Jim O'Leary

Waverly Star

By Jim O'Leary

An e-mail newsletter for and about Waverly people, used with permission in the HLW Herald and on this web site.

April 1, 2002

I spoke too soon when I said Waverly wasn't an Irish town.

After writing that, I ran across a piece by the Rev. Millard Ahlstrom, a Lutheran pastor who now lives in Minneapolis.

He had written his remembrances of early Cokato in the Dassel-Cokato Enterprise Dispatch and said, "We always admired the fine, large Catholic church in Waverly, and we learned a lot about the Irish people who lived there.

"Our close friend, Joe Hendrickson, about the only Roman Catholic boy in Cokato in the 1920s, had played baseball for the University in the 1930s. One Sunday afternoon he hit two homeruns into Lake Waverly for the Cokato team."

"So, I found out that at least the folks in Cokato were sure we were Irish. We even had saloons in Waverly, something unthinkable in Cokato."

And then I heard from my brother Dr. John O'Leary.

John and Jean had driven down from Nisswa for St. Patrick's Day in Waverly. They arrived Saturday, March 16, in time for the 10 a.m. Mass, and stayed until the last dog was hung in Maple Lake.

The minute they got back to their home on Gull Lake, John sent me an urgent e-mail:

"You were right in wishing you had been there. I'll be sending you along a hard copy of Dan Herbst's program by snail mail, and I think you can get a column from it. (I know how hard up you are for columns sometimes.)

"About all I can add to Dan's program for the day was that the weather was unbelievable for March 16 - sunny and warm and no wind. Starting the day with mass at the new KC Hall at 10 a.m. and then having Irish coffees throughout the program was an improvement over the old evening format, because it did bring out all the little kids and the old folks.

"Mable Fitzpatrick was a bright and shining star as the guest of honor. Joe Campbell did a great job in his tribute to his brother-in-law, Jimmy Ogle, and the tribute to Crete Fitzpatrick was also a family affair.

"Red and his son Mike sang 'Galway Bay,' and the Borrells, as usual, made wonderful music.

"Jean and I left after marching in the parade at Maple Lake - fantastic weather and over 100 floats. The two girls riding in the Miss Waverly float were, by far, the prettiest of the nine or 10 princess floats from the other towns around.

"You are just going to have to come for next year, even if it is a long haul from south Texas.

Love, John

(Side note - I am retired and John is not. He still works as a physician at the VA Clinic in Brainerd, and says he loves every minute of it. I won't tell you how old he is, but I am 70 and he is 10 years older than that. Wish him a happy birthday on the 17th of this month.)

The next day I got this message from Dan Herbst, after he had returned to Florida:

"I just returned at midnight yesterday from the St. Patrick's Day weekend in Waverly. It brought me back to the roots of a wonderful community and its people.

"It always restores energy in me and gives me a renewed outlook on life. You must come next year. Texas can do without you for at least one weekend.

"Your brother, John, and his wonderful wife, Jean, joined us. It was an honor to have them there. We even had them in the parade to march hand-in-hand in solidarity with the Waverly Irish clan.

"We started with a well-attended mass by Father Martin O'Shallbetter. He used the opening of the mass, the homily, and the exchange of blessings and greetings to bring us closer together in remembering our great heritage and bond.

"Then, young and old were able to enjoy the talent and toasting and roasting that followed.

"The Padden family, that is Jim and Bob's offspring, gave us banjo, guitar, and violin music. Bob and Rosalie must have some music majors in their college age kids. This part of the program even featured Jim's son Craig's 5-year-old son and his uncle Sean Padden doing a violin duet.

"It was most impressive to see a 5-year-old on the podium doing a masterful job on the violin. The room was at pin-drop silence to watch and hear. That's a lot to expect from a room full of Irish after a few Irish coffees.

"Mary Kay Herbst Johnson, Ann Herbst May, Theresa and Gerald Borrell, and Clayton Borrell provided some great Irish singing.

"They were joined by Mable Moore Fitzpatrick in a rendition of 'I am Lonesome for You. That is All.' It was tearful and heartwarming.

"Red and Michael Fitzpatrick came from Shieldsville and gave us 'Galway Bay' and 'Too Ra Loo Ra Loora.' Colleen Fitzpatrick Laughlin sang a solo, 'Sure it's the same old Shillelagh My Father Brought from Ireland.' Well done!

"Each year we toast all our fellows who have passed away since we started this 33 years ago. The toasting is done by recognizing by name each person whose name is on a shamrock attached to a large green and white banner on the wall.

"The bad news is that the names are increasing at a faster rate than when we first began, but the good news is we still get to spend some time thinking and talking about each of them. This year the format was to highlight the loss of James 'Fuzzy' 'Big O' Ogle, James Fitzpatrick, and Crete Fitzpatrick.

"Joe Campbell, Patty's husband, gave a tribute to James Ogle; John Peterson, son of Wally and Arleen gave the toast to Jimmy Fitzpatrick; and the family members of Crete Fitzpatrick were able to remember him in toasts.

"The wonderful Irish coffee was made by Gerry Meehan Smith, Darlene Henry, Mary Kay Johnson, and Theresa Borrell. They made over 250 cups.

