On The Beach
With Beverly Baxter
Wedded Bliss – After All These Years
One can accomplish great things with one’s life. You can achieve great financial success that take you to the height of the heap, reap the accolades of your peers, and be held in great esteem in one’s community; but if you bungle your marriage or the raising of your children, then everything else pales in comparison. In a culture where the demanding salvo is “I love you, now change”, it’s no wonder that nearly fifty percent of all marriages fracture and fail. We find ourselves looking with awe toward another generation that somehow seemed to effortlessly get it right.
I had the honor of attending the occasion of the fiftieth wedding anniversary of the Lenihans. The milestone event, which was held at The Beach Club on June 26 and hosted by their children Margie, John, and Maureen, was just as much a celebration of a lovely couple as it was a tribute to the institution of marriage itself, as well as a toast to the spirit of emigration.
Mary (nee Fitzgerald) hails from Brosna, Co. Kerry. The eldest of nine children, Mary was sent to study at the Rosary Convent boarding school in Ballymahon, Co. Longford. She then, at the age of sixteen, went to work in Birmingham, England for two years. It was on a brief holiday home in Ireland that her father turned to her and said, “Now it’s time for you to go to New York and make a life in America”. “In those days, you didn’t question your parent’s direction for you. You trusted and did what you were told”, states Mary. So, with that directive from her father, Mary landed in New York in 1953 where she stayed with relations in the Bronx.
America, at one time, held great promise for Mary’s parents, as it had for so many Irish who embarked to the ports of New York and Boston. Mary’s parents married here in 1933. Her father worked for American Express and her mother, like many Irish women of the day, was employed as a Domestic for two prominent N.Y Doctors. The Fitzgerald’s had high hopes and they worked hard, but their dreams were dashed when the depression came forcing them to return to the auld sod where they took up farming and proceeded to raise their family.
When Mary Fitzgerald arrived in N.Y., she would continue in pursuit of that promise, which had eluded her parents, of a better life that only America held. She quickly got a job at Blue Cross and resided with relations in the Bronx. She had no idea that her destiny lived just around the corner.
For Ben Lenihan, it was a long way from Rock Chapel, Co. Cork to Rockaway Beach, N.Y where he first landed in 1948. Like so many other young Irish lads, Ben was busy making a name for himself; carving out a piece of that same promise as he worked hard in his uncle’s West Side pub, O’Keefe’s. In those days, the pub was where many of the Irish went to “network” with other Irish for that coveted job or a place to live. For Ben Lenihan, the pub would become his livelihood. But first, he would meet his Mary.
That fateful evening came by way of introduction at Mary’s Aunt’s home in the Bronx. The strapping young Ben, who was bursting with business savvy, was immediately smitten by the very glamorous Mary. The two courted for nearly two years before marrying at St. Jerome’s Church followed by a lavish reception at The Chester House in Park Chester. The couple resided in the Bronx where they soon began a family. First came Margie, then Cornelius (who passed away soon after he was born from what was termed “crib death”), then John (“I was so overjoyed to be blessed with having another son”, states Mary), and then Maureen, the youngest of the Lenihan children.
While Mary tended to the raising of their children, Ben worked at The Blarney Stone on 59th Street. At that time, one could find a Blarney Stone on every other corner throughout the city. They were popular establishments catering to the working lunch crowd where one could get a good hot meal from its reasonably priced steam table and a few cold brews. Ben soon saw an opportunity to buy his own establishment on Court Street in Brooklyn. He called it The Blarney Rose and modeled his business after The Blarney Stone. The location would prove to be a stroke of genius. The Lenihans worked hard and their establishment became popular with Lawyers and Judges of the Courts and also with professionals at the Board of Ed.. They were soon able to move out of the Bronx, which was turning bad, and return to a place where Ben had vowed many years before to someday buy a home. That place was Belle Harbor where they have resided in the same home for 38 years.
Having since retired nearly ten years ago, the Lenihans have been busy reaping their many rewards. Their children never cease in making them proud. Maureen, who obtained her C.P.A. from Manhattan College, has two children: Meagan, who gave a wonderful step-dancing performance for her grandparents at The Beach Club, and Matthew. John, who is the quintessential host extraordinare, gave a moving toast in tribute to his parents. He and Maureen were joined by sister Margie, a Nurse, who has three spectacular children: Tommy, Patrick, and the very pretty Christine.
Firm believers in giving back to the town they love so well, the Lenihans have been dedicated community activists. With their founding of The Rockaway Park Homeowners and Residents Association, they have crusaded quality of life issues on behalf of all residents. Under their leadership, the organization has grown from its initial 100 core participants to where it now boasts an active membership of over 650. Their quarterly meetings are well attended by our elected officials and local dignitaries. Among the association’s most recent endeavors was the installation of the malls and the consensus to keep the No Parking Ban along the boulevard.
Although the occasion of the Lenihan’s fiftieth wedding anniversary celebration came as no surprise as it was planned by their children in the wake of Mary’s serious spinal surgery just months before, they were astonished by all who came from near and far to share in their joyous occasion. From Ireland, they were joined by Ben’s brother Jimmy, niece Margaret Pyne, Mary’s brothers Denis and John and his wife Peggy Fitzgerald; Mary’s sisters Eilleen Dillon, Sally and Tim O’Shea, and Peggy Deely and their families; and 12 year old nephew Billy Herlihy who enchanted guests with his renditions on the Concertina.
Although it is difficult to “get over” on either Mary or Ben, their children managed to do so as they arranged for their parents to be picked up and chauffeured from their home to The Beach Club in a gleaming Bentley Rolls Royce.
Equipped with Dom Perignon (which they didn’t touch!) and a sign on the back that read, “Just married-50 years!”, they were greeted by a roster of guests that included Father Lou of St. Frances de Sales, the Duffys, the McGees, the Horgins, the Shannighans, the O’Con-nells, the Nees, the Grunigs, the McTiernans, the Sullivans, the Dowds, the Brennas, Anne McKeon, Margaret Segrue, Mike Foley, the Sheas of J.K.S. Printing who provided the tasteful invitations, and Margie Rice, to name a few of the over one-hundred guests who danced to the mellifluous Tommy Goodwin Band.
While Mary, who looked, as always, tastefully elegant in a taupe gown, fed her still handsome bridegroom Ben a piece from a five-tiered cake, I was among the throng of guests who marveled and applauded their life together—well done!
***Happy Birthday wishes to John Murphy, John Joe, and Shannon McKeon!
***See you...On the Beach!