June 19, 2006
‘Donny had a heart of gold’
By Peter Passi
Donald O'Brien never had the chance to open his
Father's Day card. Instead, it sat unread next to an urn that contained
his ashes Sunday.
Father's Day 2006 probably will be seared into
the memories of David and Tina O'Brien -- Donald's 29-year-old son
and 32-year-old daughter. They spent the day mourning with more
than 100 people who came to pay respects to O'Brien at his funeral.
Donald O'Brien died June 10 as a result of a beating
in his hometown of Gary-New Duluth. The 49-year-old man was walking
home from a nearby liquor store about 10 p.m. on June 9 when the
attack occurred just 40 feet from his front door.
Two young men have been charged with murder in
connection with O'Brien's death: Sequoyah James Bosto, 18, and Jordan
Michael Metoxen, 17. The teenagers allegedly kicked O'Brien and
stomped on his head before leaving with his wallet and the 12-pack
of beer he had just purchased.
David Markusen was at O'Brien's hospital bedside
when he died, beaten nearly beyond recognition.
“I'm sure one of Don's final thoughts was,
‘Please don't let my family see me like this,' '' Markusen
said. “It shook me to the core.”
Kelvin Undahl, a childhood friend of O'Brien's
now living in Minong, said he went “completely numb”
upon hearing of the attack.
“Donny had a heart of gold,'' Undahl said.
“He would do anything for anyone. I couldn't believe someone
would do something like that to him.''
Undahl continues to wrestle with the events of
“I don't understand what those boys were
thinking,'' he said.
“They weren't thinking,'' interjected Susan
Smith, a friend of the O'Brien family and former Gary-New Duluth
The Rev. Rolf Fure officiated at Sunday's funeral
and said the vexing question of why O'Brien had to die cannot be
answered. But he remained certain of at least one thing.
“It wasn't God's plan,'' Fure said. “It
was the evilness of man that led to his death.''
Despite his unexpected death, Fure said O'Brien's
family will remember him as a survivor who overcame heart surgery,
a stroke and diabetes.
Upon graduating from Denfeld High School in 1975,
O'Brien entered the U.S. Air Force and served at Ellsworth Air Force
Base in South Dakota. There, he married Barbara Williams in 1976.
O'Brien left the service and returned to Gary to raise a family,
landing a job at Cook Home -- today called the Chris Jensen Health
and Rehabilitation Center -- in 1985. While working at the home,
O'Brien attended night school to become a licensed practical nurse.
He went on to work 21 years at Chris Jensen.
Barb McLean, one of O'Brien's co-workers, recalled
him as a dedicated LPN who cared deeply for Chris Jensen's residents.
“Many times he would take on hours that
no one else wanted,'' she said. “Now that he's gone, our place
will be a little sadder. But I know he's in a better place. If anyone
deserves to be in heaven, Don does.
“All we can do is carry on his legacy, and
that is to love and to reach out and care for one another.''
After the funeral Sunday afternoon, the O'Brien
family hosted a funeral reception in Fond du Lac's Chambers Grove
Barbara O'Brien said she was moved by the outpouring
of support after her husband's death.
“The turnout surprised me,'' she said during
Sunday's reception. “There are a lot of people here who I
haven't seen in a long time.''
David O'Brien said Chambers Grove was a fitting
spot for his father's funeral reception. He said the family has
picnicked and celebrated at the park for years. The park also abuts
the St. Louis River, which his father regularly fished by canoe.
“He knew this part
of the river inside and out,'' David O'Brien said. “If he
were here today, he would have brought his fishing pole.''