top of page

Herbert Donaldson, a life well lived

By Tammie Beasley

 Mr. Herbert L. Donaldson of Brandenburg turns 93 this month. Although a big celebration is not possible due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many of his close family members and friends will gather safely with him to wish him happy birthday and have ice cream and cake. Fortunately for him, many of his large family members live in Brandenburg and Meade County.

 I have known the Donaldson family since I was a child. Growing up, I remember that Herb always liked to tell stories and jokes. I sat down with Herb and two of his daughters at his home to talk to him about his life. I knew that Herb has packed a lot of living into his lifetime so far, but I had no idea of some of the life events he told me about.

 Herb was born in West Point, Kentucky, and grew up there. He was called by the nickname of Sonny by his mother and many people in West Point. His father, Frank, worked at Kosmosdale until he contracted tuberculosis. He entered the Waverly Sanitarium in Louisville, which was then a tuberculosis sanitarium, and his roommate there repaired watches. Both the roommate and Frank recovered enough to leave the sanitarium, and they then proceeded to work together repairing watches. Frank’s health was never the same after having tuberculosis so Herb often went with him to work, and he learned to repair watches and clocks as well. Frank died when Herb was 17 years old. His mother, Della, was a hair dresser and also owned restaurants in West Point. They built onto one of them, and it later became Herb’s restaurant. Herb had one sister, Wanda, who was two years older than him. Because Herb could not say Wanda as a young child, he called her Dotty and most of the family called her Dot because she was about the “size of a dot”. Dotty married a military man and lived in several places, including eight years in Germany. When he retired, they returned to Kentucky to settle back in West Point and lived there until their deaths.

 Herb had several jobs growing up to include paper boy and working at his mother’s restaurants. One of his jobs at the restaurants was to kill the chickens. He used a stick to twist up under their neck to pop their heads off ,and then, he put the bodies down in a hamper to keep them from being bruised. When he was carrying the newspaper when he was 12 or 13, he unfortunately witnessed a double shooting. A little girl came running down the railroad track crying that her daddy was going to kill her mommy. There were some people sitting on a porch so he took the child up to them and told them what she said and left her there while he went to see what was going on. He cut behind the neighbors house and into an alley and heard a shot and saw a woman falling down some steps. He continued on and looked around the house and saw the man shoot himself in the chest. Herb said he could actually see the man’s heart pumping through the hole in his chest. At that time he delivered the newspaper on foot so he took off running to get help. The woman was already dead, and the man died on the way to the hospital.

 After Herb’s father contracted tuberculosis, he was always afraid that Herb would get hurt and he would not let him play sports of any kind. Just for laughs, Herb and one of his friends tried out for the high school cheerleading squad…and they both made it. They became the first male cheerleaders in West Point. Herb did get to play a year of basketball before graduating from West Point High School. His dad, Frank, never knew.

 Herb started dating Peggy Louise Quiggins, also from West Point, when she was 14 years old. Peggy was two years younger than him and went to school with him. She was also a cheerleader so she and Herb were cheerleaders together in high school!