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Comfort of community

Comfort of community

Cara Gfroerer March 14, 2024

After dropping his daughter, Norah, off to begin her freshman year at University of Dayton last August, Mike O’Donnell ’94 was overcome with emotion — and needed a breather.

Daughter and her parents pose for a selfie.

“I was going through all the emotions,” he said.

He and his wife, Joy Spina O’Donnell ’94, stopped at a coffee shop on the east side of Pittsburgh. They had taken a detour from Ohio to visit the Steel City before heading back to their current home more than 2,000 miles away in Phoenix. 

Together, they sat at a small table and chatted about how difficult it was leaving their first-born child, in disbelief that she was already starting college. 

Proudly wearing his favorite UD T-shirt, a man passed by O’Donnell and stopped. Mark Rastetter ’02, a fellow Flyer from Columbus, walked up to the couple to share a friendly “Go Flyers!”

The pair struck up a conversation and O'Donnell shared how he had just been to UD to drop off Norah and was having a hard time thinking about going back to Phoenix, so far away from her.

Rastetter immediately gave him his phone number and offered to help the O’Donnells in any way possible. After all, he was only an hour away. 

“For other universities this may seem like an extraordinary act of kindness, but for those in the UD community, this is standard,” O’Donnell said. 

The encounter soothed O’Donnell’s concerns for his daughter, reminding him that she is in a community that goes above and beyond to look out for one another. 

“The relationships at UD just seem so much deeper than some of the schools out there that might be ‘more prestigious’” said O’Donnell.

“There's just a genuineness to UD.”

O’Donnell and his wife met on campus their senior year. They connected when a mutual friend offered to drive them home together one weekend. He offered Joy his pillow to sleep with on the drive and the rest is history.

Norah poses with her parents at a softball game.

“Having familiarity with the campus and comfort with UD made it easier to let her go,” said O’Donnell.

At first, the couple was unsure if Norah, a student-athlete, would end up attending UD. But after she came to Dayton for a tour, had a meeting with the softball coach and met the people in admissions, she walked out of the meeting and said definitively, “I’m done looking at other schools. This is where I want to go.”

Norah is a freshman now and over Christmas break, told her dad, “It’s like a dream, Dad. It’s everything. Everything’s fantastic.”

The O'Donnells plan to return to the UD campus this month to see Norah play. They plan to bring their younger son, a baseball player, to potentially add a fourth Flyer to the family. 

O’Donnell is hopeful (for his son’s sake, of course) that a UD campus tour will hit it out of the park.

Hitting a home run with persistence