A JOURNAL OF CONTEMPORARY IRISH & IRISH AMERICAN AFFAIRS
Spring 2019 / VOL. 19 ISSUE 1
St. John's a Tower of Green Power
By: Elliot O. Lipchik
St. John's on the Lake community in Milwaukee is a veritable Tower of Green Power, with many of its resident true to the green even with their retirement. Nothing has slowed these Celts, even though they no longer keep regular professional office hours. When it comes to Irishness, however, their creative inclinations remain strong.
The retirement community, founded in 1868 in downtown Milwaukee to provide shelter for deserving Episcopalian parishioners, celebrated its 150th anniversary in 2018.
How does this fact relate to the Irish at St. John's?
The current Saint John's site overlooking Lake Michigan was built in 1979 on the grounds of a former Union army camp during the Civil War. An estimated 150,000 Irish soldiers served the Union along with seven Union generals born in Ireland, plus numerous lower officers. Undoubtable, there must have been many, many Irish immigrants and citizens at this camp site. Those Irish immigrant soldiers fought in every Civil War battle, with the famous "Fighting 69th" consisting of New York Irishmen.
In 1860, there were more than 1.5 million Irish in the US, representing 6% of the total population and 40% of the foreign born. It is estimated that about 6% of the 300-plus residents of today's St. John's are of Irish background.
Just about all those living there had immigrant grandparents fleeing the “potato blight” during 1845 to 1850. More came again in the late 1880s for additional dire socio-economic reasons. There were a significant number of Irish immigrants well before those times, as well, with eight of the 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence and six of the 36 delegates who wrote the Constitution being of Irish background.
The 6% of St. John’s proud of that bit of Green in their heritage may be an underestimate, as I continually discover Irish background residents with non-Irish names such as Pfeifer, Osetek, Hopwood and Vint. All represent the diversity, success, fame and professions that mirror all immigrant histories in the US. The following St. John’s residents are a sample illustrating this diversity.
position lasted 16 years, with his group involved in research and discoveries in crystal deposition joint diseases such as gout, pseudo- gout and related illnesses. With his research and hundreds of articles to numerous publications, he became noted worldwide. At the MCOW, with the aid of Prof. Geraldine McCarthy (no relation), Dan also organized a successful Internal Medicine Residency for Irish medical school graduates.
His interest in his Irish heritage never waned. He was a visiting professor in most of Ireland’s medical schools in the l980s and helped found the Society of Irish American Rheumatologists (SIAR) in 1980. Dan held a locum tenens (temporary position) for three months in Dublin in l988. For his 70th birthday, he played golf in Ireland for a full seven days in a row!
Dan and his wife Connie, often accompanied by some of their children, visited Ireland 13 times between 1957 to 2002. His ancestors would be proud of his accomplishments, especially his maternal grand-mother, Mary Alice Gallagher, a longtime member of the Ancient Order of Hibernians.
Dan McCarty, Physician Extraordinaire
How the “H” was lost in Dan McCarty’s name is a mystery, though the engraving on
Dan’s great-grandfather’s grave in Brooklyn, N.Y., just reads, “Carty.” This ancestor
emigrated to the U.S. in 1846 from Co. Carlow.
Dan was born in Philadelphia, with a productive and successful medical career.
Following graduation from University. of Pennsylvania Medical School and a
two-year Army stint, he returned to Penn for residency in Internal Medicine and a
Fellowship in Rheumatology. In 1960, he moved to Hahnemann Medical College
where he established an arthritis research laboratory.
In 1967, along with wife Connie and their five children, Dan relocated to the
University of Chicago. His last and final career move was in 1974, to chair the
Department of Medicine at the Medical College of Wisconsin (MCOW). This
Sheila Larkin, Musician and Teacher
Sheila’s Irish background goes back to great-grandparents who emigrated from Co.
Cork to the Midwest to continue farming. Sheila’s mother (a Sullivan) and father met
and married in Chicago. They had three daughters, Sheila being the youngest. The father became financial controller at the multinational Johnson Controls technology firm Milwaukee (In 2016, the firm moved its headquarters to Cork). Sheila’s mother was both
a painter and pianist. Her entire family was musical, playing piano and singing mostly
Irish tunes at weekly family gatherings.
At first, Sheila became an elementary school counselor and then a music therapist, capitalizing on her bachelor’s in music from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, a bachelor’s in Music Theory from the University of Minnesota and a master’s in
Educational Psychology from the University of Wisconsn-Milwaukee.
Sheila parlayed her talent and love of music into a profession, singing with and playing in Milwaukee for professional bands such as Bridget’s Fire. She studied jazz piano with David Hazeltine and accompanied many famous local performers such as Geraint Wilkes, Eamon O’Neill, John Gleason (Mr. Irish), plus many visiting artists at Milwaukee Irish Fest.
She retired in 2011 but still frequently performs at Saint John’s.
Before the hip surgery, she and her caring pals regularly took month-long trips to Sanibel Island, Fla., and Estes Park, Colo. There were side visits and stays at places like Disney World in Florida. She twice visited Ireland and, of course, loved it.
Betty was officially born on July 4 and celebrates the birthday a week after the holiday with a “village” of friends every year. On her 95th birthday, 56 of mostly women friends from 10 states came to Milwaukee to celebrate with her.
Such devoted chums and her yearly parties attest to Betty’s Irish love of fun and conversation.
Betty O’Neill, Irish Fun
Betty O’Neill’s grandparents emigrated to Pittsburgh from Co. Cork. Betty (a Baxter)
married her medical husband in Pittsburgh in l948, whom she had met while working as a neurosurgical nurse there. They moved to Milwaukee in the early l950s. Betty moved to Saint John’s in l991 and is the longest living resident here.
