By David Perry
Five new inductees joined the UMass Lowell Military Alumni Veterans Hall of Fame on Nov. 1, each bringing an array of service to the nation, with 115 years in uniform among them.
Inductees Dana DeFranco, who founded Battle Grounds Coffee Co.
with her husband Salvatore, a former Navy SEAL, and William O’Donnell ’85, who oversees the conservation and preservation of the landmark buildings on Capitol Hill, described their legacy of service at the university’s annual flag-raising ceremony at University Crossing.
The event was organized by the university’s Veterans Services office
, which serves more than 1,000 student veterans, the largest veteran population of any university in Massachusetts.
DeFranco and her husband, who attended UMass Lowell, founded Battle Grounds Coffee in part to support veterans’ causes, including fighting homelessness. They have opened two coffee shops – one in Haverhill and another in Lawrence.
DeFranco described the heroics and sacrifice of her grandfather, father, uncle and husband. Her grandfather, Richard Lucier, earned a slew of medals in World War II; her father and uncle did tours of Vietnam; and her husband endured extreme tests to join SEAL Team 3.
Those role models “taught me the true meaning of the words honor, commitment and sacrifice,” she said.
Battle Grounds Coffee is a vehicle for giving back to veterans, DeFranco said. They hire veterans and offer customers who are veterans a place to gather and find support.
“Our mission is to support all veterans and all veterans’ initiatives that come before us,” she said.
O’Donnell movingly recalled arriving at UMass Lowell for his freshman year in the early '80s leaving behind five brothers and four sisters and a lot of diminished expectations in his hometown of Barre, Mass.
“I came here with enough money to finish the first semester,” he said. “This school gave me an opportunity that no one in my family ever thought one of us would have.”
O’Donnell worked hard and earned good grades in engineering while holding down a full-time job. The university saw his needs and recognized his potential, and at the beginning of his second semester, he was awarded scholarships that covered tuition. He also met his wife of 34 years, Darlene, here; they graduated together in 1985 with mechanical engineering degrees.
“This university also gave me the ability to think critically, to really analyze a problem, create solutions and do it as a member of a team,” he said. “It’s pretty unique. This university really concentrates on sacrificing some of that interstudent competition and instead focuses on that teamwork. That is one of the things that has contributed to my success.”
O’Donnell is a U.S. Navy veteran and served as the Navy’s assistant for administration and as a director at the U.S. Department of Defense’s Defense Threat Reduction Agency. Now, as chief administrative officer with the Architect of the Capitol – the federal agency that preserves landmarks in Washington, D.C. – he supports the conservation of iconic buildings, monuments and artwork on Capitol Hill.
The flag ceremony paid tribute to all who have served the country. More than 100 people gathered for the event, which also featured presentation of the colors by the UMass Lowell Air Force ROTC Detachment No. 345
, the UMass Lowell marching band and the unfurling of a 36-foot-by-20-foot American flag from the third-floor balcony.
“We protect the students who have protected us,” said Chancellor Jacquie Moloney, noting that the Military Times news organization has named UML a “Best for Vets” school for seven consecutive years. She said veterans’ hard-won knowledge enriches the entire campus.
“We owe them every opportunity to make up for the sacrifices that they have made,” said Moloney. “At UML, we are all in with our veterans, providing them with the care and support they need to be successful.”
Also inducted into the Hall of Fame were retired U. S. Army Command Sgt. Maj. James Carabello ’85, a North Andover native who served two deployments in Iraq and four in Afghanistan, and Robert Kilmartin ’80, a Lowell native who is a former U.S. Marine Corps judge advocate and Massachusetts assistant attorney general.