• Interviews of Kathleen Stern and Dave Conroy

  • (Please scroll down to read Dave’s)

  • Interview of Kathleen Stern

    Kathleen Stern, an Irish Heritage Society Past President, Past Vice President, and Charter Member of ihsm.

    Wednesday, July 12, 2017

    Main interviewer: Sheila Danehy. Others present are Steve Kraftmiller, Nancy Smith, Maureen Richetelli, Sheila Johnson, and Bernard Kielty.

    Interviewer: Good evening, Kathleen. So, we’re going to start with an easy question: why did you join the Irish Heritage Society?

    Kathleen: Well, I was reading the paper and I saw a little article that said they wanted to start an Irish Club in Milford, and I went, “Wow, that’s perfect!” It was especially perfect for me, because I was a recent widow, and I thought all this will give me something different to do with my time. So, I went to the first, initial, meeting where they expected about fifteen people to come, and I think there were approximately seventy-eight people that showed up. So that was the beginning. I was interested in meeting people and learning about my Irish history and the social aspects of it.

    Interviewer: OK. And what are some of your early memories of the club, and, you know, obviously you’re talking about that first time. What are some of the early memories going forward from there?

    Kathleen: Well, it was going through the meetings initially. The meetings were once a month, and I’d be listening to what was going on. I met the Kraftmiller’s on a trip to Ireland with my husband, and they were there so it was kind of nice to see them, because we had spent a lot of time on that trip together, and just seeing how the meetings were run as we were starting to join, and I wanted to help with the Social Activities Committee. Chris McInerney asked me to be on the Membership Committee with phoning members who didn’t have email addresses yet. He asked Kathy Kraftmiller and myself to do that. So, we started doing it, and then he invited me to a membership meeting which was also the very first festival meeting. It was in early July, and they said they were going to have a festival in September, and I said to him, “What are you crazy?” And he said, “Yeah, we’re going to do it!” So, he asked people to do different jobs. He said, “We need someone to get volunteers for the festival.” I saw my hand go up, but I didn’t know I was doing it! It was like somebody above was pulling my hand up, and I’m watching my hand go up over it, trying to pull it down! (laughter) “I’ll do it!” and he goes, “You, sure, Kathleen, it’s a big job!” I go, “No, I can do it!” So, he goes, “OK, you’re in charge of volunteers.” Then when the meeting was over, I started driving home and I’m like, “What the hell did I just do!” I had no idea how I was going to get all these volunteers to run our first festival, but I did it. And for the first festival, we had fifty-five volunteers, and we ran a festival that was successful. It wasn’t as big as it is today, but we did it, and it was successful. So that’s my earliest and biggest memory of the first year of being a member.

    Interviewer: How do you feel about how we’ve grown over these past ten years? obviously you were just talking about the very beginning now we’re over ten years later, and a lot has happened in between those two time periods. What are your feelings on how we’ve grown during that time period?

    Kathleen: I am amazed, and I think it’s been a tremendous growth. We had a time years ago where the membership went down a little, and maybe there weren’t as many people coming to the meetings and I thought, “I’m never giving up on this; this is such a good club, and it’s so worthwhile. I’m never giving up. I’m always going to work hard to make sure this club keeps growing.” And it has. So, of course, with the opening of the clubhouse, we’ve just jumped in membership, because everybody wants to be a member, because we have a clubhouse now. So, I’m happy. I’m really happy with the growth.

    Interviewer: Great. Speaking of growth, and looking to the future, how do you see it? What do you see happening in the future? Do you see us expanding like we did in the past? What are some of your thoughts about the future of the club?

    Kathleen: The near future of the club I see us basically staying here at the clubhouse, because we have to figure out a way to get more volunteers actively involved in what’s going on at the club, and that way we will continue to grow membership. If we grow the membership a good deal, then we’re probably going to have to get another clubhouse, because this has grown right now, since we’ve opened. With all the meetings that we have, it’s open almost every single night of the week now, and there are times we have two meetings going on at a time, so there’s just a lot of interest in the different committees and the different groups. And if that keeps growing, you know, we’re just going to run out of space to do all of this. So, I’m being optimistic, and I see us growing. I see it continuing to grow, but right now, I think we’re going to be on an even plane for a little while.

    Interviewer: OK, and what is your personal experience and your personal involvement in the club? You talked about when you first started…you volunteered to get volunteers for the first festival, and obviously, you’ve been around, so you’ve held offices since then, so I want to talk about that.

