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After Years of Service, an Honor For Tom Coughlin

Tom Coughlin Sr.

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.”

People

A Leprechaun, Remembered

/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.

People

A Generous Heart at the Heart of The Montco Parade

2012 Montgomery County Grand Marshal Jim Flood

2012 Montgomery County Grand Marshal Jim Flood

In its early years, the Ancient Order of Hibernians’ Notre Dame Division got to know the inside of firehouses pretty well. Launched in 1989, the Montgomery County division had no home of its own, so meetings were typically held within shouting distance of pumpers and ladder trucks.

Attorney Jim Flood joined the division in 1993, a couple of years after moving from Bucks to Montgomery County. Very active from the start, even as a relative newbie, he took an interest in the division’s continuing state of homelessness.

“We had always had a building fund, but it was raising very little money. So a group of us went out on a limb and hired the Wolfe Tones for a benefit concert. If that had failed, it would have been a huge disaster for us. Luckily, we raised $15,000.”

That large infusion of cash helped turn the dream of a home into a reality. The division bought the former Marine Corps League hall on Jefferson Street in Swedesburg, Upper Merion Township, in 1996. Spurred on by Flood, who was by then on the board of directors, together with other members, the division paid off the mortgage six years later.

That’s just one example of Jim Flood’s level of commitment. His fellow Hibernians can think of plenty more.

Flood spearheaded the division’s Catholic high school scholarship. He runs the golf outing. Outside of the division, he created a “Coats for Kids” drive that benefits poor children. He helps the needy by donating time to the Montgomery County Legal Aid Society and representing children through the Montgomery County Child Advocacy Project. Flood and his wife Helen have also raised funds to support their parish school (St. Helena’s), the CYO and the church construction.

Flood has a well-deserved reputation for being a “go-to” guy, and in recognition of his hard work and devotion, the division is going to him again: this time to ask him to serve as grand marshal of the 2012 Montgomery County St. Patrick’s Day Parade.

His selection came as a shock.

“I didn’t even know I’d been nominated. The division held a membership appreciation day on December 16, and my wife are I were there; that’s when I found out. During a break in the music, the chairman of the parade committee said ‘I’d like to announce the grand marshal for the 2012 parade.’ The he announced it was me. I was floored.”

Perhaps it was because Flood tends not to draw attention to his efforts that he was so surprised. His AOH brothers know that when it comes to good works, Flood is the kind of guy who takes to heart one of the key lessons of the Gospel, courtesy of Matthew 6:3: When you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing. And maybe it’s because Flood appears not to think twice about helping his friends and those who are less fortunate than he; it’s just what you do. It’s not something you think about.

The coat drive is a good example of Flood’s charitable mindset. “We started ‘Coats for Kids’ when my son Will, who is now a junior in high school, had a fifth grade service project,” Flood recalls. “I tried to teach him that a lot of kids don’t just wear coats during the day to keep them warm; they also wear them to bed.”

With permission granted by the principal, Flood and his son installed bins in the school to collect coats. The drive turned out to be a success. The following year, Will asked to do it again. Flood incorporated “Coats for Kids” and made him on the president. “Coats for Kids” continues on at St. Joe’s Prep, where Will now attends, and at St. Helena’s. Flood’s daughter Kyra is also involved.

When asked where he gets his sense of social responsibility, he doesn’t have to look far for inspiration: his parents William and Jacqueline.

“I guess it was instilled in me as a child—you do for others,” he says. “It’s the old ‘time, talent and treasure’ idea. Not everybody can give all three, but most people can give at least one or two.”

As he heads down Fayette Street in Conshohocken on March 10 wearing his grand marshal sash, Flood plans to just enjoy himself in the company of his friends, family and fellow Hibernians. And he’ll remember his parents, who were such an inspiration and so proud of their Irish heritage: “I just wish my mother and father could have been there to see me.”

People

AOH Comes to the Aid of a Friend in Need

Andy Redmond

Andy Redmond

Andy Redmond has been there for the Ancient Order of Hibernians and other Irish causes when they needed him. Now the Irish community is returning the favor.

