LIMA — At the top of the distance scale, one of Juanita Gallagher’s 12 children will travel 2,420 miles to attend her 90th birthday party. On the other side of that scale, another child will come just a few hundred yards — the distance between his house and the large swath of grass beside the maintenance garage area at Gethsemani Catholic Cemetery.
That’s where the party will start at 4 p.m. Saturday.
Making that longest trip will be John, child No. 5, who will sojourn from Windsor, California. The shortest trip goes to Dan, the last of Juanita’s 12 children, who is Gethsemani’s executive director and whose bathrooms that day just may be the busiest in Lima.
In between will be Juanita’s other 10 children along with their 10 wives, two husbands, 24 grandchildren and 30 great grandchildren.
Except for Dan and No. 3, Denny, who both established careers in the city of their birth, the Gallagher children will bring their families 10,785 miles to come home. Paul, the eldest, will come from Akron; No. 2 Phil from Thousand Oaks, California; Dave, No. 4, from Mesa, Arizona; Mark, No. 6, from Bradenton, Florida; Peggy, No., 7, from St. Louis; Sharon, No. 8, from Erie, Pennsylvania; Jim, No. 9, from Falls Church, Virginia; Ed, No. 10, from O Fallon, Missouri; and Tim, No. 11, from Colorado Springs, Colorado.
And, while the almost 11,000 miles they will travel is impressive, all things are relative, and, without question, every one of them will tell you that the number pales in comparison to the number of ways to which they owe their adult successes to Juanita and their father Bob, who, no doubt, went straight to heaven in 2006 after 80 years on this earth.
All 12 of the Gallagher children were born at St. Rita’s Medical Center, all delivered by Doctor Sam Novello. Juanita and Bob raised, nurtured and sometimes disciplined a family that was in many respects very similar to so many other families of the 1950s and ’60s. After all, there were 15 children in the Johns’ family; 11 in the Brown, the Quatman and the Tebben families; 10 in the Huenke clan and nine that called themselves Seggerson.
While Juanita came from a family of six children and Bob from a family of four kids, neither really had any definite plan as far as the size of the family when they married.
Recalls Juanita, “We really never talked about it. I guess we just decided that whatever happened happened, and we’d do our best to raise them right.”
The fact that Bob was able to father children at all is pretty remarkable, that is, if you asked the doctors of the US Army. When he tried to join the Army, Bob was classified 4F when doctors discovered he had condition called congenital urethral stricture, which subjected him to painful urinary tract infections and, according to military doctors, would make it highly unlikely he would ever be able to have children, which lends some credence to the old oxymoron “military intelligence.”
From Paul, born in 1944, all the way to Daniel in 1962, with the regularity of a metronome, every 12 to 24 months, Juanita made her visits to St. Rita’s for the week or so that women stayed in the hospital in those days to give birth. Recalls Juanita with a laugh, “I viewed them as vacations really. Bob would take time off work and run things at home while I got my own space with the nurses bringing me food and waiting on me.”
Juanita recalls when, finally after six consecutive boys, the hands of Doctor Sam, delivered the first girl, Peggy, in 1953.
“I knew a lot of the nurses well, obviously, and I can remember bringing a picture of my six boys when I went in. They took that picture and went room to room showing it and asking for prayers I would have a girl. Well, if they were praying, it worked!”
Two years later, Peggy would have a sister, Sharon, and Juanita recalls with her two girls another job that she was more than ready to take on.
“My pride and joy were my girls. I wanted them to remain girls and, one day, ladies. Every night, I put those girls’ hair in curlers so they’d have long curls at school. Even with 10 brothers, I wanted them to be feminine. And, you know what? I succeeded!”
Peggy recalls, “Mom worked so hard to ensure that both my sister and I learned to have what I’ll call ‘a voice’ in such a male-dominated household.”
Echoes Sharon, “Mom made sure Peggy and I weren’t forgotten. I think all of us learned to walk in love and forgiveness, thanks to the lessons she taught.”
YOU FOUND A WAY
As one might expect, money was occasionally tight, but never really a source of stress. Remembers Juanita, “We paid what we could when we could, simple as that. I do remember we were still paying LCC’s tuition long after the last of them graduated.”
While of course Juanita had her days full raising the kids and never had an outside job, Bob, employing as strong a work ethic as anyone could expect, worked at various times as a janitor at the St. John’s Church and School, no more than a stone’s throw from his home on 774 South Union; as the grocery store owner of Gallagher’s Market on Fourth Street; and, for years, in the linen industry, first with Lima Linen and then with Empire Linen, where he rose to manager.
Recalls Juanita, “Bob had a tremendous work ethic, I believe, perhaps besides his strong sense of faith as a devout Catholic, the greatest of the gifts he passed on to his children. He worked day and night to provide and wasn’t at all averse to taking a second and even a third job to provide for us.”
However, despite all the work it took for her husband and herself to raise a family of this size, Juanita also recalls there was always time for fun. “As a manager at Empire, Bob was able to take the work van home, and we’d pile everyone in and go for ice cream. Bob’s standard joke was, ‘If you can get the door shut, we must be missing one.’”