    Kathleen: Well, first I was on the phone committee with Kathy Kraftmiller. We were calling people and giving them information. Then I was on the Social Activities Committee right away. Then I became a trustee, and I did that for two years. I also, of course, worked very hard on the Festival Committee to get volunteers. And I don’t remember what year Ed Mead ran for president, and I ran for vice president, and we did that two years. Then I went off the board for a couple of years, and then when he ran for president again, recently, I ran for vice president again. for two years and then (I was) President this past year. I have been on a lot of other committees. You know, I also ran the Lady’s Brunch. And that was from an early meeting when we used to meet at Orange Alehouse. I was on the Social Activities Committee, and Chris McInerney had put that down on the list – the Mother’s Christmas – on the list of activities, and our social chair at that time was Susan Warmarang and she said, “Does anyone want to do that?” and I said, “I’ll do it!” So, I have done it, and I’ve done it ever since. So that’s been like ten years, at least; so, I ran that. I also helped when Noeleen Nelson started the Tara Theater. I helped with that. I was back stage manager and helping with going to all the rehearsals and helping with lines and doing all of that until she got me to go on the stage the year after I retired. I think that was 2013 maybe. I’ve been in three plays now, and Noeleen got me to do that. I never thought I’d ever do anything like that, but there it was. And so, I’ve always helped the Tara Theatre and helped promote it, which is another promotion of our Irish culture. There are probably a lot of other things I’ve done, but I can’t think of anything right now!

    Interviewer: Well I thought of one while you were talking. You were a recent recipient of Irish Woman of the Year, correct?

    Kathleen: Yes.

    Interviewer: You want to talk about that a little bit? What is Irish Woman and Man of the Year?

    Kathleen: I think that was 2012. I was Irish Woman of the Year and Bill McNamara – who is since deceased – was the Irish Man of the Year. It was an honor to be that with him. I was very thankful for that privilege, you know. I had worked hard for the club and done a lot of work in the community, and so it was very nice. It was kind of like a mission for me so that my family was there for the celebration. It was just so nice. It’s a nice evening.

    Interviewer: So that, in fact, is a recognition of someone’s work for the club over time?

    Kathleen: Yes.

    Interviewer: OK. Congrats on that! This is a question I like, and we haven’t asked another person this, but if you had to pick one thing that makes you glad you joined the club, what would that be?

    Kathleen: I have made so many friends in this club! (I think I’m going to cry!) It was perfect for me because I was, as I said earlier, a widow, and I knew I would be retiring from teaching, and so those people that I hung out with during my teaching time and those activities and things I participated in would not be there anymore, and so I thought this was a perfect segue from teaching for me, and meeting so many wonderful people from all walks of life and all talents, and it was just wonderful. I’ve met people with great senses of humor which is very Irish, and I just learned so much. I’ve had so many great experiences with these people from marching out on the field at Met Stadium with the flags for Irish Night to other Irish nights we went to at different athletic events to going to Coney Island to going on a trip to Ireland with four lovely ladies and spending ten or twelve days in Ireland. I mean just so many experiences like marching in the St Patrick’s Day parade in downtown every year! That’s a highlight. I always enjoy doing that, and so those are some of my reasons I was glad. I know you wanted one, but I have too many! It’s all an accumulation when you put it all together. And another exciting thing is that I gave my children memberships, and so my son and daughter in law and the grandkids come here, and they see some of the Irish culture, and hear the music, and come to the festival, and so, you know, it keeps it going.

    Interviewer: Yeah, well that’s actually connected to the next question I was going to ask: has being a member enhanced your interest in your Irish culture, your Irish history, your own heritage? I mean, obviously you’ve touched on this a little bit.

    Kathleen: Yes, absolutely, because I didn’t know about it. Especially with the book club, that’s another thing I’ve got: the book club. I love the book club! I’ve been in that since the very beginning, since the first meeting at Priscilla’s house, and you learn so much of the Irish culture through reading all of these books, plus we’ve gone to plays like in New York City or New Haven and that’s more Irish culture. It’s so…so…wait. Could you repeat the question?

    Interviewer: Well, how has being a member enhanced your interest in your Irish culture, the history of the Irish, and your own personal heritage?

    Kathleen: Oh, yes, all of that. And then it made me realize that when my dad was alive, and I was younger, I didn’t ask all these important questions that I want to know now, but that I can’t get answers to right now, you know? I grew up knowing that I was from Dunn, Dempsey, Egan, and O’Malleys, and that my grandparents came over from Ireland and that Patrick James Dunn and Mary Egan were my father’s parents, and my grandmother died in childbirth with my father. And he had an Aunt Maggie and an Aunt Bridie and an Aunt Ester, and I heard about them. And I did meet cousins up in New Haven. My father was born in New Haven, Connecticut, and I met cousins once, you know, but then I was only in fifth grade, so it was hard, because we moved. I grew up on Long Island, so we didn’t get up here, and so that’s one thing I really regret. I wish dad was alive, so I could just ask him all these questions, and visit that cousin again, and ask her questions about my grandmother, and my great aunts that came over from Ireland. There’s a lot of missing history.

