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Article updated: 7/10/2013 6:03 PM

World War II vet from Mt. Prospect remembered for his humor

John B. Donato of Mount Prospect, who died at the age of 88, served in the Pacific during World War II.

John B. Donato of Mount Prospect, who died at the age of 88, served in the Pacific during World War II.

 
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Longtime Mount Prospect resident John B. Donato was the kind of person it was almost impossible to dislike, relatives say.

"He was so magnetic," his sister-in-law, Barbara Donato, said on Wednesday. "I've never known anyone not to like him. He just had that personality -- always had a smile, always wanted to help."

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Donato, a World War II veteran and retired optician, died on July 6 at the age of 88 after a brief illness.

Donato, one of six children, grew up on Chicago's Northwest Side, the son of Italian immigrants. Shortly after graduating from Steinmetz High School in 1943, he enlisted in the U.S. Army. He served in the Pacific, and told stories about being stationed near the Japanese city of Hiroshima shortly after the U.S. dropped an atomic bomb on the city.

Creased black-and-white snapshots of the devastation were found in Donato's Mount Prospect apartment, said Marla Donato, his niece.

"We had to push him to talk about those experiences," Marla Donato said. "He was very humble, and didn't like to bring attention to himself. He also saw some horrible things during that time. I always loved Uncle John, but when I heard those stories, it really made me see what an intelligent and capable man he was."

After the war, Donato graduated from the Midwest School of Optics in Chicago and practiced as an optician in the Loop. He moved to Mount Prospect in the mid-1950s, relatives said.

"His subdivision was brand new then," Barbara Donato said. "There were no trees anywhere."

When he wasn't working, Donato loved to sing at suburban restaurants and clubs, including Andy's Steak House in Oak Brook. He mostly performed jazz standards and Italian songs. He was a dapper dresser who loved to spend time joking and laughing with friends and loved ones.

"He was happiest when he was telling stories over a plate of imported Italian cold cuts and good Italian bread," Marla Donato said.

Donato was also a passionate golfer. Relatives said he often beat opponents much younger than he, even after suffering a stroke that left him blind in one eye.

In recent years, Donato split his time between the apartment in Mount Prospect and a condo in Tempe, Ariz., that he visited in the winter months. He is the last of the six children in his family to pass away.

"He was so wonderful to me and my husband," said Barbara Donato, who was married to John's youngest brother, Anthony. Anthony Donato died in 2005 after a fight with leukemia. "When my husband became ill, John was such an inspiration to us. A wonderful man all around, and his passing is a huge loss."

Visitation is scheduled from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday at Lauterburg-Oehler Funeral Home, 2000 E. Northwest Hwy., Arlington Heights. A funeral service will take place immediately following.

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