Center Elementary custodian shaves head to raise money for cancer research

| Wednesday, Nov. 13, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

Linda O'Donnell has maintained a positive attitude throughout the past eight months as she deals with breast cancer.

The mastectomy and subsequent chemotherapy have been rough.

O'Donnell, 65, of Freeport, though, had the most difficult time dealing with the loss of her hair.

“The worst thing was losing my hair,” O'Donnell said in a phone interview earlier this week. “I was known as ‘Red' (for her red locks).”

Mike O'Donnell of the Holiday Park section of Plum, Linda O'Donnell's brother-in-law, who Linda O'Donnell affectionately refers to as ‘Uncle Mikey,' recently solidified his standing as her hero.

Mike O'Donnell, 60, a custodian at Center Elementary School, during an assembly at the school last Friday had his head shaved as the student body looked on and cheered, ‘Mr. Mike!'

Students purchased tickets for the opportunity to assist in shaving Mike O'Donnell's head.

The school raised $500 that is being donated in Linda O'Donnell's name to Susan G. Komen, an organization that raises money to fight breast cancer, Principal Jeff Hadley said during the assembly.

“I gave him a big hug,” said Linda O'Donnell who did not attend the head-shaving session and found out over the weekend when she saw her brother-in-law.

“I didn't realize at first the extent of what he did. The donations will help other women. That's the greatest thing.”

The O'Donnell family is familiar with the effects of cancer.

Mike O'Donnell's wife, Marion, 64, also underwent treatments for breast cancer.

Marion O'Donnell, who was with her husband during last Friday's assembly, has been cancer-free for four years.

“I had a lumpectomy and 36 radiation treatments,” Marion O'Donnell said.

She praised her husband.

“He is a very giving person,” she said.

Mike O'Donnell, a custodian in the Plum School District for nearly 41 years, said he wanted to do something to support his sister-in-law and others.

“I want to bring about an awareness of breast cancer,” he said.

O'Donnell gave high-fives to students as they entered the gymnasium for the assembly.

The students continued to chant ‘Mr. Mike!' as he sat for the head shaving.

“We are really impressed with Mr. Mike,” Hadley told the children. “He is a great guy and a great leader. He is setting a good example for all of you.”

Cameron Wickline, 9, a fourth-grader said O'Donnell is his buddy.

“He keeps the school clean, and if there is a problem in the bathroom, he fixes it,” Cameron said. He is a great guy, and this is a great cause.”

After his head was shaved, O'Donnell said he might keep the new, shorter look.

“It feels good,” he said. “This is a wonderful group of people. I love them.”

Karen Zapf is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-856-7400, ext. 8753, or

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