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VIP At Home: The Donnelly's

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By Sadie Fowler | Photography by Erin Kosko

Twenty years ago, Boots and Carole Donnelly began their search for an ideal getaway home that they could use for weekend “staycations” — a place to offer retreat from the daily grind. At the time, Boots was still in his legendary role with the athletics department at Middle Tennessee State University, and the Donnellys’ children were still busy with their own lives in Murfreesboro.

Weekends were indeed a time for retreat, and so the couple, who have now been married for 52 years, began searching for a lake home. They found one on Gay Winds Drive in Mt. Juliet.

At the time, most of the retreats located on Gay Winds Drive were small cabins, but over time, those cabins have transformed into beautiful homes, many of them serving as permanent residences for the families who occupy them.

“As people have lived here they’ve torn down the cabins and made really nice homes,” Carole said. “It’s a nice mixture on our street and in our part of the lake, which I’d describe as a secluded neighborhood. There’s about 20 homes on our street and I’d guess about 80 percent of them are permanent homes.”

Though they’ve always enjoyed any time at the lake, the Donnellys say Murfreesboro will always have a special place in their hearts. Boots, one of the most famous and legendary coaches in the history of college football, certainly made his mark at MTSU. He’s known for having taken the MTSU football team from one that was struggling to that of a perennial championship contender.

Looking back on his MTSU days, Boots says he will always be grateful for the many good friends he made, those who supported him and his team during “good times and bad.” He says the thing he’s most proud about in terms of his career at MTSU is that he never sacrificed his integrity to win a game.

When the Donnellys purchased their lake house retreat 20 years ago they began using it right away as their weekend retreat. “In our search, we knew we did not want a fancy lake community,” she said. “It had to be no more than an hour from Murfreesboro, very secluded and still offer easy access to the commercial conveniences found in a regular neighborhood. We loved our lake house and its location the first minute we saw it.”

When Boots left MTSU in 2002, when he retired as the university’s athletic director, the family moved to the lake where they lived full-time. They began major renovations on the home, which served as their permanent residence for about six of seven years that followed.

At the present time, the lake house is probably close to double its original size and provides a comfortable family home/retreat for Carole and Boots, their three daughters, sons-in-law and their nine grandchildren.

“Even though we now live in Nashville fulltime, the lake house is constantly being used as a weekend or weeks-long refuge for us, our family, and friends,” said Carole, who led design efforts on the home throughout various projects over the years. “Lake life is the epitome of relaxation. Except for Sunday Mass, there are no ‘must dos’ at the lake. There is no real structure to the day, little or no cooking, lots of reading and relaxation. It’s just lazy, lazy, lazy at the lake!”

Carole and Boots describe their location at Mt. Juliet as being magnificent. Located at a portion of the lake where boats often avoid due to shallow water, they enjoy their quiet haven that’s directly across from farm land and a most picturesque setting.

“We are at an area on the lake where boats typically don’t come because it’s where it just starts getting shallow and boaters know this,” she said. “We don’t have the boat traffic that others do … Everyone wants something different in a lake home. If someone is wanting something for more of a social scene or to party at, I’d recommend going to one of the more expensive gated communities. But if you’re looking for quiet or something more private, I’d go for one of the more secluded areas. Privacy was very important to us, but we were able to find an area that’s offered a great mix. We have people with both children as well as elderly folks on our street.” It’s the perfect getaway, indeed.

The Donnellys currently have their permanent residence in Nashville … That’s where Boots is busy working these days and also where they both have lots of friends and family. Boots currently serves as CEO of a highly successful non-profit that’s located in Nashville. Additionally, both Boots and Carole have a lot of friends in Music City.

“I come from a very large family and everyone is in Nashville,” Carole explained. “It’s only 45 minutes, on the other side of the lake, and has the convenience we both need. Boots loves Nashville, we both do. We live in the same neighborhood we had formerly lived in (before moving to Murfreesboro). We love the business, and unexpected visitors. We just love it … and love that we can always escape to the lake!”

What's Boots doing now?

Upon retiring from a prized career at MTSU in 2002 (he retired as head coach in 2000 and remained athletic director for two years that followed), Boots enjoyed his time at the lake until he was called to his next journey in life. Known for his reputation of turning losing teams into champions, Boots jumped into his role at Backfield In Motion with both feet, so to speak. “He was pursued by them and I really talked him into it,” Carole said. “He’s done an absolutely unbelievable job there. The program is unbelievably successful and I’m so proud of him.”

As CEO of the highly successful non-profit, Boots aims to lead Backfield In Motion’s efforts to provide an after school and summer program that focuses on education for at-risk males while using athletics as an incentive for academic improvement.

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