Redmond, who has been fighting prostate cancer for several years, is a member of the Philly-area Irish band Na’Bodach. A painter by trade, Redmond has been unable to work due to his illness, so the Monsignor Crean Division of the AOH is hosting a beef-and-beer bash to help him deal with mounting financial challenges.

Patrick Jockel, president of the Crean division, first came to know Redmond four years ago. Jockel runs the annual Smithville (N.J.) Irish Festival. “His was actually the second band we booked for the festival,” says Jockel. “We became friends afer that. He’s just one of those good souls. He doesn’t put on airs. He’s very intelligent, very funny. He’s just a good guy to know.”

Aside from friendship, hiring Na’Bodach also turned out to have been a wise business decision.

“They’re our headliners. The festival used to stop when his band played. The audience would just stand in front of them and watch them play. Bad for beer sales, but good for everybody else.”

Because of Redmond’s illness, the band was unable to play last October.

Over the years, Redmond and his bandmates have lent their services to many worthy causes, including local AOH fund-raisers. In fact, Redmond has proved to be one of the best friends the Irish Catholic fraternal organization has, Jockel says, even though Redmond himself is not Catholic.

Jockel is also a New Jersey state board member of the AOH, and he brought Redmond’s situation to the attention of Sean Pender, the state president. “As soon as I said ‘Andy has a problem,’ the first thing Sean said is, “We gotta do something for this guy.”

That something is a big benefit Saturday, January 14, starting at 7:30 p.m. at Monsignor Crean AOH Hall, 2419 Kuser Road, Hamilton, N.J. Tickets are $30, available at the door. Entertainment is by the Bogside Rogues, who are donating their time and talent.

There’ll be plenty of good grub, including roast beef, french fries and salad, draft beer and wine, and coffee and soda. You can also aid the cause in other ways, including a 50/50 and a raffle of a basket of cheer. There will also be a drawing for a guitar signed by Redmond’s band.

For more information, contact:

  • Patrick Jockel at patrickaoh@hotmail.com
  • Sean Pender at paddyspeed@yahoo.com
News

A Hibernian Ho-Ho-Ho

Mary Patrick loads up the truck.

Mary Patrick loads up the truck.

It was just after 9 o’clock Saturday morning at Shamrock Food Distributors in Frankford, a few minutes after local Hibernians were scheduled to start loading up trucks, cars and vans with Christmas baskets for the needy.

In all, 84 cardboard boxes were slated for delivery to local families. Each box contained a 14-pound frozen turkey with all the holiday trimmings, including enough for leftovers. And as well-organized as the Hibernian Hunger Project effort was last year, the project this time around was even more so. Minutes after the drive began, it was nearly all over. Most of the boxes had already been picked up and were on their way. Only a few volunteer drivers remained to finish up the job.

“It all went smoothly,” said chief Santa Bob Gessler. “We had a lot of volunteers from last year who knew what they were doing, and the people who came out last year brought more volunteers.”

Ten more families will receive gift cards, Gessler said.

Out on Fraley Street, Kathy Blair worked with Thomas Wiegel to cram boxes into an SUV. It was her second time out. “We only delivered two boxes last year,” Blair said. In some cases, she knows who’s on the receiving end, “and I know they need it.”

Michael Flynn of Chestnut Hill stopped to pick up three boxes for delivery in the Mayfair section. He works with the Irish Memorial at Penn’s Landing and the Mayo Society. “Bob sent an email to all the members of the Irish Memorial,” he said. “We do a lot for various charities. Hey … it’s Christmas!”

First-timer Anne Redmond came all the way from Medford Lakes, N.J., to help out. She heard about the project from Irish Philly Mickmail. Her decision to volunteer is all part of a larger personal process to get in touch with her roots. “I’m embracing it instead of running, screaming into the night.”

Tom and Anne Mitchell of Newtown Square also were alerted via Mickmail. For Anne, there was almost no choice whether to join in. “Christmas really only feels like Christmas if you reach out and help others in need.”

News

Help the Hibernians Brighten Up the Holiday for People in Need

Packing the boxes last year.

Packing the boxes last year.

The good people of the Hibernian Hunger Project don’t know when you’re sleeping. They don’t know if you’re awake. The only thing they know for sure is that many of you are struggling to make it in a depressed economy. And while they can’t turn the economy around, the one thing they can do is help you have a merrier Christmas.