There were also summer week-long vacations at Indian Lake. In one memorable now-faded photo, shortly before Paul joined the Navy and shortly after Dan’s birth, 14 Gallaghers posed on a dock. For Juanita, it is a moment frozen in time. “Really, as far family trips, it was the only time the family was fully assembled.”
ONE BATHROOM HOME
As time passed, No. 2, Phil, followed Paul into the Navy and then No.’s 3 through 5 —Denny, David and John — were drafted into the Army. So, as the house began to empty, a bit more space became available.
Remembers Paul, “There wasn’t a whole lot of extra space, that’s for sure, four bedrooms is all. At one point, we even had a set of bunk beds in the hall upstairs.”
Juanita also remembers a feature of the house that may mystify some. “We only had one bathroom. But, the kids learned the lesson they had to, to share, and it all worked out. I know it must have. After all, I don’t remember anyone pooping their pants!”
Despite the different directions so many went, all wound up by suppertime at the same place, the 12-foot-long picnic table and benches that Bob had made. Recalls No. 10, Ed, “For a long time, that table was really the epicenter of the household. However, I’m young enough to remember a new, smaller table and take pride in the fact that I was the first among my sibs to sit for dinner in a chair that actually had a back.”
Thanks to No. 9, Jim, an additional bedroom opened up when he finished off a portion of the attic. Recalls Jim, “Dad was pretty resourceful when it came to stuff like that, so I kind of learned it from him.”
While Juanita remembers Thanksgiving as not much different than any other day when there were so many to feed, No. 8 Sharon recalls her mom’s gifts in the kitchen. “Mom made everything from scratch on Thanksgiving — the cranberry salad, the potatoes, the gravy and the pies. Really so many of my memories of Mom revolve around cooking. We’d just get done cleaning up from one meal, and, seemingly, she’d be starting the next.”
John, No. 5, has his own recollections about Thanksgiving. “Mom and Dad would always invite someone outside the family to share the holiday who had no where else to go.”
No. 6 Mark also remembers the sharing nature of his large family. “There was always plenty of food in the house, on Thanksgiving or, really, any other day, even for the railroad hobo that would come to our back door knowing there was always a meal available at the Gallaghers’.”
As for Christmas, every one of the children as well as Juanita remembers how special that season was, from the Advent chart on the wall to acknowledge good behavior amongst the children, with the winner receiving the honor of placing the baby Jesus in the crib in the family’s nativity scene, to the night before Christmas.
“After Bob and I put the kids to bed, we’d decorate the tree on Christmas Eve. We’d be up all night setting up that tree and making sure the tinsel was what Bob wanted, which was perfect, and arranging the piles of gifts. The next morning, the kids had to wait until Bob went down and lit the tree and put the music on before they could come down.”
No. 3 Phil remembers his father during Christmas as the master of anticipation. “Before going to bed, Dad would cover the entry to the family room with a sheet so we wouldn’t be able to see in until he had the tree lit and the music on.”
While there were smaller families in which children received much more in the way of toys and clothes and such, David, No.4, recalls no envy. “Even when I was a little boy, I always believed that with a large family I was blessed.”
No. 5, John, remembers, “Well, some kids did have newer clothes and nicer ball gloves and bats, but I don’t think that bothered any of us. When we got older, most of us worked as paperboys or found other jobs so we were able to afford nicer things.”
The Kibby Corners neighborhood in the 1950s and ’60s was special, No. 3 Denny recalls, since jobs for young boys were abundant. “There were so many Mom and Pop businesses — groceries, drug stores, hardware stores and such — between the bridge on South Main and the Erie Railroad tracks. Along with The Lima News paper routes, that meant there were so many opportunities for us. In a lot of ways, the neighborhood around St. John’s Church and School kind of reminded me of the movie “‘The Bells of St. Mary’s.’”
DAD WILL BE THERE
Of course, at the July 5 Gethsemani party for Juanita, there will be a lot of thoughts amongst the Gallagher children about Dad, the devout Catholic who trusted that God would provide as long as he and Juanita held up their end and worked hard enough. There will be some remembrances of his insistence that his boys go through the ranks of altar boys at St. John’s, and also recollections of the orderliness he expected out of both his children and his household.
Recalls Mark, “Dad really was a perfectionist. While a lot of people might think there was a lot of chaos, with 10 ragtag boys running around everywhere, the truth was far different. All clothes were cleaned and pressed each day, thanks to the linen company. Our shoes had to be shined and the house kept in order. He even was our barber, and I can remember after our haircuts and the floor was swept, he’d make us get down on our hands and knees and pick up the ‘snips,’ the small hairs the sweeper would miss. We called him a slave driver, but we loved him dearly.”
Recalls the last Gallagher, Dan, “Although Mom and Dad both raised us to be respectful and didn’t tolerate misbehavior, it was Dad who often meted out the punishment. I can remember being sent to the corner a lot, sometimes for a long, long time. But, you know what? It worked. The biggest lesson I think we all learned was to respect each other’s space and, of course, to learn to share.”
And, so, save for the one who will be there in spirit, they will all gather for what has been dubbed the “Party in the Boneyard” to acknowledge Juanita on her special birthday. And, thinking of all her children being home together for the first time since 2003 — when all returned for her and Bob’s 60th wedding anniversary — she uses a succinct and eloquent rhetorical question to sum up her life.
“With a wonderful husband and my kids, how else could my life have been better?”