"Mike Baier O'Brien and his brother-in-law, Mark, served up over 11 liters of Jameson's Irish Whiskey, topped with a gallon of handmade whipped cream (Mable Fitzpatrick and her daughter, Jane Fitzpatrick Nyland did the whipped cream.)

"At 2 p.m., after the program, we left for the Maple Lake parade with over 120 floats and marchers and, again, we won the trophy for the largest Irish clan to show up.

"Following the parade, we went dancing at the Legion Club, and then as per custom on to more dancing at the Rassett Store, and then more singing and dancing at the Howard Lake Legion Club, where Sam Gruenhagen served up Corned Beef and Cabbage.

"I delivered my Godmother, Mable Fitzpatrick, to her home safe, sound, and sober at 11:30 p.m. while others continued the celebration into the next morning, Sunday, March 17, the day itself. What a day!

"Life is short and our St. Patrick's Day party is so long every year that it slows the hands of time down for a day or two. It is great for the soul."

God bless.

Daniel Fitzpatrick Herbst from Florida.

Love, kindness, family, and the outdoors

A tribute to James Gilbert Fitzpatrick by John Peterson:

"Jimmy" Fitz was one of six children born to Dennis and Josephine Fitzpatrick, and was the grandson of John and Eliza Walsh Fitzpatrick who emigrated from Ireland. Jimmy was a gentle giant, with a heart of gold.

Family meant everything to the Fitzpatricks when Jimmy was growing up on the farm in Woodland Township. The Fitzpatrick clan didn't have a lot if you're talking about material things, but they were extremely wealthy in the area of a family who loved each other and loved being together as a family.

Jimmy's dad, Dennis, was the second of 18 children. I guess you could call them the Stan and Lorraine Kittocks of their time.

In the summertime, the Fitzpatrick clan would assemble at the end of every work day, all walking from their respective farms to "meet in the middle" where they, as a family, would share the joys and experiences of their lives together - and part of that sharing included music, which was also a big part of their lives. They always had music.

So, Jimmy loved his family, but he also just loved people - and he loved life. Everybody who knew Jimmy knew about his kindness because most of them had experienced it themselves.

He was always bringing home people for a meal, or a place to sleep if they didn't have one.

The Petersons, my family, are a product of Jimmy and Mable's kindness, and it's why I am here today. So, let me tell you a little story about how my mom, Arleen, became a Fitzpatrick.

My mom was born in Saskatchewan in October, 1929, a week before the stock market crashed and the beginning of the Great Depression. Five years later, her mother, Amanda, died.

The next seven years were spent wandering with her dad, or staying with relatives for brief periods, but money was tight and her dad had to constantly move on to find work. So, at 11 years old, she didn't really even have a home.

In 1941, my grandpa was fortunate enough to have met Jimmy and share his plight. Jimmy offered to let mom stay with them. Word is he told Mable about it after the offer had been made. But Mable was used to his kindness. She has earned her own right to sainthood. My mom met Mable the first day she moved in to stay with them.

Long story short: My mom stayed with the Fitzpatricks until the day she married. They treated her like their own daughter, and Margie and Jane treated her like their own sister.

When my mom married my dad in 1951, it was Jimmy Fitz that gave her away. At the wedding practice, the wedding party was sitting around having a few Seagrams and Jimmy coined a line, which my dad has used with each of his future sons-in-law.

Jimmy turned to my dad and said "Wally, if you ever leave Arleen with a couple of kids, I just want you to know I've got one good fight left in me."

While growing up with the Fitzpatricks, my mom said it wasn't strange at all to wake up in the morning and find a stranger sleeping on a couch in the front room. At that time, a lot of people used to ride the railroad looking for work.

Jimmy would offer them a place to stay when they didn't have one. When they woke up, Mable would fix food for them before they'd be on their way. To this day, my mom says she's never met a man as kind as Jimmy Fitz.

She also remembers the strange way Jimmy used to take naps. He would kneel down in front of his favorite chair and put his chest on the seat where he'd fall sound asleep. It wasn't strange to walk into the living room with Jimmy snoring away with his butt up in the air.

He would often lend people money when they were in need. When the few who wanted to repay him came back, he'd turn them down, put up his hand and say "Pass it on." At the same time, though, he couldn't stand a man who was cheap or who wouldn't pay his fair share. He'd say, "There's nothing worse than a stingy bastard."

Jimmy was a devout Catholic and in this regard he referred to himself as a "right hander."

He loved to argue. During conversations with family and friends, he'd say something he didn't agree with just to start an argument. At the same time he would say "If you shake a man's hand, it will always be difficult for him to raise that hand against you."

Jimmy was also a great bull slinger. He was notorious for coming in and telling wild stories with a totally straight face, and once everyone was convinced, he'd laugh and laugh.

He was a great poker player. It was the winnings from a trip to Alaska that paid for the bowling alley he and Mable ran for many years.

He loved the outdoors. He'd sit in a boat for hours and it didn't matter whether he caught a fish or not. He'd say, "You would know there's a God if you ever sat on a lake and saw the sun rise or fall."

Jimmy, the sun fell on your life too early, but we have all benefited from your life. You left a legacy for us, and for this town that we all love. So when I raise my glass in toast to Jimmy Fitzpatrick, I also raise it to each of you, and those of us who have already one on to toast St. Patrick's Day with Jimmy.

To: Jimmy Fitz! Slainte!

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