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October 21 12:02 PM
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Former Imlay City resident remembers a pair of valued friends


Dear Editor,

Imlay City has been very fortunate to have so many outstanding people be part of the town over the past 137 years. Two of these outstanding persons I had the wonderful privilege to know. One of them passed away very recently and the other passed away 40 years ago this month.

Two weeks ago, Imlay City mourned the passing of Gene Coscarelli, a person whose warmth and vitality brought an energy and humor to Imlay City that enlivened the whole town. He did so throughout his 83 years of living.

Gene in a word was unique. He was unique because of his approach to life. It is said that his motto for living was in this order: "Family, Faith and Friends." Yet, he managed to find time for everyone. As a member of the third category, I feel fortunate to have known Gene.

I first met Gene and Marion at the old Sacred Heart Church on Sundays in the 1950s. Our family would go over after mass to the Coscarelli's for Marion's cinnamon rolls and a wonderful time. Gene was the center of the festivities. His humor, humanity and warmth lit up the room and both adults and children had a wonderful time.

After a while, Gene would get ready to go to work, something he did almost every day during his entire life. Gene worked hard to build a successful business and later to build up the bank in Imlay City. He also participated as a leading member in the Rotary Club and gave of himself in many community activities, notwithstanding his long working hours. Whatever it was Gene did, he did well and with thoughtful and heartfelt commitment. Gene loved his family, his God, his community and his work. And I have to say in all the years I knew him, Gene never complained. At times I could see that he felt down or had a memory that was especially difficult, but Gene never dwelled on his own sorrows. Instead, he would bring levity back to the conversation with a well-placed witticism, joke or observation. Most of all, he would then concentrate on all those around him and how they were doing and how they were feeling. As I grow older now, I realize how much courage it took for him to be able to do that.

One terrific memory in more recent years was Gene's daily visits to Rankin's Bakery, where he would banter with Jim Morris, Harold Schoenfeld and many daily attendees over Valerie's and Jack's wonderful coffee and donuts. Again, Gene would bring warmth and a human touch to this daily group, a mainstay for many of them. Gene just knew how to make everyone feel better. And, although he will now be greatly missed, it is something for us all to consider how much Imlay City would have missed, had Gene not been a lifelong "Spartan,"

"cognoscente" and "amico." He truly knew how to make a difference!

And although Imlay City had the benefit of Gene's long life, it only had Johnny Donovan for a much shorter time. Johnny passed away 40 years ago this week of leukemia; between his junior and senior years in high school. As we look back today we can see what an impression he made at such an early age.

He was 6' 2" with dark curly hair that was cut short. He was a member of the basketball and football teams, a member of the Honor Society and probably the number one attraction to girls in Imlay City High School. Johnny was overall just a terrific person. Like Gene, Johnny always seemed to care about how others were doing. He made friends with everyone, but more importantly served as a mediator between different groups in our class and in the high school. He was a person who truly brought people together. He even dreamed of joining with Jim Simons, Wayne Brinker, Terry Schoenberg, Bob and Bill Roy and myself to someday meet River Rouge in the Michigan Class B basketball finals. .

Not too many people knew in the summer of 1967 that beyond Johnny's achievement and camaraderie at school he was already well-known outside of Imlay City. He had already been approached by a number of colleges offering him independently, basketball and academic scholarships. In a break with tradition, the Naval Academy had offered him an appointment in his junior year to the Academy, something they never did back then for high school juniors.

What these other organizations recognized in Johnny was what we in Imlay City already knew: He was a leader and had the insight to know how to help everyone work together and achieve as a group. Johnny Donovan was mature beyond his years and he left us much too soon. Although one could have written a book about him similar to: "Johnny We Hardly Knew Ye," in fact we were so fortunate to have known him. He may have only lived 17 years, but he has continued to inspire so many of us in our lives and in our work over the past 40 years.

In remembering these two great residents of Imlay City, who left such an impression, we can simply say 'Thanks Gene and John, for all you did!'

Michael Bryce, ICHS Class of 1968, Grosse Pointe, MI
August 15, 2007

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