Melanie Foundation Founder and President George O’Donnell (center, in glasses) was joined by his son Kennan, Vicki and Steve Merola, Saratoga Senior Center Executive Director Lois Celeste, volunteers and patrons at the check presentation on Wednesday, Nov. 22, 2017. Photo by www.photoandgraphic.com.
SARATOGA SPRINGS – If Melanie Merola O’Donnell is watching from somewhere up above, chances are she is very impressed by the throngs of people who conquer racecourses on city streets and through the state park every September in her memory.
A special type of gratitude should be reserved for the “incredible group of young women” who organize the annual event, says her mother, Vicki Merola.
On Wednesday, Nov. 22, a $15,000 check was presented to the Saratoga Senior Center from proceeds generated by the Sept. 17 Half Marathon and 5K Run and Walk, which for 12 years has been promoted by Merola O’Donnell’s family and friends.
The Saratoga Palio: Melanie Merola O’Donnell Memorial Race happens on the third Sunday every September, starting at the City Center and finishing in Congress Park. The half-marathon participants run through most of the Saratoga Spa State Park.
The event was first organized in 2006 several months after a drug-impaired driver reportedly caused a motor vehicle crash that took the life of Merola O’Donnell, a city native and mother to 21-month-old Kennan at the time.
At 33 years old, Merola O’Donnell was a doctoral candidate in clinical psychology at a New Hampshire graduate school; she also was actively involved in local, national and international efforts to provide rape and domestic violence services and disaster relief, according to her January 2006 obituary published in the Times Union.
Her husband, George O’Donnell, promptly established the Melanie Foundation after his family’s tragic loss. The nonprofit raises money for the Palio event in September and for college students who specialize in mental health, as well as for community donations.
The Melanie Foundation board chose the Saratoga Senior Center as the recipient of this year’s main award because it serves seniors who have been “marginalized,” Vicki Merola explained, when contacted this week for comment.
The Saratoga Senior Center, located at 5 Williams Street, “is trying to do a lot of positive things in the community” on matters often perceived as not “popular,” she added.
Merola called her daughter Melanie “a classy lady” who left behind numerous close friends in the community. Several of those friends now serve on the foundation board with Merola or on the Palio race committee.
A family friend named Mimi, who is close to her other daughter Michelle, initially devised the idea to organize an athletic race every year, according to Merola.
A number of dedicated women “are doing a good job of making this a classy event,” Merola said, considering the logistical challenges involved in such planning.
The next memorial race for Merola O’Donnell is scheduled for Sunday, Sept. 16, 2018.