Woonsocket-born John Dionne, is the son of the late Raymond Dionne and Elizabeth (Krawczyk) Dionne. He enlisted in the U.S. Navy after dropping out of high school in the 11th grade, but he received a GED while in the Navy from the Rhode Island Department of Education. However, John is not known for his educational achievements, but rather for his many humanitarian and civic endeavors. His fundraising is legendary in Woonsocket and environs, highlighted by his service for thirty-nine years as chairman and co-chairman of the “Milk Fund” appeal–a charitable enterprise that benefits needy children from working poor families on a year-round basis.
Including his leadership of the Milk Fund, John has served as chairman or co-chairman of 60 fundraising activities that have raised in excess of 3 million dollars for needy recipients.
In May 1983 the Woonsocket Call dubbed John “Mr. Milk Fund,” asserting that “anyone who can direct a 14-year fundraising operation to bring in a half million dollars without giving anything of greater value than a lollipop, deserves more than the “Mr. Milk Fund” honorary title which they have accorded him, but we feel sure that John R. Dionne doesn’t even expect that.”
In May 1984, the Providence Journal affectionately dubbed John a ‘professional beggar’ for his charitable work observing that “Fundraising for charity is a way of life for legendary John R. Dionne.” Congressman Fernand St. Germain observed that John “heads up everything that’s a success in the Woonsocket area.”
A January 29, 1988 Woonsocket Call editorial noted the dedication of the John R. Dionne Track and Field, calling it “a deserving tribute to Dionne,” because “he has poured his heart and soul in community charitable endeavors over the years. In addition to the Milk Fund he has always found time to raise funds for muscular dystrophy, cerebral palsy, cancer, heart, retarded citizens, and so many other community endeavors.”
Over the past forty years, John has held the presidency of eleven different organizations, served on the board of directors of 10 non-profits, and maintained active memberships in 13 civic, fraternal, and religious organizations.
A 25-year employee of Marquette Credit Union, John served as senior vice president of marketing and public relations and president of Marquette Travel. His marketing and public relations portfolio was awarded a first place Golden Mirror Award by the National Credit Union Association, and John was also awarded the credit union’s coveted Dora Maxwell Award for community activities.
John’s local popularity enabled him to serve for ten years on the Woonsocket City Council–six as its president. His other public service in Woonsocket includes manager of the Board of Canvassers, Director of Human Services, Director of Public Safety, and Administrative Assistant to the Mayor.
In August, John and his wife, the former Jeannine V. Cote, will celebrate 51 years of marriage. They are the parents of four children, Michelle, Elizabeth, Catherine, and John J and they have 12 grandchildren.
The Rhode Island Heritage Hall of Fame takes notice of extraordinary local leaders in selecting its members. John Dionne, Woonsocket’s modern Edward Harris, is certainly one of those extraordinary individuals!
— Albert R. Beauparlant