    Interviewer: Is there anything that you’d like to talk about concerning the club itself? Whether it be the building, whether it be the membership, or the activities? Anything we didn’t touch upon that you want to talk about?

    Kathleen: Well, I was vice president with Ed Mead when we bought the club. And that was the start of the construction on the house and the clubhouse. Being that they were volunteers and working after work and on weekends, there was a lot of work that had to be done, and there was a lot of help that was needed. So, Ed would be on the phone. “Can you come to the club?” or he’d be texting me, “Can you come to the club? Can you go do that? Or can you go to Home Depot? Can you go with Declan…?” because I would have to get checks from Mike McCabe and go with Declan to get lumber or to buy supplies. I mean I was constantly doing things, you know? Then, there would be the different workmen, electricians, and the plumbers, Ed Mead and Brian Murphy, and then something would happen and I’d go, “OK. What do you want done? Is that Okay? What time do you want it? Do you want it at this time? Is that OK with you, so and so?” And they’d say, “Yes, Kathleen, that’s Okay.” I’d say, “Good, that’s settled!” So, there was a lot of coordination. Yes, and there was a lot of project management, but we got through it, and I was always saying, “One step forward, two steps back; one step forward, two steps back.” (laughter) Yes, we went through a lot of that, but the day this club opened was great. It was the night we had the Chamber of Commerce here for their happy hour. It was such a good feeling. And it almost didn’t happen! We only got approval at three o’clock that afternoon from the city. And we opened just in time for that party. That was a miracle in itself, and I have to thank Declan for that, because he was here when one of the inspectors came in, and found something not right in the handicapped bathroom, Declan goes, “Oh, boy,” so he talked to the inspector and he said, “What about if I fix this right now, and then you come back in an hour? Can you do that for us?” and the man said, “Yes, I’ll do it.” Oh, we were like “Whoa!” So, we did it, and then Tony came in and painted around what had to be painted, and we opened at five o’clock. That was really cutting it close, you know? There were a lot of things like that.

    Interviewer: Has anyone thought of something we didn’t ask, or can anyone think of a question for her? Do you want to go with a bit more about your tenure as president and any highlights from your presidency?

    Kathleen: So, I was vice president this last time. And I was vice president for the two years with Ed Mead as president, and then President the one year with me, so that was three years in a row, basically, and during that time it was when we had the construction of the building, and then we opened the building. Now, we knew how to run the club, because we had the club for nine to ten years, but we didn’t have a clubhouse, so now we had to figure out how to run a clubhouse with a bar and the club. So, it was like three things…and a rental property. But the rental property wasn’t so hard, you know, but we did have that. I didn’t really have much to do with that as president. Mike McCabe just handles that end of it with the emails and the checks, and the rental fees and all of that. So, there was a lot we had to figure out with all those things, because we never had a clubhouse before. So that was a big job, figuring out what to do, and how to do it. We were looking at equipment breaking down and getting things fixed. So, Ed and I worked very, very closely during his two years as president, so I thought it would pretty much be an easy transition over to my presidency because we were already open from November to June while he was president. Taking it over was a big job because it was running a building, a facility, a clubhouse, and a bar. It was a lot of work. But my goal was — and I announced that at a meeting – was first to get the construction done and the clubhouse open, and secondly, to run the clubhouse and the club and the bar, the whole thing, smoothly for my term, and then third was a goal of having traditional Irish music here, so that when you walked in, sometimes, you would feel like you were in an Irish pub back in Ireland. After one of the sessions when John Whalen was here, and Louise Whelan, and Tim Quinn which you’ll probably hear more about, John Whalen said, “Well, why don’t we have sessions here at least once a month? We could do this! We can get that done,” and so Louise Whalen and John Whalen organized it and now we have sessions on a monthly basis on the second Tuesday of the month, and they’re very, very popular. People love it and most times that I’ve been here — except this last one, because it’s the middle of the summer — all these rooms are full and people really enjoy it. So that was my third goal and I accomplished that. So, I feel like I accomplished all of my goals. And the membership is steady. We’re like at over 1100 people; and so, I feel I accomplished what I wanted to do, and I will continue to do that, because I’m still on the board as a past president, and I will still continue to work on many of the things that we want to see accomplished. I’m still here, you know, opening for the cleaning crews on either Monday or Wednesday. I’m working here to open for different workmen that come in, so I still have other responsibilities.

