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When Bill O'Donnell, now 73, retired as an accountant, he says he "didn't want to lose touch with the world." He stayed connected to the world through the martial art of Tae Kwon Do.

And not long ago this father of nine and grandfather of 19 earned his black belt after five years of diligent training.

"It was important to me to stay active," recalls O'Donnell of East Amherst. "Tae Kwon Do allows me to do that, and I get to associate with really great people." The classes take place in a plaza near his East Amherst neighborhood. O'Donnell talks about character development that all neighbors could benefit from.

"It's all wonderful -- the courtesy, friendliness, and camaraderie," O'Donnell says. "I especially enjoy watching the children learn those invaluable traits."

To get his black belt, O'Donnell had to demonstrate proficiency in self-defense forms -- a choreographed pattern of martial arts moves -- sparring, and even board breaking.

His instructor, Grandmaster Sun Chong, said, "Bill O'Donnell is an outstanding student. Not only has he developed an impressive degree of physical skills, but also he has taken on a leadership role within our school. He inspires and motivates many other students."

O'Donnell received his belt at a ceremony held at the Transit Middle School in the Williamsville School District.

At his age, O'Donnell brings to mind another famous septuagenarian, "Survivor" favorite Rudy Boesch, from the Watkins Glen area, who at 72, successfully competed against twentysomethings in the adventure-reality series.

"It's such a joy to associate with young people," O'Donnell said.

Like Rudy, O'Donnell is a former Navy man, having gone into the service after graduating from Kensington High School in 1945. Also like the "Survivor," O'Donnell has a Catholic background, graduating with a business degree from Canisius College. And the two men also enjoy longevity in their families.

Yet O'Donnell takes responsibility for his health.

"I love to get out and jog with my boys," he says.

O'Donnell's training partner during his exam was 63-year-old Ken Riches, also a retiree and grandfather. Both men dismiss their accomplishment as being anything unusual, and instead praise the skills of their instructors and the value of training for students of all ages.

Riches would recommend it "to anyone looking to lose weight, stay in shape, and become more physically fit. What's really made it special for me is the students and the instructors. Everyone is so enthusiastic and supportive."

Especially, adds O'Donnell, their trainers.

"Some people think it's a violent sport, it's not," he says. "It's a wonderful art form."

Have an idea about a local person whose life would make a good profile or a neighborhood issue worth exploring? Write to: Louise Continelli, The Buffalo News, P.O. Box 100, Buffalo, N.Y. 14240, or e-mail

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