Tom Coughlin Sr.
It came on a night when Tom Coughlin, Sr.’s social calendar was already full, with three events to attend before bed.
The first event was Members Appreciation Night at the Ancient Order of Hibernians Notre Dame Division in Swedesburg. The invitation was not unexpected. Coughlin is a longtime Hibernian, and a charter member, former president, and now organizer of the AOH’s “Yellow Jack” Donohue Division in Hatfield. Coughlin also serves on the state AOH board as organizer for Eastern Pennsylvania, and he is president of the Montgomery County board. He cheerfully admits to wearing many hats.
What was unexpected? The announcement by officers of the Notre Dame Division that Coughlin would lead the 2013 Montgomery County St. Patrick’s Day Parade down Fayette Street in Conshohocken. The so-called “Best Littlest Parade in America” steps off at 2 p.m. on Saturday.
“I was totally taken aback,” Coughlin recalls. “I was totally shocked and humbled to have been chosen. My wife Kathy knew about it, and she kept it a secret.”
Maybe he shouldn’t have been so surprised. Coughlin’s Hibernian roots run deep—he was a member of AOH Division 39 in Philly’s Tacony neighborhood for 20 years before he and his family moved to Harleysville, Montgomery County, about 14 years ago—and being a Hibernian was never something Coughlin could do just halfway.
Coughlin, who lived near Oxford Circle before moving out to Montco, was drawn into Division 39 by one of his close friends, Tom O’Donnell. (O’Donnell is now state president.) It didn’t take much persuasion.
“He didn’t have to talk me into it,” Coughlin remembers. “I wanted to learn what the AOH was all about, and I wanted to find out more about my heritage, and the charitable works the AOH does.”
Coughlin happily jumped in with both feet. “I got involved right away. I become an officer within two years, and I was recording secretary for about six years.”
After the move to Harleysville, Coughlin and his oldest son, Tom Jr., continued to drive into Northeast Philadelphia for meetings at Division 39. But then he heard about an effort to start a brand-new division much closer to home. To no one’s surprise, he was all in.
“I was the founding vice president of Division 4,” he says. “Within three months of forming the division, the charter president stepped down, and I became the president for the next three years.”
Coughlin’s enthusiasm must be contagious. Membership in the AOH is a Coughlin family affair. His wife Kathy is in the Ladies AOH, as is daughter Kelly Ann. Sons Tom, Jr., and Brendan, 21, are also continue to be active Hibernians.
After all these years, Coughlin retains his original enthusiasm for the AOH. “I like the camaraderie, and we keep doing good deeds in the community, such as the Hibernian Hunger Project. “We also roll Irish potato candies to help pay for scholarships for children going to Catholic high schools.
Coughlin is also known for his leadership in his division’s annual effort to raise money for ballistic body armor for the North Penn Tactical SWAT Team.
On Saturday, as the parade rolls down the hill in Conshohocken, Coughlin will be surrounded by members of his family, as well as his brothers in Division 4, and the Hatfield American Legion, of which he is also a member.
As for the day of the parade, Coughlin says he has no special plans, except to just take in the moment. “I’m just going to be happy to see all the people there. It’ll be a sea of green.”
/2012/11/eshome-300×199.jpg” alt=”Ed Slivak” width=”300″ height=”199″ /> Ed Slivak
Pete Hand remembers the point at which Ed Slivak decided to become a leprechaun.
Hand, who was then president of Ancient Order of Hibernians Division 1 in Swedesburg, says he was sitting around the club one night, and Slivak came over and popped the question.
“He walked up, and he said, ‘Do you mind if I dress up like a leprechaun?’ I said, ‘Sure, you look like one, anyway.’”
And he really did. Edward J. Slivak, who died this week at the age of 70, was small of stature, with a face that always looked like he was ready to ask a question. The turned-up nose, the laughing eyes, and the little scruffy beard completed the picture. It didn’t take much makeup to complete the transition. After he added a set of latex pointed ears, tinted his beard orange, and donned the green bowler hat (sometimes a crumpled top hat), that’s who and what he was.
The women of the division’s Ladies Ancient Order of Hibernians helped Slivak flesh out the other elements of his wardrobe―jacket, vest, bow tie, knee pants, athletic socks with green and orange stripes, and green Converse All-Stars. “He looked good,” says Hand.
(Slivak’s own recollection of events was a little different. In a 2010 interview shortly after he was named Grand Marshal of the Montgomery County St. Patrick’s Day Parade, Slivak said his outfit wasn’t quite all there yet: “I looked like an immigrant, just off the boat.” He also confessed to not being completely at home in the role at first: “I felt a little goofy. I thought, here I am a grown man dressing up as a leprechaun.”)
In time, Slivak reached his comfort level, and then some―maybe because there was a lot more to being a leprechaun, in his view, than just dressing the part. His leprechaun had a charitable heart.
“He always remembered being sick in a hospital when he was a kid, and he really liked to raise money for the Ronald McDonald House (at St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children),” says Hand.
Current Division President Mark Ryan says Slivak was tireless in his pursuit of the greater good. “He was the one who came up with the idea of collecting money for the children’s hospital. He did a lot of events, like our annual Irish Festival in Montclare and the Scottish-Irish festival at Green Lane. He always seemed to enjoy it very much, and he loved to take pictures with the kids. What he did was important. He really exemplified our values. Charity is one of the things the AOH is about.”
Slivak kept it up until 2009, when he became ill at the end of the Montgomery County St. Patrick’s Day in Conshohocken. Someone gave him a ride home, and that was the last thing he remembered until waking up in Montgomery Hospital. He had suffered a debilitating stroke. After he returned home to his wife Gi (short for Virginia) and a little pug dog named General Patton, he began several long, trying months of rehabilitation.
In spite of it all, he counted himself lucky to be alive. “I think the Lord was calling me for judgment day,” he recalled in his 2010 interview. “But St. Patrick, St. Brendan and St. Bridget all went to the Lord, and they gave me a little extra time on earth.”
Slivak, of course, is not an Irish name. Growing up in Fishtown, he took the name of his stepfather, whom he recalled as “a good man.” His mother Clare had roots in Cork and Donegal, however.
After working for 25 years as a tearsheet clerk at the Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily News, Slivak and his wife moved to Swedesburg in 2001. AOH Division 1, up the hill on Jefferson Street, beckoned, and the curious Slivak joined the same year―even though he only had a vague notion what the AOH was all about. “I remember, I didn’t know what the initials stood for,” Slivak said in his interview. “But in the past 10 years I’ve learned a lot more about being a Catholic and Irish.”
Once in, Slivak was completely in. His commitment to the AOH was noticed and appreciated: in 2007, he was the division’s Hibernian of the Year. “He made a lot of friends,” Hand recalls. “But he wasn’t hard to make friends with. He was just a good guy.”
Funeral arrangements for Slivak have been announced. Learn more here.