Early in the morning of Saturday, December 17, organizer Bob Gessler will gather with volunteers at Shamrock Food Distributors on Fraley Street in Frankford to put the finishing touches on large boxes containing the fixings for a generous Christmas dinner—turkey, stuffing, veggies, bread, pie and even some cheery decorations. After that, they’ll load the boxes into cars and vans, and fan out throughout the city to deliver the boxes to dozens of needy families.

Last year, the Hibernians brightened up the holiday for about 70 families; this year, organizer Bob Gessler hopes to at least double last year’s total.

“That’s the number we anticipate, but quite frankly, if we wind up with 200 names, we’ll try to get that done,” he said.

As bad as the local economy was last year, it’s not much improved this year—it could even be a bit worse. Gessler knows people are hurting, although he and others who are working on this project often don’t have a line on exactly who needs help. Just based on personal experience, Gessler knows that many in the Irish and Irish-American community are reluctant to make their need known, so the folks behind the project have cast a wide net, looking for information on anyone who needs a bit of help come Christmas day.

“If you know a family in need, please let us know,” Gessler said. “A lot of families slip through the cracks of other programs. We’re looking to help everybody, regardless of race, color, creed … none of that matters. We just want to help people in need.”

Want to help? There are three ways:

  • First, help pack the boxes.
  • Second, drive boxes to the homes of the needy
  • Third, let the Hibernian Christmas crew know of families in need.

Communicate directly with Bob Gessler at gesslervs@comcast.net.

Joining the Hibernian Christmas effort will make many Christmases bright—including yours.

News

Conshy Parade is Looking for Next Grand Marshal

Spreading good cheer down Fayette Street.

Spreading good cheer down Fayette Street.

Yes, St. Patrick’s Day 2012 is still months away. If you’re like the rest of us, you’ve only just begun to think about Christmas.

The same cannot be said for the organizers of the local St. Patrick’s Day parades, who are already thinking well ahead … including the members of the Ancient Order of Hibernians Division 1 who stage the big Montgomery County parade in Conshohocken, set for March 10.

Based in Swedesburg, the division is already searching for someone special to lead the parade. What’s more, if you know someone who’d make a great grand marshal, better let the division know soon. The deadline for nominations is December 9.

Here are the rules, according to parade committee spokesman Pete Hand. The nominee must:

  • Live in Montgomery County
  • Have contributed to the local Irish community, or the broader community
  • Be of Irish descent

“We’re looking for someone who’s really involved in the community, and in local organizations like the Ancient Order of Hibernians, CYO, the church, the fire company, somebody who actively promotes Irish culture … someone outgoing like that,” says Hand.

Whoever wins will have big shoes to fill. Two past grand marshals, former Conshohocken police chief Jim Dougherty and Verne T. Leedom, former drum major of Irish Thunder Pipes & Drums, passed away this past year. They pretty much set the standard.

So far, the division has received a few nominees, says Hand (himself a former grand marshal). He can’t say whose hats are in the ring. “I don’t know who they are … the nominations come in sealed envelopes.”

If you want to nominate someone, send a letter to:

St. Patrick’s Parade Committee
“Attention Grand Marshal”
342 Jefferson St.
Swedesburg, Pa 19405

The next grand marshal will be named on December 17, the division’s Member Appreciation Day. The Grand Marshal’s Ball will be held March 3 at the Jeffersonville Golf Club Banquet Hall.

People

Remembering Verne Leedom

Verne T. Leedom

Verne T. Leedom

Verne Leedom died this week at the age of 81.

A dozen years or so ago, when I joined Irish Thunder Pipes & Drums, Verne was the band’s drum major. He was out in front of the band, parade after parade—waving the mace, calling out the tunes, wearing the conspicuous fuzzy hat. That he somehow managed to do so at all, a big man with bum knees, is a tribute to his fortitude. And more than that, really. He just loved being drum major. We would have followed him anywhere, and not just because he was yelling at us to do so.

Out of uniform, Verne was every bit as memorable. You’d see him sitting at a table downstairs at the Ancient Order of Hibernians Notre Dame Division hall in Swedesburg, leaning back in his chair and quietly chatting with friends. There might be a dozen or so people in the room, but Verne was the one you’d notice. And it wasn’t because he was the loudest or the most boisterous. His voice carried when he needed it to—you could always hear him loud and clear, even way back in the highly distractable drum line. But he stood out because he was listening. Everyone else was talking; he was listening.

