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Founder of UT nursing program dies

Not only did she help start the program, but she served as its first director, all after retiring to Florida.

© St. Petersburg Times
published November 29, 2002

Margaret Donaghay
1923 -- 2002

DAVIS ISLANDS -- Even in retirement, Margaret Donaghay never stopped loving education.

After a distinguished career as an upper administrator at a fledgling New Jersey college, she retired to Tampa, where she helped found the baccalaureate nursing program at the University of Tampa.

Mrs. Donaghay died Sunday (Nov. 17) from complications related to a sudden bout with pneumonia. She was 78.

"She was a very upbeat person," said her daughter Jean Aertker. "Everyone who knew her was amazed at her willpower. She was a very positive person to be around."

Mrs. Donaghay was born and raised in New Jersey, where she would eventually start a family and a career. She and her husband, Oliver Henderson, had four children together, including twins.

When the children entered school, Mrs. Donaghay went back to work. She started out as a secretary at Salem County Vocational Technical Institute in Carneys Point, N.J.

She began managing the institute's administration office and then directing its finances. Soon, she was secretary to the board of trustees.

Part of what made her so successful was the tenacious attitude she had toward raising money for education. She became a registered lobbyist in Washington, D.C., to help secure funding for the New Jersey Department of Education.

In 1972, Mrs. Donaghay's hard work paid off as Salem County Vocational Technical Institute became Salem Community College. She was named the vice president of administration of the college and ran the school's finances. Today, the school is internationally renowned for its scientific glass-blowing program.

"She had a vision, she wanted to see it happen, and it did happen," said Mary Scott, an administrative assistant at Salem Community College who worked with Mrs. Donaghay.

"Mom was a self-directed woman," Aertker said. "She was the product of the World War II-era working woman.

Though her career was a success -- she was the first woman in New Jersey to be named chief administration officer of a public college -- her home life was not without hardship.

Her husband, Oliver, died of heart disease in the early 1970s, and Mrs. Donaghay was left to continue raising her children alone, even though she had kidney-related health problems of her own.

Additionally, in 1975, her daughter Jean's husband, an Air Force captain, was killed in a plane crash. Mrs. Donaghay took in Jean, and helped raise the couple's infant daughter, Katherine.

"She always had a bright outlook," Aertker said. "I can't think of many people that have had so much gone wrong for them -- healthwise, being widowed early, having to help me raise a granddaughter, and she had another grandson who had cystic fibrosis."

Mrs. Donaghay retired and moved with Jean and Katherine to Tampa in 1978, in part because her doctors had advised her that resting in the Florida weather would be good for her.

But resting wasn't on Mrs. Donaghay's agenda.

The University of Tampa had been discussing the prospect of a new nursing program. When Mrs. Donaghay found out, she volunteered her expertise in higher education to get the program off the ground. She was its first director, and UT still awards a nursing scholarship in her name.

She had a number of hobbies, ranging from her work with the Davis Islands Garden Club to her lifelong hobby, making china and porcelain dolls, which she sold at shows and gave to her grandchildren.

In 1992, Mrs. Donaghay married Herbert Donaghay, a longtime friend and former director of Salem County Vocational Technical Institute.

He died in 1998, and Mrs. Donaghay was by that time using a wheelchair, but she never lost her zeal for life.

"She would still cook large meals and entertain, directing from her wheelchair," Aertker said. "She had a real spirit about her."

One of the last events Mrs. Donaghay was able to attend occurred not long ago, when her granddaughter Katherine, whom she had helped raise as her own, was sworn in as a lawyer.

"She was a very kind and generous person," Katherine Aertker said.

Mrs. Donaghay was preceded in death by a grandson, Douglas Hitchner. Her survivors include a son, Joseph Henderson, of Long Beach, Calif.; three daughters, Margaret Davis, Jane Hitchner and Jean Aertker, all of Tampa; two sisters, Lily Hitchner and Ruth Gervet, of Alloway, N.J.; a brother, Clifford Sweeten, of Oakwood Beach, N.J., and Tavares; two granddaughters, Kristina Cloversettle and Katherine Aertker, both of Tampa; and three great-grandchildren.

-- Jay Cridlin can be reached at 226-3374 or

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