Hank Donovan, of Bowdoin, celebrates his 60th birthday with his younger sister, Kelley Donovan. Photo courtesy of Kelley Donovan

Gratton Henry “Hank” Donovan II, of Bowdoin, was always interested in people.

While he was growing up in Topsham and attending classes with peers who also had Down syndrome, he’d ask everyone he met for their birthday, carefully write it on a piece of paper, then slide it in a manila envelope to file away. Later, he developed an interest in genealogy and enjoyed digging up new details of his family history.

“He was always interested in the details of people and how they were related to each other. He was always wanting to see old family pictures and know who was who,” said his sister, Kelley Donovan. “That was really, really important to him.”

Hank Donovan, who was known for his sweet and lively personality and love for his family, died April 5 at Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston. He was 66.

He was the oldest of five children born to Norman and Anne Donovan. He was nine years older than his only sister, but they were especially close, and he was always a little protective of her. He taught her to tie her shoes and would hang out with her while their brothers were off being rough and tumble, Kelley Donovan said.

“When we talk about the family, it was always ‘Hank, Kelley and the boys,'” she said. The “boys” were their other brothers, Jeffrey, Patrick and Matthew.


Hank and Kelley Donovan as kids. Photo courtesy of Kelley Donovan

In 1966, Anne Donovan co-founded the Youth Development Center, which later became Independence Association, to fill a need in the area for families who had children with intellectual and developmental disabilities. At the time, children with Down syndrome who attended public school were often teased and left out of things, Kelley Donovan said.

“My mother was not going to let Hank be subjected to that kind of situation,” she said. “She just didn’t think that was the right thing.”

At the Youth Development Center, Hank Donovan and his classmates learned important skills, including how to read, write and use the telephone.

“Hank would take that and come home and start calling people,” his sister said. “He was always enthusiastic.”

But that enthusiasm would sometimes lead him to a bit of trouble – including the time he tried to drive his grandparents’ car. He would tell people he was “full of the devil.”

“He was so lively and fun and just silly,” Kelley Donovan said.


Over the years, Hank Donovan enjoyed participating in Special Olympics, earning many medals and awards. He was a lively character when he participated in plays, including “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” at Independence Association.

Hank Donovan at his retirement party in 2002. Photo courtesy of Kelley Donovan

After graduating from his classes at YDC, Hank Donovan worked at Spindleworks Arts Center, making arts and crafts five days a week, until his retirement in 2002. His friends and family celebrated that milestone with him during a retirement party, where he sported a badge that read “Off the Clock.”

He lived for several decades at Apple Ridge Assisted Living in Bowdoin, where he had wonderful caregivers, his family said. They supported his interested in genealogy and would take him to archives and libraries to research his family. When Hank Donovan developed Alzheimer’s, his caregivers told him he could stay at Apple Ridge as long as he wanted.

Hank and Kelley Donovan maintained their close bond throughout his life.

“All we had to do was give each other a look, and we’d have an understanding,” she said. “He could read people, and he could sense the emotional nuances. He was very sharp that way.”

When she went away to college, he wrote her letters in his careful all-caps, no-spaces style. One letter was a list of characters from “The Wizard of Oz.”

“We used to love to watch that movie together,” she said. “It was his way of recounting a memory we shared. It was really beautiful and sweet.”

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