420 Oak Street
Big Rapids, MI 49307
William J. Donahue (1931 – 2020)
William (Bill) John Donahue was a beloved father, grandfather, uncle, and teacher; director to hundreds, friend to all, and mentor to many.
Donahue was born on February 5, 1931, in Cleveland, Ohio. his lifelong interest in music began with performing at family gatherings. But what cemented his passion for music was attending a performance of the Cleveland Symphony Orchestra with the Cleveland Public Schools as a child. This experience and enthusiasm inspired Donohue to pursue music education as a career.
After graduating from Collinwood High School, Donohue received a scholarship to the Baldwin Wallace Conservatory of Music, located in Ohio. He received his bachelor's degree in music performance in 1953. Following graduation, he was drafted into the U.S. Army during the Korean War. While in the service, he joined the West Point Band.
After the war, Donahue returned to school at the University of Michigan, where he obtained his master's degree in Music Education. Soon after, he began teaching high school choir in Ypsilanti, Michigan.
In 1964, Donahue moved to Big Rapids, Michigan, taking a position as an assistant professor of music and humanities and director of the Men's Glee Club at what was then called Ferris State College. In 1972, he was promoted to associate professor and became conductor of the Concert Choir, Festival Chorus, and Women's Glee Club. In 1983, he was promoted to full professor and appointed Director of Music and Coordination of the Arts.
"Bill was a very dynamic person," Ferris State University music professor and Humanities department chairperson Richard Scott Cohen said. "And he had this big booming voice; he was a tall guy, big guy. And he just had this jovial welcoming laugh."
While at Ferris, Donahue served on several administrative committees, the Arts and Lectures Committee, served as director of the Rankin Student Center, and was chairperson of the Big Rapids Festival of the Arts for 11 years, serving on its board for three additional years.
In addition to teaching, during his time at Ferris, Donahue formed long-lasting relationships with faculty, community members, and students, many of whom considered him a father-figure.
Creating a legacy that honors Donahue’s passion for music and desire to give back to those students seeking a music education inspired the creation of the William J. Donahue Vocal Music Endowed Scholarship.
Created upon his retirement from Ferris in 1994, this scholarship is awarded to full-time vocal music students who demonstrate loyalty and leadership while participating in a university vocal music ensemble. They must also have a minimum 3.0 GPA when applying.
“He believed in making music available to everyone," says Donahue's daughter, Lisa Sheffert, "And making sure that even students who weren't majoring in music wouldn't have to give up their passion for music."
Recently, special tribute was paid to Donohue as he was honored at Remembrance and Resilience, a memorial concert of the Ferris State University Concert Choir, led by FSU Choral Director Katie McInnis.
For more information about music at Ferris State University, visit them online here.