When the Minnesota Vikings honored Alvin Donahoo with a standing ovation as a "Hometown Hero" a day after his 100th birthday, the U.S. Navy veteran said he credited his longevity to "good genes and Jim Beam."
A kidder with a lifelong love of learning, Donahoo participated in the Normandy invasion at Utah Beach and went on to become executive vice president of the Minneapolis Grain Exchange. He died at age 102 on Jan. 27 in St. Louis Park.
"He was the consummate believer in education and he was a great teacher. He was also a great mentor to me," said his son, David Donahoo.
Donahoo was born in Moravia, Iowa, one of three kids in a farming family. He became the first in his family to graduate from high school and then studied agriculture education at Iowa State University.
He enlisted in the U.S. Navy at Chicago's Naval Station Great Lakes during World War II. While on shore leave, he met his wife of 54 years, Dorothy Garneau, at a USO dance.
Donahoo served as a naval engineering officer on D-Day, managing ships bringing troops and supplies onto Utah Beach.
He then spent six months on the beach supplying troops with food, fuel and ammunition, said his son.
While he didn't talk much about the horrors of war, Donahoo liked to tell stories about the "goofy stuff," like "liberating" cognac from a warehouse, taking a pair of Army jeeps and painting them in Navy colors and having to quickly dismantle a hut he and his men had built on the beach because Gen. George Patton wanted the materials.
After the war, Donahoo worked as an agriculture teacher in tiny Sigourney, Iowa. In 1948, he advised a Future Farmers of America chapter that won a state award for soil conservation, with the prize of a new tractor.
Donahoo continued to study, getting a master's degree in agriculture engineering at Iowa State and a Ph.D. in agriculture education from the University of Minnesota in 1954.
He rose to become executive vice president of the Minneapolis Grain Exchange, traveling as a consultant to visit United Nations agricultural programs around the world, from Iran to Barbados. He also co-wrote a textbook called "Profitable Farm Marketing," which was published in 1960 with illustrations by his wife.
When he retired in 1984, the Star Tribune wrote that he left behind "a bumper crop of affection and respect in the industry."
Donahoo liked to tell his kids tales of growing up so poor and hungry that he would eat bread with shoe polish spread on it. They would always try to get him to show them, said his daughter Dianne Keller.
"Well, one Sunday after church, he got a piece of bread and he put a little bit on the corner of his piece of bread. We weren't satisfied. We wanted him to take that shoe polish and slather it over that piece of bread like peanut butter," she laughed. "We kept after him about that, but he never would do that."
Donahoo was also a romantic who nearly 50 years later could still recite a poem he wrote for his wife and tucked inside a cedar chest he made for her as a Christmas surprise, his daughter said.
Donahoo was preceded in death by his wife and his siblings Wanda Wise and Delbert Donahoo. Along with his daughter Keller, of Apple Valley, and son David, of Bloomington, survivors include many grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
Services have been held.
Erica Pearson • 612-673-4726