To Follow in Their Footsteps…
The Kansas City St. Patrick’s Day Parade, well into its fourth decade, is a beneficiary of the tireless efforts of countless individuals who have devoted their time and efforts to this wonderful example of civic pride and history. Like any organization with such long and storied credentials, the Parade and its contemporary supporters owe a great deal to those who first established its beloved traditions. Without them, there would be no Parade as we know it today.
Here, we remember and celebrate those who have passed on, whose contributions to the Parade are valued and cherished. In the true spirit of an Irish Wake, we celebrate their legacy. Thanks to them, the trail we walk today is much easier to follow.
Mr. Fred Wyrsch
Passed: January 6, 2014
Micheal Mahoney did the best job of encompassing what Fred means to the St. Patrick’s Day Parade:
The man who turned the Kansas City St. Patrick’s Day Parade into one of the city’s biggest events, has died. The family of Fred Wyrsch announced he died Monday night after battling cancer. Wyrsch was 63.
After radio personality Mike Murphy started the Parade in 1973, Wyrsch decided to get the Irish group, the Kansas City chapter of the Ancient Order of Hibernians involved. Wyrsch’s goal was to assure the parade kept its sense of Irish culture. But Fred was always aware it also needed our Irish sense of humor. One of his favorite sayings was they decided to have a little St. Patrick’s Day Parade, “so you could invite 250,000 of your closest friends”.
From the mid 1970’s through the mid 1980’s, Wyrsch, and a very small group, organized the parade. They encouraged families, schools and businesses to participate. It took off.
I wasn’t around when all this happened. I joined the Parade Committee in the late 1980’s. I knew, however, that Fred Wyrsch ran this growing parade out of his hip pocket. He always said it was just him and a few pals at a card table—with a couple of beers thrown in for good measure. They ran it like that for years.
Later, when I had the honor of following in his footsteps as a Parade Chairman, I was astonished any one person could pull that off.
I still am.
Fred was really the Godfather or the Parade. Murphy, God rest his Soul, got a lot of the credit, but it was Wyrsch and his pals who really made the parade a big deal in Kansas City.
Whenever Fred would come around near St. Patrick’s Day, some of us greeted him like he was Babe Ruth. We’d tell the newbies, “There’s the Man”.
The Parade made him the Grand Marshal in 1986. Best choice—ever. His family was honored for their contributions to the parade, too. His brother Tom remains a valuable member of the Parade Committee. He’s a good friend, as well.
Fred was very modest about his parade accomplishment. It was not unusual to see him just show up on St. Patrick’s Day to help, just like any other grunt.
One of the last times I saw him, he and I were taking tickets at one of the gates at the Irish Fest last year. Had a blast. Same old Freddie, just pitching in.
Fred Wyrsch was THE DRIVING FORCE of the Kansas City St. Patrick’s Day Parade for many years.
Thanks Freddie for your friendship. And my town thanks you for your gift.
Mr. Bill Rudolph
August 9, 1924 – October 8, 2011
Bill was one of the original “office girls” for the parade with Tom Mahurin and Pete McCluskey, Sr. He devoted more than 25 years of his life to the parade and much more to the Irish in Kansas City.
Bill graduated from St. Gregory’s High school in Shawnee, Okla., in 1941 and attended Rockhurst College. He proudly served in the US Army during WWII in the 11th Airborne where he earned numerous medals. On June 10, 1953, he married Lorraine McCurry. Bill retired from the U.S.P.O. after 30 years.
Mr. Mike Murphy
Passed: March 9, 2011
Mike Murphy helped make St. Patrick’s Day in Kansas City a special holiday. From a cheery little walk around the block of a downtown bar, the Parade turned into the largest one- day celebration in the city. Mike was proud of the Irish. We are proud of him. He was a legendary broadcaster, a friendly man and as Mike would always say of all his friends, “he’s a pal!” Mike you will always be our pal. Our prayers go out to your family and your many friends. Thank you for all you did for us. As the Irish blessing says, “May God hold you in the palm of his hand”.
