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Donald Schoolcraft, former state senator, Groton councilor, dies

Groton — Former state Sen. Donald Schoolcraft of Groton, a submariner whose Navy career preceded his turns as a local businessman and politician, died Thursday at the Fairview nursing home. He was 92.

The cause of death was pneumonia as a consequence of COVID-19, according to his son, David Schoolcraft, a member of the state Workers’ Compensation Commission.

A fixture in Groton town government and politics during the 1970s and '80s, Schoolcraft served first on the Representative Town Meeting and then the Town Council. He was a longtime member of the Republican Town Committee and the Republican State Central Committee, and also was a justice of the peace. In 1984, he was elected to the state Senate in the 18th District, serving as chairman of the Insurance and Real Estate committee and vice chairman of the Education Committee.

The term he served in the Senate was among his proudest accomplishments, his son said.

Donald Edward “Chris” Schoolcraft was born on July 28, 1928, in Porter, W.Va., one of seven children of James and Olive Schoolcraft. He graduated from Clay County High School in 1946, and joined the Navy in 1947. He served as an electrician’s mate on the USS Gudgeon and other boats in the Pacific before being transferred back east, where he met his wife Eleanor, who survives him.

They were married Sept. 1, 1952, at St. Patrick Church in Mystic. In 1962, he was assigned to the USS Thomas Jefferson and returned to Connecticut, settling with his family in Groton.

He rose quickly through the Navy ranks and was given increasing responsibility, eventually overseeing Polaris University, a joint venture between the Navy and Harvard University to provide college-level courses to submariners. During his time in the Navy, he worked repairing cars and appliances, and learned to cut hair. He became a licensed barber and worked part time at Paul & Tiffany’s in New London.

He retired from active duty in 1967 as a senior chief petty officer, and soon went into business as the owner of American Auto Sales in New London. In 1971, he opened Center Groton Auto, a gas station, repair shop and car dealership, and later added Groton Auto Parts to the family business.

Besides his wife and son David, of Hebron, he is survived by a sister, Geraldine Samples, of Procious, W.Va.; two other sons, Michael Schoolcraft, of Ledyard, and Alan Schoolcraft, of Los Angeles; a daughter, Sheryl Brown, of Groton; four grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

He will be buried in a private, graveside service at St. Patrick Cemetery in Mystic.

b.hallenbeck@theday.com

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