Keri Anne O’Donnell. Contributed photo.

Since its founding some 12 years ago, the Keri Anne O’Donnell Memorial Fund has provided tens of thousands of dollars for performing arts scholarships, inspiring more than 200 recipients who embrace the passion for the arts that had meant so much to Keri Anne.

“We’re lucky enough to watch them grow and get better in the performing arts,” says Keri’s father, Jamestown-resident Frank O’Donnell, the well-known Rhode Island comedian (who is also a regular What’sUpNewp contributor). “It’s just great to see these kids continuing to follow their passions in the performing arts…In a way, they are keeping Keri alive, at least her spirit alive. She is able to live on within them.”

On a beautiful summer day, Keri, then 15, her older sister, Elyse, and other friends were on their way to the beach, when the car in which they were riding blew a tire as it traveled along Route 95 in Exeter. Everyone was catapulted from the car, all injured seriously. Keri, the youngest of Frank and Karen O’Donnell’s four children, did not survive.

The O’Donnell family has made it a mission to “help young people who have a passion for performance, like Keri,” O’Donnell says. “Keri loved to dance. She loved to act, and she loved to sing, a triple threat.”

Keri Anne O’Donnell. Contributed photo.

They have raised, O’Donnell says, tens of thousands of dollars through a variety of fundraisers. This year, in March, they will hold what they call a Kalendar, with prizes awarded each day during the month. The prizes range from restaurant and theater gift certificates; to a theater night out, including dinner and the theater; other gift certificates; and a variety of other prizes.

Kalendars are $20 each or three for $50. Those buying three Kalendars are entered into bonus raffles during the month. For information about the Kalendar, and the memorial fund, visit kerisfund.org.

Recipients of the arts’ scholarships, O’Donnell says, include youngsters pursuing careers in the performing arts, even off-Broadway, and those who take the skills learned through these classes and apply them to other aspects of their business and personal lives.

Described as a feisty redhead with a strong will and passion for the arts, particularly dance, Keri was looking forward to the day at the beach with her older sister and friends. 

“On July 12, 2010, a shining star was extinguished,” reads the description on the fund’s website. ”Keri was a bit of a firecracker. She loved performing Acting, singing, but most especially dancing.”

A greeter at the Providence Performing Arts Center, “she loved belting out Broadway tunes.”

“This is a horrible club to be in,” O’Donnell says. “You are not supposed to bury your children…We’ve been robbed of her future … We’ll never see grandkids from her. I’ll never walk her down the aisle.

” When we have events that happen – our son and daughter got married this past year, always somebody missing.“

After the accident, O’Donnell wondered if he could ever take the stage again but knew that “Keri would kick me in the butt and tell me to get back up on that stage. That has become her legacy. You have to keep going until the music stops.

“The loss is there, it’s there all the time. It pops up at weird times – you hear a song that triggers a memory,” O’Donnell says. “But seeing these kids do well and knowing Keri had something to do with that … there is some gratification.”

Frank Prosnitz

Frank Prosnitz brings to WhatsUpNewp several years in journalism, including 10 as editor of the Providence (RI) Business News and 14 years as a reporter and bureau manager at the Providence (RI) Journal. Prosnitz began his journalism career as a sportswriter at the Asbury Park (NJ) Press, moving to The News Tribune (Woodbridge, NJ), before joining the Providence Journal. Prosnitz hosts the Morning Show on WLBQ radio (Westerly), 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. Monday through Friday, and It’s Your Business, also on WBLQ, Monday and Tuesday, 9 a.m. to 10 a.m.

Prosnitz has twice won Best in Business Awards from the national Society of American Business Editors and Writers (SABEW), twice was named Media Advocate of the Year by the Small Business Administration, won an investigative reporter’s award from the New England Press Association, and newswriting award from the Rhode Island Press Association.