By Victoria Espinoza
Jacob Donaldson died this past weekend, leaving an incredibly rich legacy filled with public service and family memories.
A Huntington Station resident, Donaldson, 90, served as a staff sergeant in the Army during the Korean War, and later as a fireman for the New York City Fire Department. He left his mark in other significant areas as well, including on the baseball diamond, getting signed by the Boston Red Sox organization straight out of high school at age 16 and raising nine children in Huntington with his wife Grace.
Known by most as Jake, Donaldson was born Monday, October 1, 1928 on a crisp, fall Brooklyn day. His parents, George and Helen, raised him and his younger brother George in the borough until Donaldson turned 16 and left Newtown High School in his hometown and was signed as an outfielder to the Milford Red Sox, a Boston Red Sox minor league affiliate which played in Delaware.
In Donaldson’s first season in 1946 he hit .316 with 14 home runs in 116 games. For the next seven years he played for six other minor league teams, including several seasons with the Albany Senators. During his time on the ball field Donaldson rubbed shoulders with many prolific baseball players, including one hall of famer.
Left fielder and Boston Red Sox Hall of Fame inductee Ted Williams had to borrow Donaldson’s glove once, after someone broke into the locker room and stole Williams’. Donaldson faced off against pitcher Don Newcombe when he was still in the minor leagues.
After Newcombe struck Donaldson with one of his pitches, Donaldson told him to meet in the tunnel after the game. When they did, Newcombe said the only reason he hit him was because he was unable to get him out and asked to take the outfielder out for a beer, according to Donaldson.
While Donaldson was excelling on the baseball diamond, he could have fielded his own team at home. He and Grace first welcomed son Jim in 1954, followed by Bob, Kathy, Terry, Patty, Mary, Eileen, John and Joe completing the family of 11 in 1967. The family lived in Huntington Station where the children attended school in both the South Huntington district and Holy Family.
Donaldson’s baseball career was interrupted after playing 113 games in 1950. He was drafted into the Army during the Korean War, departing in October 1950. He eventually rose to the rank of staff sergeant.
In 1955, the father of nine joined the FDNY as a firefighter. He worked as a motor pump operator and chief’s driver in his nearly 30-year career with the department, mostly working at Engine 3 in Chelsea. He was recognized for his bravery on multiple occasions by the fire department and once appeared on the cover of the New York Daily News on Nov. 23, 1961 following an incident in which a five-alarm blaze did damage to a building in Times Square. On the cover, he is pictured emerging from the building after battling a fire that claimed the lives of two fellow firefighters.
Even though his baseball career came to an end, Donaldson’s days on the field were not over. His daughter Terry said one of her favorite memories was attending an Albany Senators Old Timers Nostalgia reunion game at Hawkins Stadium in the summer of 1985.
“It was so nice to see the old timers honored and it made my dad’s baseball days come to life for me!” she said.
When his wife Grace suffered from a stroke in 1997, she was confined to a wheelchair and could no longer use one of her arms. Donaldson ensured his wife was taken care of and stayed right by her side until she died in 2017.
Donaldson was the proud grandfather to 11, and great grandfather to six. He loved spending time with his grandkids, whether it was sharing the sport he loved with them and teaching them how to throw a ball, or playing in the family’s beloved backyard and inground pool. Andrew Mayrick, one of Donaldson’s grandsons, said when he went to the local pub that his grandpa had frequented earlier this week, several people approached him to talk about how much they enjoyed getting to know his grandfather.
“There were a ton of people I had never met who were all upset, and the owner John said, ‘Jake was like a grandfather to everyone,’” Mayrick said. “He loved everyone he met and lived a life worth talking about, so much that strangers would just sit down and love listening to him.”
Donaldson will be remembered by many as a larger than life personality, a friend to all who knew him, and someone who truly got the most out of life.
“Grandpa Jake had his own special language — a language of love reserved only for our family,” said granddaughter Mary Grace Donaldson. “He let us know ‘what a crew’ we were and had a number of other one-liners that will live on for years to come.”
Visitation will be held at M.A. Connell Funeral Home, 934 New York Ave., Huntington Station on Thursday, March 21 from 7 to 9 p.m. and Friday from 2 to 4 p.m. and from 7 to 9 p.m. A funeral service will be held Friday evening at the funeral home. Interment will be at St. Charles Cemetery in Farmingdale.