Margaret Mary Cunningham Gleason I was born in Merna, the middle child of three; a brother, Bill, and a sister, Eleanor, are now deceased. I lived on a family farm until 1928. As a young child, I went to a country school. We moved to town in the days of the deep Depression in 1928. I was in the first freshman class of Holy Trinity High School in the same year. The family lived in the 900 and 700 blocks of Roosevelt Avenue, and I lived there even after marriage until 1960 when my husband, William F. Gleason, and I moved to Clinton Booulevard. My husband's family always lived on West Locust; his grandparents, the Luke Watsons, also lived there. Mary Kinsella O'Rourke, my maternal grandmother, lived in Bloomington on East Chestnut in the late 1800's. Later she lived on North Elder, one block east of Clinton. Bill and I were married by Msgr. Moore on November 24,1938. We had two children--William (Bill) and Margart Mary (Peggy). Bill and his wife, Bonnie live in Ironwood, Normal; Peggy and her husband, Kevin Kirkwood, live in Town. Both children graduated from Holy Trinity grade and high schools. I am one of four generations who lived in McLean County. My mother, Margaret O'Rourke Cunningham, went to a one-room country school with George Mecherle. During Gov. Adlai Stevenson's tenure, the oneroom schools were phased out. My mother was upset with this; she thought the country schools educated us well. Mother graduated from St. Mary's High School in 1902 and went on to Illinois State Normal. The two-year course then qualified one to be a teacher, and she taught at the Ballard School in Merna. Her sisters, Eugenia and Molly, also graduated from St. Mary's and ISNU and became teachers. My mother married William J. Cunningham on June 20, 1906, at Holy Trinity; they were married by Msgr. Weldon. Mother always worked for the church and its organizations. She was sacristan at Holy Trinity for 27 years, going every day to perform her duties. One of her tasks was laundering and ironing all the many altar and Communion cloths. As a young child, we had everything on the farm. My father paid $400 per acre for additional land. But everything was lost in the Great Depression--the land, the car, the house--not like today when you can file for bankruptcy and start all over. We moved to town and lived with my Grandmother O'Rourke in the Horace Pierce House at 1001 N. Elder for a short time. Pierce built the house around 1899. Grandmother had moved to town after my grandfather, Patrick O'Rourke, died in 1891. As a widow, she had three daughters to raise. She was the oldest of the Kinsella children, six girls and three boys. Her father, Patrick Kinsella, gave the land for the first St. Patrick's of Merna Church. She was born November 5, 1859, and died June 11, 1935. I have my grandmother's funeral book dated 1935. The funeral home was Murray & Carmody. Dan Carmody was my grandmother's nephew. The book lists the priest, the pallbearers, the funeral sermon, the names of those who gave masses and notes of sympathy; and lists the names of relatives and friends who were in the 17 funeral cars. My Grandfather O'Rourke was born in Ireland in 1856 near Sligo. He came to the United States sometime in the 1870's and was naturalized in Bloomington on February 2, 1885. I have his naturalization papers. He came to the United States by himself, but he had aunts and uncles already here--the Kelly's and O'Rourke's. He bought a farm that we always called the "Blue Mound." It was near the present Merna Cemetery. He sent back to Ireland for his two nephews and lived with them on the Blue Mound until his death. His sister, Anna, came over later. There is a letter from my grandfather's brother-in-law, Michael King, dated May 4,1887. He was working in Chicago for $2.50 per day at that time, and "doing very well." My paternal grandparents, John and Catherine Cunningham were both born in Roscommon, Ireland. They farmed in Merna, and my first cousins, John and Paula Cunningham, still live on the original farm. The family loves to tell this true story--how my great-grandmother, Margaret Bolan Kinsella was in Bloomington on a rare shopping trip. She met Fr. Weldon, their pastor at Merna, who told her that the 160 acres adjoining their farm was to be sold at the courthouse that very afternoon. Margaret, surprised, said that she and Patrick had hoped to buy that land if it were ever put up for sale. Fr. Weldon replied if they wanted it he would buy it for them and they could settle with him the next day. She assured him that they did want it, and the transaction was concluded the next day.
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Illinois State University, Milner Library, Normal, IL, 61790 - for the Towanda Area Historical Society/Towanda District Library
Towanda Area Historical Society/Towanda District Library
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