Sr. Marguerite O’Beirne, Anne Donovan, and Renee Keister Balke connect via the
2013 Institute for Sport, Spirituality and Character Development award.
Call it karma. Call it serendipity. Call it fate. For three women, life came full circle on October 29 in the Mirenda Center for Sport, Spirituality and Character Development. Sr. Marguerite O’Beirne, Renee Balke, and Anne Donovan were together again for the first time in 29 years.
Sr. Marguerite O’Beirne, Trenton Mayor Dan Dwyer, Renee Keister Balke, and Anne Donovan in 1984
Sr. Marguerite O’Beirne, NU President Dr. Rosalie Mirenda, Renee Keister Balke, and Anne Donovan in 2013
The occasion was the third Institute for Sport, Spirituality and Character Development (ISSCD) award presentation. The recipient was Anne Donovan, a former basketball superstar, having won a national championship at Old Dominion University in 1980 and Olympic Gold Medals in 1984, 1988 and 2008 (the last as head coach).
Donovan was not honored for her basketball prowess, however. She was recognized for an act of kindness that changed another young woman's life 29 years ago.
In 1984, Renee Balke (then Keister) was one of the most promising basketball players in New Jersey. In her first two seasons at McCorristin Catholic High School in Trenton, she had scored more than 800 points and big-name colleges were already expressing interest. On June 15 of that year, while playing with friends at home, Renee fell and broke her neck. The accident left her paralyzed.
Sr. Marguerite, Neumann's vice president for mission and ministry, was principal of McCorristin at the time. She immediately began planning a fundraising event for Renee to help the family cope with the tremendous expenses they faced to care for their daughter. One of Sr. Marguerite's contacts suggested a benefit basketball game to raise money, and they wrote to basketball stars with New Jersey roots to ask for help.
Donovan, who played her high school basketball at Paramus Catholic, immediately agreed to play in the September 1984 game, which raised $10,500 for the Keister family. At the height of her celebrity, she even returned the next month for a second benefit game. In addition to defraying medical bills, the proceeds of both games also helped outfit a van for Renee, who graduated from McCorristin and went on to earn a college degree.
According to Sr. Marguerite, "We would never have raised the money without Anne Donovan."
Twenty-nine years after a stranger's act of kindness changed her life, Renee Balke presented the 2013 ISSCD Award to Donovan on a stage in the Mirenda Center’s main arena. Once again, they were brought together by Sr. Marguerite, who nominated Anne for the award. Full circle and a storybook ending.
Donovan recalled their first meeting, almost three decades earlier: “I expected to feel so sorry (for Renee). Instead, I found positivity that wasn’t forced and wasn’t fake.
From the moment I met Renee, I knew I had a lot to live up to.”
Donovan then addressed a crowd of more than 400 people, mainly Neumann students, who had come to witness the magic of the second meeting and Renee’s opportunity to acknowledge Donovan publicly. “This is different than most awards in sports,” Donovan began, “because we usually get recognized for wins and losses, for statistics. But the most important part of sports, to me, is the relationships we make.”
She then shared the five traits that she believes makes a person successful, not only in sports but in life: fortitude, attitude, integrity, trust and humility. It’s no accident, she explained, that the first letters of those qualities spell “faith.”
“Have your faith in your pocket and just go for it,” she concluded.
Donovan poses with Neumann's women’s basketball team.
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