Remembering Others on Father's Day

When you look back on your life and try to figure out how you got to where you are, there doesn’t seem to be one defining event. The first part of life is molded by others. Your parents, siblings, home life, education and neighborhoods are pretty much decided for you. Maturity brings career decisions, sometimes marriage and perhaps children. All these things make you what you are today, but in the sum total of my life, I feel one of the indispensable parts was decided 109 years ago by a 22-year-old immigrant, my Great Uncle John.

I never knew my grandparents or saw a picture of them. They were immigrants before the age of cameras. I did have five great uncles in Cleveland. Most were pleasant but distant men.

One was different, my Great Uncle John T. English. He had and knew well about 50 great nieces and nephews. Families of McMannon, Calvey, Kilbane, McIllwee, Mangan and English, grandchildren of his brothers and sisters owe the values they live by to John T. He was our guardian uncle, patriarch, mentor and spiritual godfather. This kind man was the closest thing to a grandparent for us.

His Journey 

John T. left his home in County Mayo in March of 1905. He knew he would not see the lovely green land of Achill Island again because the famine-stricken area could not support him. His oldest sister, Bridget English Moran, was my maternal grandmother. 

He boarded the S.S. Lucania with $25 in his possession. He was sponsored by his cousin, Mrs. Mary Kelly of 60 Rose Avenue in Cleveland. He was traveling with the Toolis brothers, aptly named Patrick and Michael, and two women, Annie McHugh and another Mary Kelly. All were from Achill Island and also sponsored by Mary Kelly. The three men were listed as laborers, Mary Kelly was a housekeeper and Annie McHugh was a servant. They all could read and write and were disease free. 

Five years after his arrival, John T. sponsored his niece Catherine McManamon who was just 17 years old when she arrived in 1910. Next to arrive in 1923 was my Uncle Joe Moran, an IRA man fleeing the Irish Civil War. Five years later their three sisters, Mary Ranft, Peggy Moran and my mother Bridget Calvey arrived. In 1928, he sponsored the Scottish branch of the family, his sister Mary McHugh, her husband and three daughters: Kate McIllwee, Mary Glaze and Annie Travers. His brother Joe, married to his wife’s sister Maggie Mangan, and their family came next. His niece Mary Kilbane came in the late 1930s. My guess is about 30 immigrants were sponsored by him and, if you add their decedents, the number would run into the hundreds. 

John T. married Mary Mangan in 1907 and they had nine children, but lost two in childhood. His children gave him 17 grandchildren. He supported his large family as a bridge operator in the flats for the city, stationed at the Center Street Bridge across from the Flatiron Café for many years. The small shed perch is still on the west side of the rotating bridge. In his spare time, from 1912 until he retired in 1969, a total of 57 years, he sold life and auto insurance. Ironically, he once won a brand new car for top sales, but he never learned to drive.

His Legacy

He was very involved in building the Irish Community on the West Side. John T. was a founding member of the West Side Irish American Club; had memberships in the Ancient Order of Hibernians and Irish Civic Assoc.; and helped underwrite the cost of the St. Patrick’s Day Parade. In 1960, he was the Grand Marshall of the St. Patrick’s Day Parade.

John T. changed the face of Cleveland. If not for his efforts to help many come to this country and secure a good life, we would know a different city. The contributions that came from my Great Uncle John and other immigrants is staggering. The first generation of those men and women were construction workers, policemen, firemen, civil servants, maids, waitresses and factory workers. Then came the judges, priests, nuns, doctors, nurses, engineers, business owners, political office holders, and more professionals.

Hundreds of us owe our existence in this country to them. My Uncle John and the others set the standards by which we live today - hard work, sense of duty and community, family values and integrity. They were the pioneers of our way of life.

John Thomas English was buried at St. Vincent De Paul Church in 1972, but the lessons he taught us will live for generations. He was the embodiment of paternal leadership and guidance.   

RIP Uncle John. 

Peggy Calvey Patton

Peggy Calvey Patton is a freelance writer.

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Volume 1, Issue 12, Posted 12:47 PM, 06.04.2014