Dorothy Mary Brennan's own tale began February 6, 1913, in Superior, Wisconsin. Her father was a saloon-keeper named Fred "Pug" Brennan, a man twenty years older than his sixteen-year old bride Ellen O'Connor. (Pug had divorced a wife and left two children, girls, somewhere in the East.) Of six born to this marriage, Dorothy was the eldest, followed by Fred, Jr. ("Bud"), Kate, James, Lucille, and Eileen. When Ellen left him with the brood, Pug tried hiring a housekeeper, but eventually all six ended up in the orphanage, St. Joseph's Academy, in Superior. Dorothy was eight years old and already set in the role of "Mother Hen" for the family. The German nuns of the catholic order were strict and made a strong impression, their acts and expressions recalled to us long after. At the age of sixteen, as was customary, Dorothy was "farmed out" to a local Irish family, where she helped with the children and performed the typical chores of a midwestern farm. She graduated from St.Louis parochial school in 1930, along with James and Catherine.
Dorothy must have been seventeen years old when she met and married a local taxi driver named Jack Hoban , and on September 5, 1931 a son, "Jackie" Cassidy Hoban III was born. But the relationship with Hoban ended, and Dorothy needed some way to care for herself and her child. Meanwhile, their wayward mother had reappeared, now with the name Helen Howard, in Chicago, so Dorothy joined her in a succession of Southeast side apartments. One by one her siblings left the orphanage: Brother Bud remained in Wisconsin, married Vivian, and settled in Duluth. Brother Jim married Ola and began an army career. Kate married a Texan, then divorced and married a Chicagoan named Claude Crowe, who ran a tavern on Ewing Ave. Lucille and Eileen eventually joined Dorothy and their mother.
One fateful day on the East Side, Dorothy needed to run an errand, so she dropped little Jackie off with Verne, an old friend from Wisconsin, who ran the newsstand at the corner of 99th and Ewing. When she returned a short time later, she found Jackie and his neat little white outfit covered with melted chocolate ice cream. Angrily she set upon Verne, who pleaded his innocence and pointed out the culprit who had bought Jackie the ice cream cone -- the very charming Louis Radovan. Finding himself in trouble, Louis offered to make amends -- and suggested they get together for a show at the Tivoli Theatre. Dorothy was wary enough to agree on condition that she bring her sister along, too. Louis agreed, and so the couple's first date took place, chaperoned by sixteen-year old Lucille.
In 1934 Louis was divorced from Edith Olson, living in a room above Petey Boggs's pool hall, while renting out their bungalow at 9719 Avenue J. His daughter Alice had been living with her Grandpa and Grandma Olson. But in March of that year, Mathilda Olson's ill health made it necessary for other arrangements to be made, and Alice was brought back to her father. Louis was working in the steel mill, and could hardly watch an eleven-year old girl by himself. But with Dorothy's help, they could manage it. They moved into the bungalow where Dorothy kept house. Before long the Mother Hen had brought Lucille and Eileen and even Mrs. Howard to live there, while young Alice slept on the sofa. By the end of that summer, however, Edith, living with her new husband Melker Fransson, sued for and won custody of Alice and brought her to live with them at 63rd and Morgan Street. Not long after, Louis lost the bungalow to bank foreclosure, and the couple moved to an apartment at 62nd and Drexel Blvd.
Tragedy struck in December, 1936 when Jackie died at five years old from complications of appendicitis. Dorothy and Louis moved in sadness, and lived for twenty years or so in a studio apartment (complete with Murphy bed) at 6317 S. Blackstone, Apt. 310. It was a bustling neighborhood, close to the streetcar, the el train, and the shops of 63rd Street, and plenty of neighborhood night clubs. Dorothy was a frequent visitor at places such as G&G's Tavern on Cottage Grove. She may have been drowning the sorrows of her loss on the lounge scene; but Aunt Dot always knew how to have a good time, too.
During World War II, Dorothy joined the ranks of other women factory workers, becoming Rosie the Riveter when the Pullman plant became a producer of wartime products. Then another move was to the second-story of the frame house at 6042 S. Hermitage; while Louie kept the furnace stoked, Dot warmed the place with delicious dinners, lively conversation, and loving attention.
Eventually the couple made one more move -- to
an apartment at 115th Place in south suburban Alsip. Louis had retired
with a pension from International Harvester, and they enjoyed traveling
and visiting relatives, especially Aunt Dot's many nieces and nephews in
the area and back up North. When Louis died suddenly of a heart attack
in 1972, Dorothy was devastated, but could never
stay down for long. Dorothy went to work in the cafeteria
at nearby Marist High School, where she made new friends and was popular
among the high school students. Fulfilling
a promise to her father, she said, Dorothy joined Alice and Ray (and
our other Irish in-laws Tom McCaffrey and his father) on a memorable trip
to Ireland in 1980. It was a fitting climax to a lifetime of being gaelic.
(Though an all-American girl, no one enjoyed being Irish more than Aunt
Dot. She knew all the expressions and could speak with a "brogue" as if
born on the Old Sod.) As always, she
made friends wherever she went, and involved herself in the lives of friends
and family. She continued - until a stroke and then her death on August
26, 1982 - as the Mother Hen with her siblings and their families;
was attentive to her nieces and nephews; and enriched the lives of us,
her step-grandchildren. Funny and smart; ebullient and exciting, big-hearted
and affectionate -- there could never be another like Aunt Dot.