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Donald P. Doherty dead; McHenry mayor, county board rep ran drugstore

Donald P. Doherty | Provided photo

Donald P. Doherty | Provided photo

Donald Doherty was mayor of McHenry during an explosive period of the city’s growth.

He also was a McHenry County board member, a father of 10, and the owner of Bolger’s Drug Store, a lively cornerstone of small-town life on Green Street from 1954 to 1989.

When he started out, chain pharmacies and big-box stores didn’t exist. He kept Bolger’s open 365 days a year so customers could always get their prescriptions. Home deliveries were free.

“I remember my dad getting called at all hours of the night for sick children or sick parents,” said his daughter Carmel Ray. “He would drive the two blocks from our house down to the drug store and get whatever they needed without question.”

Donald P. Doherty in his favorite light blue cardigan. | Provided photo

At Bolger’s, teenagers lingered over malts and cherry Cokes. Kids browsed the latest comic books. Customers could buy utilitarian items like pocket knives and bathroom scales or gifts of perfume and Fannie May chocolates. Commuters picked up newspapers, cigarettes and a little gossip before boarding the train for the long ride to Chicago. Customers received free light bulbs when they came in to pay electric bills.

In 1961, when he became mayor of McHenry, the city had a population of about 3,300, and “He really knew half of them,” said his son Jay, president of the City Club of Chicago.

Mr. Doherty, 91, died Nov. 21 of Legionnaires’ disease, according to his family and Justen Funeral Home. On Nov. 30, the Illinois Department of Public Health announced that testing showed Legionella bacteria in the plumbing at McHenry Villa, the senior community where he lived.

He grew up one of three children of Vera and Paul Doherty, the owners of a 60-acre dairy farm on Crystal Lake Road. His father served as the tax assessor for Nunda township in McHenry County. Donald went to McHenry High School and St. Patrick’s, an Irish Catholic church.

At 13, he met his high school sweetheart Rosalie Williams. She attended St. Mary’s, a church with many German Catholics.  

They wed in 1951. “In those days,” Jay Doherty said. “It was kind of a mixed marriage.”

Donald P. Doherty and wife Rosalie. They met at 13 and were married from 1951 until her death in 2010. | Provided photo

In addition to raising 10 children together, they were fierce Scrabble competitors. Their kids say she usually beat him.

Before getting married, Mr. Doherty served in the Army, where he worked stateside as a typist in a military police unit, according to his children. His service enabled him to use the GI bill to study at the Hynes School of Pharmacy in Chicago.

Around 1954, he took over the drugstore from his uncle, Tom Bolger.

“He always said work was a privilege,” said Jay Doherty.

Mr. Doherty served on the McHenry County Board from 1982 to 1998. At various times, he ran under the Democratic, GOP and independent banners, becoming a political mentor to many, his daughter said.

In 1988, Donna Schaefer said she was the first woman elected in their district to serve on the county board. “He treated me like any other colleague,” she said. “He believed in community service. He didn’t have an agenda and he really liked talking to people.”

With the rise of big pharmacy chains, Carmel Ray said her father decided to close Bolger’s after presiding over one final surge of Fannie May sales on Valentine’s Day of 1989.

He enjoyed watching “All in the Family” and dining with friends at the Green Pearl Restaurant and Green Street Cafe in McHenry. In 1994, he achieved his goal of touring the beaches of Normandy for the 50th anniversary of D-Day.

“Family, church, friends, the GI Bill, night school, just a beautiful American life,” his son said. “He and my mother kept us all together. Ten children, we get along with each other. They were so proud of that.”

Rosalie and Donald P. Doherty had 10 children, 21 grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren. | Provided photo

Mr. Doherty is also survived by his daughters Colleen Jackson, Celeste Heidemann, Cynthia Henderson, Christine Ludwig, Carolyn Sweeney, Connie Bopp and Catherine Brodbeck; another son, Joseph, 21 grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.  

At his wake, many of his grandchildren wore light blue cardigans, the same style of sweater he favored. In 2019, the grandchildren are planning trips to Australia, Disney World, Ireland, Japan and Russia, said Carolyn Sweeney. Wherever they travel, she said they plan on taking photos of themselves in their blue sweaters in memory of Mr. Doherty.

At his wake, many of Donald P. Doherty’s grandchildren wore sweaters similar to his trademark light blue cardigan. | Provided photo