Fred Donaldson was born at home in September of 1925, in the same home where his six siblings were born, where his father and his siblings were born, and in the house that his grandfather William J. Donaldson built for he and wife Martha (Millie) Adams Donaldson. It is the house that is now part of a Dunwoody Park, Donaldson-Bannister Farm, at the corner of Chamblee Dunwoody Road and Vermack Road.
Mr. Donaldson was kind enough to share his memories of his life, including growing up in Dunwoody. Dr. Strickland, local Dunwoody doctor, delivered Donaldson and all his brothers and sisters in the downstairs front room on the right as you face the house. Mr. Donaldson lived in the house with his grandmother Millie Donaldson, his parents, William (Will) and Nellie Collett Donaldson and his six siblings. Fred Donaldson is now the last of the children to survive.
Grandmother Millie died in 1931, and on April 5, 1932 the house and remaining acres were auctioned off, with the highest price per acre at $7. The sale was advertised in the Atlanta Constitution newspaper as two hundred acres in parcels of five to twenty acres located between the Fischer and Norris Estates. The home and twenty-six acres sold to Mrs. Lois Pattillo Bannister.
Will and Nellie Donaldson needed a new home for their family, so they built one just down on what became known as Vermack Road. Will Donaldson, who had the position of Bailiff in Dunwoody, wanted to keep the name Donaldson Road, but a disagreement with the county commissioner led to a name change to Vermack.
When asked about his childhood, Mr. Donaldson remembers playing a game called Annie Over, trying to throw a ball over the house. He recalls being pulled in a small wagon by a goat. The family had chickens, pigs, and mules at the farm. There were also pet cats and dogs.
If he and his friends and family wanted to go a movie they had to go to Brookhaven or Buckhead. Sometimes they even went downtown to the Paramount Theater or Fox Theater. Mr. Donaldson said you could take the trolley from Oglethorpe to Buckhead or downtown Atlanta. From Dunwoody to Brookhaven was on foot, although someone would usually offer them a ride, which was alright to accept in those days.
The family had a 1928 model Chevrolet and one day it started rolling down the drive. As Fred Donaldson tells it, “We were all sitting on the front porch one Sunday when the ’28 model Chevrolet came down the drive right by itself. My brother Fletcher ran and jumped in, stopped it right before it reached the railroad cut.” Roswell Railroad passed right in front of the old Donaldson house, but it stopped running in 1921, before Fred Donaldson was born.
Fred Donaldson walked to Dunwoody School, located where the Dunwoody Library is today. His teachers included Mrs. Chambers, Mrs. Davis, Mr. Moulders and his favorite, Mrs. Nettie Austin. He rode the bus to Chamblee High School, where Mr. Smith was the Principal.
When Dunwoody Methodist Church (now the Chapel) was under construction in the 1940’s, Fred and brother Fletcher Donaldson drove to Stone Mountain to pick up granite for the basement, walkway and steps of the church. Their father Will did the stonework around the new building. The old four-square wooden building that sat across the street still held Sunday School and preaching during the construction.
One of the highlights of Fred Donaldson’s life was his marriage to Phylis Irene Adams. He went with his brother to Smyrna to visit the family of his brother’s wife, saw Irene on the front porch, and asked her if she would like to go ride the Ferris wheel that happened to be in town. On Dec.r 7, 1946 they were married by a Baptist minister in Chamblee, with their best friends, William Head and Madon Holmes, standing alongside. Mr. Donaldson said December 7th was an easy date to remember as it is also Pearl Harbor Day. Their marriage was an exceptional decision that will reach the mark of seventy-two years in 2018. The Donaldson’s have two daughters, Teresa Mackey of Douglasville, Ga. and Freda Williams of Lexington, Ga.
When World War II broke out, Fred Donaldson enlisted and served from June 1942 until the war ended in 1945. Read about his experiences serving in the Pacific Theater in the next Past Tense.