Throughout his service to the youngest of Dyer County residents, Connell proved it takes much more than a degree in medicine to serve as an effective pediatrician. Tools tucked in his handy black medical bag included a ready smile, a joyful heart and the wisdom and persistence required to diagnose and treat a wide array of maladies.
Beginning his Dyersburg practice in August of 1961, Connell served the local community for 37 years. He began his profession in an era when physicians still made house calls, when payment might be made in the form of firewood or an oil change, and always figured out after the child had been cared for. Connell saw many changes in the medical profession and by the time he retired in January 1998, the pediatrician was caring for the grandchildren of some of his first patients.
Due to medical conditions, Don Connell and his wife, Carol Serr Connell, now reside in Plano, Texas, close to their oldest daughter, Cindy Connell Russell. But the couple still consider Dyersburg their home.
"If I could say anything about Daddy, it is that he found his gift from God and pursued it," said Connell's daughter, Charlene White, who still lives in Dyersburg. "That's why he was so good at what he did. That was his love. Children were his love."
Through example, Connell demonstrated what it takes to go the extra mile when treating the community's most precious resource. Those under the good doctor's care did not have to wonder if Connell enjoyed his calling as one of the area's first pediatricians. A visit to his office on Tickle Street often found Connell singing or whistling as he went from room to room, pure delight on his face as he interacted with his patients using nicknames like "Lady Bug" or "Pistol Pete". He is also remembered for his talent for putting both child and parent at ease.
Murals brightening the walls of the office were created by Carol Connell, who also served as a volunteer to the community in a wide variety of ways.
A local initiative now offers Connell's patients and their families the opportunity to honor the man who gave so selflessly to Dyersburg residents and the woman who supported the community with her own talents.
Connell's four children, Russell, White, Don Connell and David Connell, recently created the Connell Foundation to honor their parents with philanthropic initiatives relating to children's charities and activities. The organization's first fundraising project is designed to aid McIver's Grant Public Library with the cost of a dedicated children's area in its new building.
"We were humbled when we recently learned that the McIver's Grant Public Library wanted to name the children's area of the new library in honor of our parents," reads a letter sent out in the first stage of the foundation's fundraising campaign. "The Connell Children's Area will be an inviting place for children of all ages and their parents. It will include a special space for children under 2-years old, a dedicated story time room, a craft area, and windows overlooking a learning garden. A space focused on birth- to age-3 programming will be outfitted with rocking chairs, educational toys and beginner computers."
A goal of $200,000 has been set to name the library's children's department after the Connells.
"Dad saw every child that needed to be seen," said White. "He impacted a generation of people. (For my parents), everything catered around children. It was that way for both of them. (And this space is designed) to touch every single one of the children in this community. There could not be a better way to say 'thank you' or to honor them."
The family's goal is to raise the $200,000 in time for the library's grand opening in January.
"I would love to have Daddy at the grand opening," said White. "He is a special man."
As White and her siblings began spearheading the foundation's campaign, they have been honored and humbled by the many stories shared with them by residents of the community.
"It has been amazing, through this process, how many people have shared experiences with us," said White. "What a great way to honor them while they are still here with us. I would rather them know now how many people care for them than to wait (until they pass). What is a better memorial for them than this?"
Family members covet not only monetary donations, but these stories. Stories and testimonials are also being collected on the foundation's website, www.connellfoundation.com.
"No donation is too small and every donation will help," said White. "Every penny raised will go directly to the library."
Residents can make a one-time gift or a pledge that can be paid over time.
Donations should be made payable to the Dyersburg-Dyer County Public Library Foundation and mailed to the library at 204 N. Mill Ave., Dyersburg, TN 38024. A note should be made on the check that the gift is in honor of Dr. Don and Carol Connell.
Those who prefer to make an online donation may visit the Connell Foundation website at www.connellfoundation.com and click on the "Donate" link.