No one listened more intently. He had a talent for making you feel like whatever you had to say was the most fascinating thing anyone had ever said. It was no act. Verne was genuinely interested. His eyes were riveted on your face, his ears and mind were wide open to whatever you had to say, and his little gray goatee never failed to frame a smile if you said something funny. He smiled a lot.

And it wasn’t as if you were Verne’s friend for just that moment. Once you were in with Verne—and he seemed to be open to just about everybody—you were in forever. Verne never “unfriended” anyone that I know of. Even after I left the band to join another one, Verne never held a grudge. Fairly uncharacteristic for an Irishman, in my experience, and especially unexpected in the often catty little world of pipe bands. I would still run into him from time to time at parades, festivals or AOH functions. It didn’t matter whether months or years had gone by. Verne would extend his hand, and he would always ask me, “How are ya, lad?”

Which, when you come to think of it, is a funny thing to call a 60-year-old man.

So thanks to Verne Leedom for making me feel like a kid. I’m most decidedly not one, but I’ll take it. Mostly, though, thanks for showing all the rest of us what it really means to be a friend.

Godspeed, lad.

We asked a couple of Verne’s friends to add their thoughts. Here’s what they had to say:

Pete Hand
Irish Thunder Drum Major

After I joined the AOH Notre Dame Division in 1996, I hooked up with Verne right away. I became part of the Isle of Erin Degree Team that he was a part of. He served as a director on the Home Association with me. When I was president of the division he was my vice president for many years. When I joined the Irish Thunder Pipes and Drums as drum major he gave me some instructions since he had been a drum major. He also served with me on the Saint Patrick’s Parade Committee and the festival committee.

So as you can see, at the age of 82 Verne was very active. He attended everything and was still an officer of the AOH Montgomery County Board when he passed away Tuesday morning.

Verne use to call me almost every day to see how things were or to get some dirt on the goings on at the AOH. He and his wife Ann attended almost everything that came up with the AOH. He was also Grand Marshal of the Saint Patrick’s Day Parade when it was in Norristown.

Verne will be missed by all here at the Notre Dame Division. But I will also miss him very much. He always said he never had a brother but he always considered me a brother to him.

We are going to give him a good send off on Saturday at Saint Patrick’s Church in Norristown. That’s what he would have wanted.

Mick McBride

My name is Mick McBride, I was born in Donegal, Ireland, and moved to the States in 1990. I met Verne on a Thursday night the summer of 2001; the night I was sworn in as an AOH member. Verne and I hit it off right away. He always called me, “Mickey me lad.” A year later I joined the pipe band (Irish Thunder) which Verne was quartermaster of at the time, so he had the huge task of “dressing” me (fitting me for my band uniform).

My first ever dress with the band was as drum major for the Norristown St. Patrick’s Day parade in which coincidentally, Verne was nominated as Grand Marshal. As the band reached the grandstand, we halted and left faced toward Verne. I walked to the stage and presented Verne with the band mace and asked if he would do the honor of calling the next set as Verne was drum major of the band for a period of time. I could tell it was an emotional time for Verne and it was for me as well. Verne never saw this coming.

Verne was a very humble man, a very proud man and he held the AOH in his heart strongly, serving the many roles he participated in over the year with great honor, valor and dignity. His intentions were always sincere and in the best interest of the AOH, constantly striving to uphold the values of what the AOH stands for.

In addition to being an asset for the AOH, and a well respected Hibernian Brother across the state, Verne was a former semi-pro ball player who kept us entertained with wonderful stories of years past, but most importantly, Verne was a loving husband and wonderful father. He was so proud of his family and even in recent weeks as Verne’s health declined, he refused to miss his son Sean’s wedding.

I could sit for hours telling you all the exceptional qualities of Verne—the list goes on and on. Verne will be missed like words cannot explain. Verne and his wife Ann are such a huge part of the AOH and they were first in line to volunteer with so many events at the AOH. Verne will get a send off on Saturday like no other!!!

RIP, lad.