    Interviewer: Well, we appreciate your time, Kathleen. There’s a lot of good information here. Thank you very much.

    Kathleen: Okay. I’m sure there’s six million things I forgot!

    Interviewer: Nice job. It’s been very informative.

  • _________________________________________________________
  • Interview of Dave Conroy

    Dave Conroy, one of the first charter members of ihsm, past charter trustee, parliamentarian and St. Patrick’s Day Mascot.

    October 17, 1917.

    Main interviewer: Nancy Smith. Others present: Sheila Johnson, Bernard Keilty, Amy Lacey, and Maureen Richetelli.

    Interviewer: How are you tonight?

    Dave Conroy: I’m doing well.

    Interviewer: That’s good. We are interested in how you first heard about the Irish Heritage Society and why you decided to join.

    Dave: My wife saw an article in the Milford Mirror or one of the local newspapers that mentioned how there was a group of Irish people that were going to get together to talk about starting a club. She thought that it would be perfect for me to go and see what was going on. She saw the story about Westover Health Care and saw the names of Chris and Marty and kind of pushed me to go check it out because I’m kind of shy – always have been. I sat in the back of the room and watched all the proceedings and got excited about the notion of having a club in town. I didn’t really know how I could contribute at first, because I didn’t know what the club needed, but after the first meeting was over, I went up to Chris and asked if they had any thoughts about needing a website because I’m into computers. He said they didn’t but it would be great to have one. So, I just took it upon myself to set one up. It was very basic and drew a lot of attention and got people to notice us. They sent emails out and other clubs in the area started to reach out to us when they saw that we were out there. And it grew from there.

    Interviewer: That’s great! So, you and your wife joined right from the beginning?

    Dave: Yes.

    Interviewer: What are some of your earliest memory that you remember? What struck you the most about the club? What was good or bad?

    Dave: My earliest memories of the club…I Just loved the fact that we were like a big family. It wasn’t political. It was just a bunch of people brought together by a common interest and we became fast friends and spent all of our waking hours and weekends trying to spread the word and expand…whether it was building floats or marching in parades or going to see shows or whatever.

    Interviewer: So, there was a real comeradery between everyone.

    Dave: Yes, there was.

    Interviewer: What did your Irish Heritage mean to you? Was it something you were always talking about in your family?

    Dave: It’s funny. My grandfather never really talked about his parents and his Irish roots but I hear that that’s common amongst Irish families. A lot of people just wanted to focus on “the now” and being in America. We had always gone to the Saint Patrick’s Day parades and things like that. As I got older, I became more and more interested in my Irish roots and started doing some ancestry research. I’ve actually traced my grandparents and great grandparents back to burial plots in New Haven. I have ancestors from County Tyrone and Cavan.

    Interviewer: That’s exciting!

    Dave: My grandfather’s great, great grandfather came over and two of his children fought in the Civil War. They are buried in New Haven. We have located all of their graves and have collected death certificates and went through everything else you can do to figure out what our history is.

    Interviewer: That’s cool. The club is going on 12 years…Did you expect how much it would have grown to have a clubhouse and a bar? What were your expectations for the club?

    Dave: I think we all always dreamed of it; I don’t think anyone really thought it could happen this quickly. I have noticed that as we grew quickly it does seem like there are a lot of new faces I don’t know. I walk in here sometimes and feel like a stranger, because I don’t know anybody. Of course, as work has gotten busier for me, I haven’t been able to come down and have missed out on meetings a lot and of the new faces as they’ve come in.

    Interviewer: Yes, I think it’s changed for a lot of people from that early, very small group to now – this larger group – that doesn’t necessarily do everything together any more like they used to. What do you see as the future of the club? Do you see it changing yet again or evolving?

    Dave: I’ve been kind of out of the loop, so I’m not sure where we stand right now, and how things are, but I would have to imagine that as we get larger we’ll become more structured, and we might lose some of that small family feel, but that’s just something you have to go through if you’re aiming for grand things.

    Interviewer: So, after you got involved as the webmaster how else did you become involved in the club. I know you held other positions as well.

    Dave: I pretty much just pitched in wherever they needed me. As the trustee seats opened up, I jumped in and was a trustee. There was a parliamentary position that opened up, and I took that over for a year. I think I, unofficially, at some point ten years ago became the parade mascot, because I showed up wearing a kilt to the Milford parade. There was such a reaction from people that every year I started adding more stuff to my outfits. At this point, I have swords and a helmet and fur pelts and what have you!

