By Rich Heldenfels
Beacon Journal pop culture writer
Del Donahoo, who spent more than 40 years presenting reports on WKYC (Channel 3), died early Wednesday morning in a hospice care facility in Westlake. He was 90.
The folksy Iowa native joined WKYC in 1968 after stints in radio and TV in Iowa and Missouri. While he began as an anchor, he became known for upbeat features about people, places and food in the region, often in his “Del’s Folks” and “Del’s Feasts” reports.
He got around so much in his famous “Folkswagon” van that he was called Ohio’s Charles Kuralt, after the CBS newsman known for his “On the Road” stories and specials. In speeches, Donahoo would urge his audience to “take a day off and go see this beautiful state.” One such talk, in 1982, found him recommending more than two dozen different sites and venues.
But those features had their perils. In 1976, Donahoo was reporting on a lion act at a mall in Elyria when one of the lions went after him; Donahoo needed 48 stitches in his arm and head.
More often he found the cheerful and positive in life and broadcasting. That was especially true during the 18 years he co-hosted WKYC’s early-morning Today in Cleveland with Tom Haley. The lighthearted series, with the hosts chatting and joking in a kitchen-like set, ended in 1997 when the station expanded its early newscasts. Haley left the station at that time (and died in 2009) and Donahoo considered retirement. But he decided to remain with the station, not leaving his full-time role until February 2007.
By that time, some of the joy had gone out of Donahoo’s life. Martha, his wife of 58 years and a frequent companion during his travels and speaking engagements, had died in October 2006 and Donahoo choked up when talking about her the following year.
“Martha went with me on as many trips as possible,” he said. “She was a wonderful companion. … The sad thing is when you go home with something to tell her, and she’s not there.”
But when he left his daily work at WKYC, he insisted it was not a full retirement. He was still doing pieces into his late 80s, including segments produced by MetroHealth on senior issues through 2009. He checked in with the station once a day up to about a year ago, said Brooke Spectorsky, general manager of the Cleveland-based NBC affiliate.
Donahoo was known not only as a nice person, but as a solid writer who knew how to connect with viewers.
“His storytelling was about common people, everyday folks,” Spectorsky said. “He would find the small farmer or the small businessman who was doing something unique.”
Donahoo’s stories might run longer than those most commonly seen in 21st-century news, Spectorsky said, but the craft that Donahoo brought to them justified the time spent.
Friends and colleagues were paying tribute to Donahoo online Wednesday, and a WKYC midday news report called him “a very special part” of the station. Former WKYC reporter Eric Mansfield said of Donahoo on Twitter: “You were one-of-a-kind and brought joy to so many.”
Survivors include a son, Dennis; a daughter, Marcy, and four grandchildren.
Funeral services will be at 1 p.m. Saturday in Bay Presbyterian Church in Bay Village. Calling hours will be in the church Friday from 2 to 5 and 6 to 8 p.m.