She is 96-years-young and now needs a wheel chair because of post-herpetic neuralgia.
Otherwise, she is remarkably healthy. At age 92, she had a hip replacement but still
regularly travels by car with friends who offer to drive. One such buddy of 30 years is
Sherry Powers, also of Irish heritage, who is a constant companion, driver and general
Milwaukee to open a family practice. He died when Pat was 11, leaving his mom , Margaret, a widow with five children. She went back to work at Marquette, first in the alumni office, then assistant to the dean and finally as the first house mother at Cobeen Hall. She died in 1978.
Pat received a letter in l988 from a barrister in Ireland informing him that he was the only living relative of a recently deceased Kain and that there was a large sum of money available from that estate. There was enough in that end-of-the-rainbow pot to pay for a five-day family reunion of 19 relatives from all over the U.S., with plenty left over to start a financial marketing company. Pat retired and sold his successful firm in 2017.
Continuing their Irish connection, the Kains visited Ireland in 2000, traveling to Co. Fermanagh where they found the gravesites of generations of McCloughlins, the earliest dating to 1802. On a trip to Ireland in 1999, the Kains’ daughter met an Irishman in Dublin whom she married there in late 2000.
In Irvinestown, they went into the only pub, whose owner was a third cousin. They were directed to Kathy’s grandpa’s birth-house in Coolback Townland, Co. Donegal. One of her grandpa’s nephews continues to farm the land there.
Patrick and Cathy Kain, Business Team
Patrick and Cathy Kain’s grandparents emigrated to the U.S. in the
late 1880's. Cathy, a McCloughlin, was born in Chicago and came
to Milwaukee in 1961 to study physical therapy at Marquette
University. She practiced for over 20 years, meeting Pat in
Milwaukee when he was a newly-minted graduate of the
Marquette business school.
Both their mothers and fathers had interesting professions. His
mother (nee Rogers) earned a degree in humanities from
Marquette University and his father became a lawyer, moving to
Liz teaches the distinctive art of Irish knitting, especially traditional “fishermen’s” sweaters, with the initials of the wearers knitted into the collars for identification in case of death. She’s always happy to show guests her knitted works.
Liz Pfeifer, Professional Knitter
Liz Pfeifer moved to Milwaukee six years ago. Her grandmother came from Ireland to Madison, Wis., where she worked as a telephone operator at Madison General Hospital.
Liz’s mother, an O’Connell, was born in Madison. Liz left college after two years to marry and was always interested in her Irish heritage.
She belongs to the Irish Culture and Heritage Center and became a certified instructor in knitting. She started the “Saint John’s Knit Wits” a knitting group which knits hats, scarves, mittens and other clothing for the 3,500 homeless children in the Milwaukee Public Schools. The Knit Wits meet weekly and have already donated more than 2,500 items to numerous charities.
runs the “Irish Stew” there, an ongoing fundraising garage sale (but without a garage) of Irish books, gifts and other items.
Mary is the most active person at Saint John’s in Irish affairs, even giving walking tours for Historic Milwaukee, Inc. Mary’s favorite strolls include the city’s Third Ward where the Irish first settled back in l835. She also leads sculpture tours along Wisconsin Avenue and helps host “Doors Open Milwaukee,” a Historic Milwaukee program showcasing more than 150 behind-the-scene sites around town. In addition, Mary has run the Irish culture booth at Milwaukee’s International Folk Fair each autumn. She has visited Ireland nine times, often to visit cousins there. Mary remains a serious reader of Irish history, providing her an objective insight into its broader world relationship.
Mary McAndrews, The Irish Rose
Mary McAndrews’ paternal grandfather Anthony McAndrew was the oldest of nine
children who emigrated to Wisconsin in l883 with his parents and siblings. He became
street commissioner in New Richmond, in western Wisconsin. Mary’s dad, a lawyer in
Madison, and her uncle added the “s” to the family name.
Mary was not particularly involved in her Irish heritage until she moved to Milwaukee.
Yet, she always wore green on St. Patrick’s Day. On the urging of cousins in town, she
joined the Shamrock Club, awakening her interest in the study of the history and
culture of Ireland. For her support of all things Irish, Mary was made “Irish Rose” in
2000 and parade marshal of the 2012 St. Patrick’s Day Parade. She belongs to the
Irish Cultural and Heritage Center (ICHC) where she has worked as librarian and still
Gregory J. McCarthy, Scientist, Teacher, Academician
Gregory J. McCarthy, another highly successful, nationally renowned teacher, research scientist, academician and administrator in the field of chemistry, is a new St. John’s resident. An adoptee, Gregory was born and educated near Boston and raised by Irish American parents.
Many of his friends at Boston College were full-blown Irish but Gregory had no deep interest in his heritage until the spark was lit while a senior in college, just before attending a St. Patrick’s Day parade in New York City. He wondered about his Irish ancestry since his mother claimed that when first adopted at age 4, he already had a brogue learned from his Irish-born grandmother who provided daycare while his birth mother work. Greg started singing as a 10-year-old soprano. Once his adult voice
emerged, he enjoyed singing along with noted Irish tenors.
Greg’s research involved many aspects of crystal chemistry, as well as the safe disposal of high-grade nuclear waste. He won many awards in recognition for his teaching, was a leader in research funding and contributed to numerous publications.
Greg’s wife Denise had an Irish great-grandmother, though many of her family came from Finland. Subsequently, the “Irish” continues in their stories. Their two grandchildren, Meaghan Dulmes, 14, and Kacey Dulmes, 12, started Irish dancing at age 5 and progressed to being nationally ranked. Both started training at the McMenamin Academy in Shorewood, Wis., and then with the Beglan Academy of Irish Dance. Both perform each year at Milwaukee Irish Fest.