By Sophia Chang
“I just didn't know what I was going to do,” he said. “I lacked focus. I didn't know what I wanted to become.”So Donnelly took his time in finding his way, aided in large part by taking night classes at Queensborough Community College in Bayside while working for a mechanical contractor and joining the 77th Army Reserve. Twenty-nine years later, he now owns one of the largest HVAC companies in New York with his wife, Cathy, employing 120 people at Donnelly Mechanical Corportation's new headquarters in Queens Village.”I struggled for a while, and once I was at Queensborough, I picked mechanical construction,” he said. “They had a very good mechanical design program, and I became very friendly with one of the professors. I didn't realize my appreciation until I was in business for a while.”And because his professors at Queensborough played such an influential part in his education, Donnelly is now giving $50,000 in scholarship money back to his alma mater over the next 10 years.”They were – and are – tremendous,” he said of his teachers. “They're more than just professors. They brought industry knowledge. When they taught something, it was not just for book smarts, but had real life applications.”The money will go toward a general scholarship fund, he said, to aid students who need financial assistance to finish their education. In November, Queensborough's parent system, the City University of New York, announced a massive fund-raising campaign aimed at raising $2.6 billion in the next eight years to improve student services, retain faculty, upgrade facilities, and foster community partnerships.In particular, Donnelly said he hoped working students would benefit from his donation.”I have profound respect for those 'work by day and go to school at night',” Donnelly said. “I did it for 12 years.”The school initially approached him to serve on the board, he said, and he jumped at the chance to give back.”When they asked me to do it, it was attractive to me because had there not been a Queensborough at that time, to be a springboard, I'm not quite sure what I would have done,” he said. “It enabled me to keep going.”He is now on the board of directors at Queensborough and also at New York Institute of Technology, where he finished his studies. He is the president of the Executive Association of Greater New York, a business networking association. Donnelly, a 47-year-old Whitestone native, started his company in 1989, and in March moved the company from College Point to Queens Village. He now lives in Long Island with his family.He hailed Queensborough's versatility and offerings for students who need flexibility and a quality local education.”Right now there's a lot of pressure to go to four-year schools, but for the young man or lady who's not really quite sure what they want to do, the two-year program is great for them,” Donnelly said. “There are some people that should not go away to school, for whatever reason. Queensborough offers them a nice way to start.”Reach reporter Sophia Chang by e-mail at email@example.com, or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 146.