By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Dan Donnelly Takes To The Air
Normal 0 0 1 30 176 1 1 216 11.515 0 0 0 James Davis, left, introduces himself to Dan Donnelly as Donnelly’s daughter Kathy Donnelly looks on. Donnelly was instrumental in the creation of the Oakdale Airport, where Donnelly Field was named in his honor. - photo by CRAIG MACHO/THE LEADER

Oakdale resident and former city council member Dan Donnelly was a noted pilot during World War II, flying combat aircraft in the South Pacific. He also flew classified missions as part of a top secret Navy program, according to his family.

But one of his most important flights occurred a few years after the end of World War II, when Donnelly returned home to Oakdale.

According to family members, Donnelly was flying a plane above Oakdale when he and co-pilot Vernon Rodden noticed that the barley field below them would make a nice landing strip.

They landed the plane in the field, walked off enough distance to measure out a runway, and the Oakdale Airport was born.

Donnelly, 94, was at the airport on Sept. 8 with numerous family members and friends to take a flight from the airport, which was named Donnelly Field in his honor.

Kevin Benziger, president of the Oakdale Chapter of the Experimental Aircraft Association, which has a hanger at the airport, helped make it happen.

“We knew he wanted to go up … and we wanted to find the right plane for him. I thought James’s (Oakdale pilot James Davis) plane would be perfect, as Mr. Donnelly used to own one that was similar.”

Davis, who was introduced to Donnelly at the airfield, owns a 1946 Aeronca Champ.

With a boost from grandson Jeff Donnelly of Jamestown, Donnelly was placed into the backseat of the plane. Sitting in the co-pilot’s seat, Donnelly’s hand seemed to naturally find the stick in front of him.

Although Davis was at the controls for this flight, Donnelly was able to have a look at the old barley field and what it has become in the past 60 years.