Mr. John O’Neal
September 8, 1948 – July 2, 2010
John enjoyed being active in the Kansas City community and many Irish American organizations. He was a former president of the Celtic Fringe and the Fr. Bernard Donnelly Division of the Ancient Order of Hibernians in Kansas. He was also a volunteer for the Kansas City St. Patrick’s Day Parade Committee, Children for Peace and The KC Irish Festival. For many years, John sang the National Anthem and the Irish National Anthem in English and Gaelic to kick-off The St. Patrick’s Day Parade. He also served on the board of The Kansas City Irish Museum and in March 2010 they honored John with the Chieftain award in recognition for his hard work and dedication to the Irish Community.
In 2010, John’s brother Hibernians named him Irish Man of the Year. Several years ago John also received the Freedom for All Ireland Award from the Padraig Pearse Division of AOH KCMO to recognize his skills as an organizer and consensus builder in the KC Irish Community. Irish American Magazine listed John as one of the top 50 Irish American business leaders in July 2008.
Mrs. Margie Browne
August 10, 1924 – December 28, 2004
Margie Browne loved everything Irish! Her home was open to Irish immigrants spending a semester in Kansas City or just starting out in this new land. Margie’s dinner table always had room for one more. From scones to stew, everyone loved her cooking—and she was proud to pile on another helping. Margie was a hairdresser for many years before she became the cheerful face behind the counter of Browne’s Irish Market. With an ear to listen and compassion to give, Margie became Mother Marge to many.
Margie was eager to support the parade since its inception in the 70′s. She participated in the early parades, attended luncheons and The Wolfe Tones concerts, helped with “The Blarney Stone” newsletter and greeted the parade committee as they enjoyed an Irish Breakfast at Browne’s. Margie’s favorite event of the season was the Gaelic Mass and she never missed one. She was a person of great faith and many of the Irish community carry one of her “Infant of Prague” medals with the promise of prayers and novenas from Margie.
One of her proudest moments was being named Grand Marshal of the 2002 Kansas City St. Patrick’s Day Parade.
Margie overcame adversities with hard work and perseverance, always with a smile and kind word. Margie loved traveling to see her family in County Kerry, Ireland, singing Irish songs and playing bingo. She was loved by all who knew her.
Lt. Col. Tom F. Mahurin, USAF
April 15, 1922 – Oct. 16, 2002
For over 20 years, Tom graciously gave of himself to the St. Patrick’s Day Parade and the committee. Tom, Pete McCluskey, Sr. and Bill Rudolph were the “office girls.” They answered the phones, got the parade permit, processed entrant applications and rode golf carts on parade day.
Tom was a sponsor of the first Rub o’ the Green Golf Tournament and, along with the other “office girls,” were golfers extraodinaire for many years. Tom was also proud of his work on the Mouse Derby and the Emerald Ball.
Tom was honored by the Parade Committee by being chosen Flag Bearer in 1999 and, along with his wife Helen, named Grand Marshals for the 2000 Parade.
He was Life Member of the Irish Museum and Cultural Center. Tom was a dedicated Irishman and whenever possible promoted the Irish as “Number One.” Tom’s wife Helen continues his legacy on the committee with her work and unparalleled generosity.
Mr. Peter J. McCluskey, Sr.
February 5th, 1928 – September 23rd, 2005
Pete Sr. was one of the “office girls” when the Parade Committee headquartered out of Channel 41. Pete, Tom Mahurin and Bill Rudolph dutifully processed the parade application forms and forwarded them to the appropriate division heads. On parade day, it was not uncommon to see him and Bill Rudolph touring the parade route on a golf cart, making sure no one stepped out of line.
Pete Sr. loved the parade, but more importantly the parade committee. He considered all of the committee members part of his extended family. He looked forward to the meetings as much as the parade itself.
Two of his favorite events in addition to the parade were the kick-off luncheon and the Wolfe Tones concerts. He was usually up for buying a table for both.
One of his proudest moments was to be named Grand Marshal of the 1994 parade. Pete Sr. was very proud of his Irish heritage. His favorite toast was “To the first Irish Pope!”
Mr. Patrick “PJ” Cullinan
April 17th, 1923 – July 6th, 2008
PJ was born in Ennis, Co. Clare, Ireland and came to Kansas City in 1950. PJ was a driver for the KCATA/Metro for 36 years.
He loved being an American citizen and took great pride in his Irish heritage, one of the patriarchs to the KC Irish community helping to keep alive the Irish culture, music and dance that he loved. He was involved in many Irish organizations and was the Grand Marshall of the KC St. Patrick’s Day Parade and Irishman of the Year in 1990.