On Thursday evening, Februry 28th, we went to Windows on the River in the Flats where we represented Margaret W. Wong & Associates, LLC at the 2019 Walks of Life Award Dinner put on by the Irish American Archives Society (IAAS), which was founded in 1994 to present and preserve information about the history of the Irish-American experience in northeast Ohio.
Along these lines, we were privileged to share a table with Mr. Dennis Dooley, one of the initial founders of the IAAS, who, along with Mr. Tom Corrigan, the emcee for the evening, told us a lot about the organization’s history and activities over the past 25 years. These included things like sponsoring a newsletter, talks, displays, and heritage events. We also learned the reason why “Walks of Life” was chosen as the name of the dinner: its purpose is to honor Irish Americans of all walks of life who have contributed to the Northeast Ohio community, and by doing so have honored their Irish heritage.
Ms. Erin Becker, founder of Edna House for Women, (a long-term alcohol and drug addiction recovery program) established the ambiance for the evening with an opening prayer that read, in part:
We thank you for this opportunity to be together to celebrate our heritage and the good works of our honorees.
We ask that you bless our honorees and continue to work through them and to work through all of us for the good of our community.
Thank you for our heritage and for the faith passed down to us by our ancestors. Inspire us to remain strong in our faith, to do what is right and to always help those most in need…
Later, awards were presented to the following:
- Ms. Charlene Crowley, who played a vital role in renovating the Irish Cultural Garden re-dedicated in 2009. As her biography states, as a landscape designer by profession, “she was honored to work alongside landscape architect Jim McKnight to restore the Irish Garden using Donald Gray’s original plan.” In addition, she now organizes the maintenance of the garden.
- Ms. Veronica “Vera” Casey who immigrated to the United States from Ireland via London where she and her husband lived for a while in the mid-1950’s. She became a very successful entrepreneur who, at one time, owned hair salons in both the United States and Ireland, as well as Casey’s Irish Imports which is still thriving in Rocky River. She has very generously contributed to many local Irish organizations.
- Mr. James McMonagle who is, of course, a highly respected and renowned local attorney who served as a Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court Judge where he earned a reputation as being an authority on asbestos injury claims.
- Mr. Chris Ronayne, a good friend of ours and president of University Circle Inc. where one of his proudest achievements is the construction or renovation of 1,500 properties including One University Circle, the 20-story building with 270 units that opened in July, 2018.
- Mr. Sean W. Hardy who a senior vice president of Hardy Wealth Partners overseeing $250 million in investments at UBS (i.e. the Swiss wealth management firm) where he advises 130 families and executives including over a dozen businesses on the best ways to use their business and financial resources to execute their definitions of success.” Mr. Hardy was introduced by Mr. Gerry Quinn who said that Mr. Hardy is an outstanding example of a person who practices the Irish American principles of always striving to make life better for family, friends and clients.
For more complete biographies of all honorees, see the IAAS Website.
Naturally, all of the honorees humbly paid tribute to family, friends and close associates during their acceptance speeches but, for us, it was particularly meaningful when when Ms. Crowley discussed how her ancestors came to the United States from Ireland as refugees during destitute economic times and were initially treated quite poorly, just as other immigrant groups have been throughout history, because those already living here were afraid of the foreign-born taking their jobs and imposing their culture upon them. Nevertheless, Ms. Crowley was proud to say that her family overcame the barriers and achieved increased success over the course of generations. The United States seems to suffer from a certain degree of historical amnesia about this and now attacks new immigrants for the same reasons.
We also appreciated when Mr. Ronayne spoke of pathways to enhancing the prominence of the Irish community in Northeast Ohio. Among the possibilies he cited were the continued expansion of the Cleveland History Center and the Irish American Archives Society; heightened involvement with the Cleveland Cultural Gardens Federation which will soon feature Centennial Plaza; and successful completion of the Towpath Trail project and the establishment of the Canal Basin and the Irish Townbend parks.
On the latter point, before dinner we had spoken with Ms. Kathy Cole, Programs Manager for Canalway Partners, who explained to us the that the Towpath Trail was initially created so that mules could tow canal boats laden with passengers and merchandise up and down the Ohio & Erie Canal between 1827 to 1913.
We did some research and learned that the Ohio and Erie Canal played a vitally important role in the development of the entire region. Immigrant workers played a vital role in its construction, as they did most of the manual labor to dig trenches four feet deep, seven feet wide for an impressive 363 miles. Most of these workers were Irish, joined by others from Great Britain, Germany, and elsewhere. To be sure, they all joined forces working in deplorable conditions from sunrise to sunset for 37 to 50 cents a day. It is an important reminder of the fact that immigrants truly built the foundations of this country.