For the past 29 years, Donny Nadeau B’85 — as Saint Mary’s sports information director — has been in the dugout or on the sidelines, carefully recording the action during every Cardinal game or competition.

On a low estimate, he’s written more than 11,600 stories throughout his career, capturing every detail as student-athletes vied against their opponents.

Only those closest to him know that for most of his life he’s also been fighting his own battle against a degenerative eye disease called Choroideremia. 

This inning, Choroideremia got the upper hand, and Nadeau will step down from his lifelong dream role officially in September because of the disease’s progression. Though he admits that he’s lost this battle, he is far from giving up the fight.

“This is a bump in the road,” he said. “I’m still here, and I’m still going to enjoy life. It’s just going to be a little different.

“(Leaving my role) was the hardest thing I’ve ever done,” added Nadeau, who is on leave until September, when he transitions out of his role. “It’s bittersweet. I still love what I do, and I love Saint Mary’s.” 

He’s known this day would eventually come since he was first diagnosed at the age of 12. One of the first symptoms of Choroideremia included night blindness, and the loss of peripheral vision continued to progress through his college and early years at Saint Mary’s. Eventually, he had to stop coaching high school hockey, which he loved.

That was the first anyone outside of his close family knew of his disease, which has also eliminated virtually all his peripheral vision.

“I never wanted to be pitied. I never wanted people to feel sorry for me,” he said. “Don’t be sorry. This is the hand I was dealt. It was my cross to bear. The hardest part is asking for help. I’m a stubborn person. I would rather try and fail than to not try.

“With the progression of the disease and the continued loss of my peripheral vision, I haven’t actually seen a baseball hit in years. I haven’t seen a puck go into the net. Heck, I haven’t driven a car in 15 years,” he added. “(My wife) Deedee is my savior. She drove me to every game and home again. She’s my support system and my rock.”

The past couple of years have been particularly difficult. Even with support, Nadeau found it difficult to navigate around campus. After deep soul searching, he decided transitioning into disability was best for him, the role, and his family. 

Nadeau has had Cardinal red running through his veins for most of his life — first as a student, graduating with a degree in journalism in 1985 (and meeting the love of his life, Deedee B’85); then as an employee, beginning in a dual role as an alumni magazine editor and sports information director (SID), then transitioning into the SID role full time; and then as a parent, with sons Andy B’07 and Joey B’12, M’14 graduating from Saint Mary’s. Altogether, he says 11 extended family members are Saint Mary’s alumni.

Following his own college graduation, Nadeau worked for the Austin Daily Herald, Winona Daily News, and La Crosse Tribune, but he anxiously waited and watched for a job opening at Saint Mary’s. “Ever since day one, I wanted to be the SID,” he said.

The easiest way to describe his role, according to Nadeau, is to say he’s the PR person for the Athletics Department. “I could say I’m the webmaster, writer, and person in charge of photography, live streaming, and social media … but it’s easier to say that all the things that promote athletics fall under my purview. All athletics communication, externally or internally, is my responsibility.”

And let’s not forget the stories — with 200 events a year and at least two stories per event, Nadeau was always writing.

In the early years, Nadeau said there was no such thing as X (formerly Twitter), or any social media for that matter. Before live streaming capabilities, they did radio play-by-play, and he remembers calling in game results or faxing information to newspapers. “The Internet was a brand-new thing,” he said. “I had to learn how to write code for HTML. We were all doing this without a game plan; we just did it, figuring things out as we went along. The job is me. It’s my legacy. It’s in a great place, and I can take pride in where I’ve brought it.

“I was fortunate (my bosses through the years) trusted that what I did was going to be successful and top notch. I got to mold this position the way I felt it should be,” he said. 

The biggest perk of the job? “I got paid to watch sports, so you can’t go wrong there — including getting to watch both Andy and Joey wear the Cardinal red as members of the men’s hockey team,” he said, adding, “My favorite part was interacting with the students. I meet student-athletes as freshmen when we take their headshots. By the time they are seniors, they will come into my office, and we’ll just talk. You see them grow up. By the time they are seniors, you see that maturity, and you look at them more as a young adult than a student. To see that is pretty cool. And to see my interns and student workers move onto their careers is also pretty gratifying. 

“And I got to work with a lot of great people.” 

Watching women’s softball bring home the national championship in 2000 was also a memorable highlight for Nadeau, and he’s loved watching recent teams advance.

He’s left some big shoes to fill as the search for his replacement is underway. Nadeau’s advice for his successor? “Don’t take the job,” he exclaimed with a laugh and a big grin. Clearly a sense of humor is a necessity.

In all seriousness, he advised, “You have to be flexible, have good time management and be able to juggle more than one thing at a time. There are no less than five events in the same season, many games or meets on the same day, and you have to be able to put in long hours, often on nights, weekends, and holidays. 

“On vacations, you take your computer with you. That’s the job,” he said, admitting, “I may have taken that to the extreme. I did two soccer recaps between my son’s wedding ceremony and reception.” He added with a laugh: “Because I’m an idiot.”

But Nadeau said he knew every story was important to student-athletes and their families.

Brian Sisson, Saint Mary’s athletic director, says Nadeau represents all that is good at Saint Mary’s. “He has tirelessly worked as a true professional from day one, always doing more to provide the best experience for our student-athletes, our staff, our university, and our community. Donny is a friend, and we are all blessed to have worked with such a true professional and nice guy. Saint Mary’s and our conference have benefitted from his service, as has everyone who has had the privilege to work with him.”

Jim Cella, director of Sports Information at Concordia University, has known Nadeau for 25 years. “Donny is truly one-of-a-kind. His unwavering commitment and loyalty to the community of student-athletes and coaches at Saint Mary’s is unique in this day of college athletics,” he said. “You would be hard-pressed to find someone who has given so much to the university in the last 30 years. In addition to his work ethic in his job, Donny is a giving and kind person who has helped me on numerous occasions when I was in a tough spot with my job and career. I am fortunate to have Donny as a colleague and even more honored to call him a friend.”

In 29 years, Nadeau’s proudest moment, hands down, was being named to the Hall of Fame in 2021. “To be only the second person inducted who was not an athlete was pretty special,” he said. He’s also received the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (MIAC)’s Distinguished Service Award and the Mike Augustin Award (an acknowledgement from his peers). At Saint Mary’s, he also received the distinguished Bishop Patrick Heffron Award.

“I’ve always prided myself on doing things to the best of my ability,” he said. “Every day I gave it everything I had. I’m appreciative of all of these honors but that’s not why I did it. I love Saint Mary’s. That’s the hardest part of all of this; if it were up to me, I wouldn’t be leaving.”

However, the man who had a hard time ever saying no to his colleagues now looks forward to never having to say no to his family. “I’ve missed many of (my grandkids’) Avery’s and Henry’s hockey games the past couple of years. In fact, Henry (age 6) commented upon learning of my leaving Saint Mary’s: ‘Now you can make it to all my (hockey) jamborees.’ I’m looking forward to not having any reason to say no to my grandkids,” he said. 

One more thing. Nadeau’s looking forward to watching Cardinal athletics with Deedee at his side … and actually watching the game without a computer in front of him. 

“I love Saint Mary’s, and I have loved my time there,” he said. “How do you not hold that special to your heart? It’s a great place. It always has been.”

Article also available via saintmaryssports.com

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