Lots of love, humor, tears honoring memory of Jerry Donovan as Robert J. Kelley Labor Hero

Insulators Local 1 business manager was loved by all


SURROUNDED BY FAMILY, Deni Donovan accepted the Robert J. Kelley Labor Hero Award presented by the St. Charles County Democratic Committee’s 40th Anniversary First Capitol Dinner June 10. With her are sons Danny (left) a member of Asbestos Workers Local 1 and Jake, a software engineer at Boeing. At rear, Gina Walsh, life-long friend, former president of the Missouri State Building Trades Council and the first woman apprentice in Local 1. – Labor Tribune photo

With love, humor, respect, humility and lots of emotion, Jerry Donovan, deceased business manager of Insulators Local 1, was remembered as a true union brother and friend when Democrats, unions and his many friends gathered to honor his memory with the Robert J. Kelley Labor Hero Award at ceremonies June 10 sponsored by the St. Charles County Democrats.

“Jerry was a true Labor guy, a leader, a friend, a brother, a husband and a father. He was a special man. We miss him; we’ll never forget him,’ said Gary Payeur, Asbestos Workers Local 1’s business manager adding:

“He was a union brother like no other. He never said ‘no’ to anybody. He was the best guy you would ever meet.”


REMEMBERING JERRY DONOVAN for his life-long devotion to Insulators Local 1 and its members, his union brothers and sisters in every trade and his family and many friends, were (from left) Insulators Local 1 Business Manager Gary Payeur, St. Louis Labor Council President Pat White, St. Louis Building & Construction Trades Council Executive Secretary-Treasurer John Stiffler, International Asbestos Workers Union Labor Management and Cooperative Trust Deputy Director Gina Walsh and one of Jerry’s best friends, Donnie Merz and his wife Diane. She spoke on his behalf because he had become too emotional to speak. – Labor Tribune photos

“Jerry was the best guy ever, he never had a bad word to say about anybody,” said St. Louis Labor Council President Pat White, adding, as many did, “We’re going to miss him, a lot.”

“Everyone feels the loss,” said John Stiffler, executive secretary-treasurer of the St. Louis Building Trades Council and a former business manager of Insulators Local 1.

“I loved him. Everyone loved him like a brother,” Stiffler said, emotion halting his comments for a moment, as was the case with the other speakers.

“Jerry was the kind of guy you would hope your daughter would bring home to marry,” he added.

Gina Walsh, retired Missouri state senator and the first female apprentice in Local 1’s training program many years ago, said “no one deserves this award more” but that Jerry wouldn’t want an award because he turned down more awards than people can imagine. “That’s the kind of guy he was. He took care of people. “That makes this award extra special,” she added.

With her two sons, Jake and Danny at her side, Jerry’s wife Deni expressed the entire family’s deepest appreciation for this recognition.

Choked with emotion, as were all the presenters, some close to tears, she said, “He loved his union brothers, loved working with his brother Rick…loved his work, loved you all.”

Making the point of his commitment to his union and his members, she said that no matter the time of day or event, Jerry would interrupt what he was doing to take a phone call, even at family gatherings.

“He was always working hard to make our lives better,” she said.

Donovan died Jan. 5, 2022 from a heart attack. He had been retired from Local 1 for a little over one year.

A great deal of the remembrances focused on Donovan’s great sense of humor, which helped take the edge off the seriousness of the award presentation. Notable was the fact that he always loved to wear tennis shoes, the more garish the color the better. It brought a lot of laughter from the crowd.

The event, the 40th anniversary First Capitol Dinner of the St. Charles County Democrats, where several hundred gathered on June 10, also presented several other awards:

  • James C. Kirkpatrick Award to a surprised Jamie Newsham, the Democratic Party’s secretary, for her 35 years of outstanding volunteer work and support of Party efforts and candidates. “She never says ‘no’ when asked for help, the award citation notes.
  • Ted House Scholarship Award to Mya Walker, a 17-year-old student who will enter Howard University this fall. A fully committed student activist, Mya, among her many accomplishments, chaired the St. Charles County Youth Advisory Committee and received the Missouri award for Outstanding Achievement in Citizenship.

In bringing the evening to a close, keynote speaker John Bowman, St. Louis County NAACP president, urged the several hundred in attendance that today, when the desire of individuals takes precedence over the needs of the group, “We need to emphasize the importance of community and interconnectedness between people. We need a value realignment.”

Speaking to the Democrats, he added: “We can no longer be divided as moderates, liberals and progressives. We need to come together. We need everyone to join the fight, because when we fight, we win.”


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