math, science and physical education.
Four years later, he was named Director of Finance and Administration for the Peace Corps in Washington, DC. Subsequent positions as Deputy Director and then as Director of the Peace Corps were instrumental in fulfilling his objective of mission-oriented public service.
Returning to the business world of Cleveland in 1972, Kevin joined SIFCO Industries as Executive Vice-President, where he had worked prior to the Peace Corps. He credits his Peace Corps service as among the most meaningful and challenging of his life. His people and business skills were honed and helped SIFCO in its business expansion in South Korea, China and Ireland. Kevin retired from SIFCO in 1990, having served as President, Chief Operating Officer and Chief Executive Officer.
Kevin O’Donnell’s Irish roots on his father’s side are based in Newport, while his mother’s family was from Shraheen. Upon his first visit to Ireland in 1972, where he visited Mayo and Achill Island, he “fell in love with the place” and promised himself he would return.
And return he did. In 1997, his dream of having a home on Achill was fulfilled, and he found the ideal site, high on a hill in Dugort, overlooking Black Sod Bay.
Even in retirement, Kevin O’Donnell continues to share his many skills and talents as chairman, advisor, trustee, board member, director and member of various, civic, religious, humanitarian, business, and educational organizations.
Ever dear to his heart is the Peace Corps and he is proud that the O’Donnell family has continued his legacy. His daughter, Megan O’Donnell, served as a Peace Corp volunteer in Nepal, and his granddaughter, Allison, served in Honduras, and Kevin served as member of the Advisory Counsel to the National Peace Corps Association.
Kevin O’Donnell has received many awards and accolades in his life. One of the most recent was from the Benjamin Rose Institute on Aging. Acknowledging his many accomplishments, their “Myth Busters” recognition demonstrates that Kevin truly defies the “myths of aging”. When asked if he could be remembered for only one thing, he replied, “That I was a good parent, that I raised eight good kids. When all is said and done, if you’ve done a good job of parenting, you’ve helped make a good future, not just for your children and grandchildren, but for everyone’s.”
It is our pleasure to recognize Kevin O’Donnell as this year’s “Mayo Person of the Year”!