    Interviewer: You’re a fine mascot!

    Dave: I love seeing the reaction on kids’ faces. It’s the real reason I do it. Plus, you need a little freakiness after the parade sometimes!

    Interviewer: You are a big part of the parade…I mean, you’re stuck! The parade wouldn’t be the same without you. I know you are very busy with your job as you’ve said, but do you plan to still continue your membership in the Irish club and still participate if you can?

    Dave: Definitely.

    Interviewer: Definitely in the parade, right, since you’re front and center!?

    Dave: Yes, I’m hoping at some point when things settle down at work, I can get back into the club and be more active.

    Interviewer: That would be great. We’ve kind of touched on this a bit, but where would you like to see the club go in the future as far as growth, or do you think it’s as big as it’s going to get?

    Dave: I’d love to see us become a really big presence in town and have the name recognition like the Elk’s and Rotary Club and others. I’m not necessarily dreaming of a big building…that’s not what my dream would be. My dream would be to have us become even more active in promoting the Irish Culture in Milford.

    Interviewer: I think we’re on our way. What was the biggest challenge getting the club started in the beginning?

    Dave: That’s a really good question. Money was a huge obstacle. I don’t even remember how we raised our initial money to do anything aside from everybody’s dues the first year.

    Interviewer: We worked so hard to raise money.

    Dave: Yes, there was the Oyster Festival and any other fundraiser opportunities that we could get our hands on.

    Interviewer: And I understand there was an Irish Festival just shortly after the start of the club. So that was quite a feat to start that so soon. It seemed like a lot of hard work by the members.

    Dave: Yes, it was a lot of hard work. And I remember there was a division in the club as to whether we were crazy to try it. But luckily the optimists won out. We had good weather and people just turned out. We didn’t have any big named bands. It was just whomever we could pull together.
    Interviewer: and the people loved it. Are you responsible for the website currently?

    Dave: No, I turned that over to a professional webmaster. I believe Tim Payson takes care of that now. My daytime job is computer networking, but I knew just enough on how to put a webpage up to get it started.

    Interviewer: Did you acquire the domain? That’s important.

    Dave: Yes, I did. Actually, I still get a bill for that! (laughter). It’s a little reminder of where we came from.

    Interviewer: You should submit it for payment! In closing, what has been your personal high point in the organizing and the nurturing of this club?

    Dave: I feel like the high point was at the beginning with creating the website, but I hope that’s not the peak and it’s all downhill from there. I’ve always had people suggest that I should run for the board again and be a leader and I’ve never ruled that out. I just have to find the right time.

    Interviewer: Yes, you should keep an open mind about it and as soon as you’re free from work a little maybe you can be active again! Well, Dave, thank you very much for your early memories. It was great interviewing you and we hope to see you around and we hope you really do decide to come back! Is there anything else you would like to share from back then?

    Dave: I was just trying to think of other things. We had a lot of fun! Some of my greatest memories were the bus trips to the Mystic Parades, the New Haven Parades, the trip to the Irish Village and the Cape Cod trips that we used to do in October. There were a lot of social get-togethers. Because we didn’t have a place to hang out, we would all get-together and go somewhere.

    Interviewer: Yes, that was the fun part that I remember of not having a clubhouse. We’d be going to people’s houses and getting together to go places.

    Dave: How many years did we have the Board of Directors meetings that circulated to everyone’s houses?!

    Maureen Richetelli: Remember when we used to go to that little office building by the Railroad tracks? We were crammed into a little room.

    Dave: I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that it was always a family affair. Michelle, my wife, was always there alongside me during my participation. She served on the board, too, as the secretary for a year or two. So, all the meetings where I was there, she was there.

    Maureen Richetelli: Yes, she was always there, too.

    Interviewer: So, your grandparents came over here from Ireland?

    Dave: No, my grandparents were born in Connecticut. My great, great, great, grandfather came over here in 1812. My grandparents were born in New Haven. I’ve tried to go back to research the Ireland-side and we’ve gone to the Church of Latter-day Saints in Woodbridge, but we couldn’t dig up anything substantial. I’ve always thought that if we get over to Ireland there’d be some records to see.

    Sheila Johnson: They didn’t start recording anything Roman Catholic as far as marriages and deaths until 1864. You know, I also have a Conroy in my family.

    Dave: My Conroy side was from Tyrone and the Byrne side was from Cavan.

    Interviewer: So, Dave is there anything more you would like to say before we close out the interview?

    Dave: I think that’s it. I was glad to help out.

    Interviewer: We appreciate you coming in and tell Michelle we look forward to seeing both you again at the club!