#222. Donald Darnell – Good Thing We Didn’t Lose Him!

Posted on | The Agurban

Donald Darnell – Good Thing We Didn’t Lose Him!

A couple weeks ago, we sent our Agurban entitled “Can Our Country Afford to Lose These People?” It focused on a Kauffman Foundation study on the value of immigrants to the growth of the US economy. We received a wonderful response from Brad Simpson, who works in the Records and Registration Office at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, IL. Brad writes:

I found this article particularly interesting. It seems like the immigrant role in America today has changed radically from past immigrant’s roles. When this country was in the throes of the Industrial Revolution the “high tech” immigrants were those who had worked in factories or coal mines in England. We desperately needed their expertise to understand how to get those type of industries moving at a faster pace in America.

But typically the immigrant’s role in America has more often been to play the “peon” or “manual labor” role, picking cotton and fruit, working in the fields, doing the hard dirty work that no one who lived here permanently actually wanted to do. Now there is another immigrant population in America that is working in chicken plants and landscaping, working in construction and laying carpet.

I realize the jobs you outlined are critical jobs and it is sad to see that America may not have the same appeal that it had to the “old immigrants”. My family left England and Scotland because of food shortages and lack of opportunity to be a land holder.

My point being that we also cannot afford to lose the lower class immigrants either.

A very good friend of mine, Donald Darnell, who is a retired professor from SIUE, has traveled extensively in 3rd world countries. During the Vietnam War he lived in Quin Hohn for 4 years traveling around Vietnam setting up elementary schools for Vietnamese children. He made many friends in the process. After the fall of Vietnam in ’75 Donald spent massive amounts of his own money helping his friends get out of the country. By the grace of God one family made it to Hong Kong on a ramshackle leaking boat and they sent a message to the US literally to “Donald Darnell, USA”, and somehow that letter made it to him. I can’t recall the specifics but it was nothing short of a miracle. He paid for their passage to Illinois and welcomed them to his one bedroom apartment in Edwardsville and spent his own money to get them set up in a house as soon as he could. I might mention only the father spoke a little English. None of the children spoke English. But they quickly learned and became stellar students. They won scholarships and made school their priority.

I wish I could recall the exact specifics of how that family turned out. But suffice it to say of the 7 children all of them became doctors, engineers or architects. Every last one of them (became) professionals, including the father who went back to school to earn an American degree to supplement his Vietnamese education. The father would have been placed in prison if he hadn’t escaped when he did because he collaborated with Americans during the war.

I might mention that Donald was also the son of immigrants himself. From a very large Irish family, he has an identical twin brother who became a dentist.

Donald helped so many families it was just a miracle. They all became productive members of our society while working their way through school, asking for nothing, just head down, continuing to work. Probably like your grandparents. I know those immigrant stories still exist, and when I hear opposition to immigration I wonder about those kinds of things. I hope America isn’t done providing an example for a chance to be great to future immigrant populations.

Donald and I have been friends since I was a child. I wish my details could be more accurate for you. Donald actually sponsored several families over a period of years, using his own resources to help them get established. It is one of his proudest accomplishments.

This is the type of story we love to hear. Anyone in this country, either because you were born here or you came here seeking a better way of life, can succeed. It is up to you!