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Richard's Story

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SANBORNTON, NH: Richard A. Donovan Sr., age 84, the founder of Ironstone Farm in Andover, Mass., died peacefully on Monday morning, June 15, at D’Youville Senior Care, with his beloved family at his bedside. He was the loving husband for 42 years of Bernadette C. “Katie” (Murphy) Donovan, who died in September 2010.

He was born in May 1931, in Somerville, one of five children of the late William J. and Viola F. (May) Donovan, and was raised in Somerville. He graduated from Boston University with a Bachelor's Degree, and continued his education at Boston University, U-Mass, and Suffolk University. His early career was teaching at Billerica High School, as the Science Department Head, but he followed his passion and began a second career and a lifelong affiliation with horses.

Throughout his life he was active with thoroughbred horses - brokering, breeding, breaking, raising, training and rehabilitating the injured. His referral list included Cornell University, Tufts University and the University of Pennsylvania Veterinary Schools. He provided therapy and rehabilitation for Rockingham Park, Suffolk Downs, and several other New England Tracks.

In 1960, he moved to Andover and founded Ironstone Farm. He was the first in New England to build a therapy swimming pool for horses. With the natural curiosity of the Ironstone Farm’s neighborhood children, Richard began teaching horsemanship to the children. He opened the farm to visits and field trips to children with disabilities. This led to the formation of Challenge Unlimited, a therapeutic riding program that provided horses and lessons for children as a community service. The program had grown under Richard’s vision and direction to a program that now serves over 400 children weekly, year-round, with a staff of 19, working 30 horses and counts 150 volunteers. In spite of his accomplishments, in his inexhaustible humility, Richard liked to refer to himself as a “farmer.”

Richard was a member of numerous Bureaus, Associations, and Societies, including New Hampshire and Mass Farm Bureaus, Thoroughbred Racing Protective Bureau, Horseman’s Benevolent and Protective Association, Mass Breeders Association, American Suffolk, American Quarter, American Paint, and Haflinger Horse Associations, Essex County 4-H, Essex Agricultural Association.

He and Bernadette stepped back from the day to day affairs at Ironstone and moved to Echo Ledge Farm in Lyman, N.H., in the late 90’s. After the death of his wife, he moved to Sandbornton, N.H.

Richard leaves two children and their spouses, Bernadette “Bobbie” Donovan and her husband, Steve Taylor, Richard A. “Duffy” Donovan Jr., and his wife, Megan (Loughney) Donovan, and their daughter, Catherine Linda “Cali” Donovan, all of Sanbornton, N.H.; a dear friend, Mary Elizabeth “Dee Dee” O’Brien of Lowell; a sister, Claire Mountain of Winchester; several nieces and nephews. He was predeceased by his brothers, William Donovan and Robert Donovan, and his sister, Mary Vocell.

At his request, funeral services were private. Memorials to Challenge Unlimited at Ironstone Farm, 450 Lowell St., Andover, MA 01810 will be greatly appreciated (www.ironstonefarm.org). A Celebration of Life is planned for August 23, 2015, at Ironstone Farm. Please see farm website for additional details. Arrangements were through the Tewksbury Funeral Home. www.tewksburyfuneralhome.com.
Published on  June 18, 2015
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