Attorney Donald Joseph Zehnder Sr. lived a full 91 years of life blessed with a “joie de vivre” that endeared him to and imprinted his spirit in the memories of his family and lifelong friends. Everything in life he accomplished with gusto. He served honorably in the U.S. Navy, graduated with characteristic “Irish” pride from the University of Notre Dame and received the prestigious Mock Trial Award before graduating from Yale Law School. He practiced law in his beloved hometown community instead of accepting more lucrative offers. He built his solo legal practice, eventually adding his son, attorney Donald J. Zehnder Jr., to the firm. Father and son served their clients with respect, frequently forgiving bills for clients who were unable to pay.
The center of his life was family, faith, and lifelong friendships. He loved his family wholeheartedly and was happiest when everyone gathered at the home he and his wife, Mary, had lovingly designed to graciously host their many gatherings of friends and family. Mary and Don’s hospitality was renowned as they hosted festivities at the holidays, Naugatuck High School reunion committee meetings, and fundraisers for GOP party candidates. Don loved when friends and family were in the living room with a roaring fire, songs playing on the stereo, and the house sparkling with cheer and camaraderie.
He dearly loved his wife, Mary, mother of their four children, Shawn, Gail, Don “Zeke,” and Terry. When Mary was well, they loved to dance together and golf as active members of the Waterbury Country Club. They attended two inaugural presidential balls and traveled on European and Caribbean trips with their friends.
In the 1960s, Donald and Mary piled their four kids into the family wood-paneled station wagon for a six-week cross country road trip adventure of a lifetime — Donald’s dream come true. That trip was highlighted by visiting breathtaking national sites from seeing Old Faithful erupt in Yellowstone Park to watching the sun set over the Grand Canyon after he rafted down the Snake River earlier in the day. Another thrill of his lifetime was a safari trip to Africa, where he got close enough to observe herds of elephants, his favorite animals. He was well known for his extensive collection of elephant figurines.
When Mary became stricken with early Alzheimer’s disease, Don heroically took care of her for decades so she could stay home with him. He made sure Mary always looked her best — reflecting his steadfast loving care for his wife of over 50 years. When it was time for Mary to receive nursing care at the Glendale Center that he co-founded, he visited and shared meals with her every day for two more years.
Donald also loved to sing, with a repertoire including Irish favorites like “Danny Boy” and the lullaby “Toora Loora Loora”, patriotic songs, hymns and big band era tunes. While at Yale, he felt honored to be a member of the Yale Oversextet singing group. He frequently led the Naugatuck Rotary in patriotic songs at meetings in his over 50 years of membership. He firmly believed in the community service that Rotary exemplifies and he contributed his time and energy toward making Naugatuck a good place to live and do business.
Donald’s devout Catholic faith was an essential part of his life. He was an alumnus of St. Francis School and a lifelong parishioner at St. Francis Church, the church of his parents, where he faithfully attended mass every week of his life. Every Sunday after mass, he donned his apron and cooked up a bacon and eggs breakfast for family and the frequent guests who were always welcome. He had unwavering faith that he would be reunited with his predeceased son Don “Zeke,” grandson Ryan, and his beloved Mary. With every hope today is the blessed beginning of their loving family reunion. He will best be remembered as a gentleman who lived and loved life with a resilient spirit, a loving husband and father of four and devoted son of Joseph and Louise Linskey Zehnder.
Donations to the The Zehnder Family Scholarship, P.O. Box 474, Naugatuck, CT 06770, or the Naugatuck Rotary Foundation, P.O. Box 484, Naugatuck, CT 06770-0484 would be sincerely appreciated in his memory.
All are welcome to a funeral mass honoring Donald’s life that will be held on Tuesday, Aug. 29, 2017 at 11 a.m. at St. Francis Church, 318 Church St., Naugatuck. Burial will follow in St. James Cemetery. Visitation will be held at church from 10 a.m. until the start of Mass. The Alderson-Ford Funeral Home is assisting with arrangements.
For online condolences, to share a photo or a story, visit www.fordfh.com.