A Series of Interviews with our Past Presidents

2002-2005: Craig Farewell

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1. What drew you to the AOH?

I was very involved in the Irish culture back in New York, although not a member of the AOH. When I moved from New York to Kansas City it was the closest thing I could find that made me feel at home.

2. How has the Kansas AOH changed since you served as President?

Exponentially. It’s become much more formal, much more structured, it’s grown in size. From 15 members to over 100. We’ve become more Kansas City centric and less of a defiant group off to the side.

3. What did you hope to achieve as President and how did that work out?

I was a member of Pearse, and I quickly rose in the ranks in that division in my short time there. I noticed that there was a great deal of membership that resided on the Kansas side of the border, and I went to the leadership at Pearse to see if we could do an event in Kansas, so I got the feeling that we’ll take you as membership and accept your dues, but we don’t respect where you live. When I met some guys who were from Johnson & Wyandotte Counties. Post-9/11 there was a fracture in Pearse where the group that I was with was very reticent to send our money outside of Kansas City. Once I felt that there was a time where there was enough people, mass, and energy to found a division in Kansas.

4. What sets the Kansas AOH apart from other AOH divisions and other fraternal societies in our area?

Other than my experience with Pearse, I’m not as familiar with other groups. We have lots of camaraderie, humour, and the willingness to help at a moment’s notice, the ability to perform at a high level and to enjoy ourselves at that time. Our man-power is far and away better than any other group in town.

2006-2007: John O’Neal

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Each of the Past Presidents were asked what they thought our dearly missed friend John O’Neal would think of the state of the Kansas AOH today. Here are their responses:

Craig Farewell: John would be extremely proud. He’d also chastise us a bit for not having as many kilt wearers, and for not singing as much. He’d be sitting in a chair looking over the group and enjoying the view.

Larry Shepard: I believe he would be most pleased with the number of younger members in the Division.

Andy Sprehe: He would be quite pleased that we not only have so many members and that we have such a presence in the Kansas City Irish community.

Shaun Cronin: He was the guy who loved it all. He was the beating heart and soul of the division. He was involved with everybody and he loved it all.

Denny Dennihan: John would be simply astounded! I truly don’t believe John probably ever envisioned we would become as numerous, as financially strong, as charitable, serving 1000’s of volunteer hours annually, being recognized as one of the premier Irish Groups citywide, as organized, funding numerous scholarships, hosting The Hibernian Cup between a couple of Catholic High Schools, and by far, the best attired Irish Group marching and/or attending many local events, yet never forgetting our initial charter of  friendship, unity, and Christian charity that brought the Johnson County AOH Brotherhood together back in 2002.

John would/should be extremely proud of what we have become. He along with Craig Farewell, John Lundy, Pat Quinn and the other founders hopefully will view our Division as one of their paramount accomplishments in creating/fostering The Father Donnelly Division of the Ancient Order of Hibernians, State of Kansas. Hats off to all of our founders!!! Slán.

Charlie Lamont: I think John would be very proud of his merry band of lunatics who have created such a brotherly organization.  He would be proud of the Kilt Krew, our philanthropic giving and our embrace of Irish culture.  He would have been a HUGE proponent of IRB and so proud to be a part of it.

2008-2009: Larry Shepard

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  1. What drew you to the AOH?

It wasn’t until 1983, when I was 27, that I even became aware of the Shepard family ancestry. That summer, my family went to a Shepard family reunion in Cleveland, the Shepard hometown dating back to the early 1800s. I received some legal paperwork, death certificates, that confirmed that we had some Irish background by way of the Dempseys and Bambricks in Counties Offaly and Laois. My knowledge of my mother’s family heritage, the Hamiltons and Fitzgeralds, remains somewhat anecdotal, but I believe they haled from Scotland via County Antrim. Neither my Dad nor Mom had ever been interested in matters of ancestry or Irishness. In 2003 or 2004, my wife Barb and I attended the Irish Fest and met Craig Farewell, Division president, at the Kansas AOH recruiting booth. It was sparsely appointed with 1 lightbulb hanging in the middle of the tent, two folding chairs and Craig standing there with a clipboard. That was the Kansas AOH with Craig as its ‘tour du force’. He is still that. Barb dragged me up there because she knew of my growing interest in the AOH and all things Irish. She secured an oath, under threat, from Craig to call me the following week and that is how I joined the AOH. Once in, I threw myself at the concept of brotherhood, loyalty and good works. With time I also became very interested Irish independence and the reunification of Ireland and, despite the fact that our Division was originally formed in an effort to leave the more contentious political issues surrounding reunification behind, I’ve become one of the more radical members regarding those topics. I always glance at Michael Collins’s portrait above the bar at Conroy’s.

  1. How has the Kansas AOH changed since you served as President?

Clearly, numbers and funds available make for a completely different organization. When I started my term in 2008, I think we might have had $500 in the bank in total. Our membership was probably 30, maybe 25. Back then, with only about 20 to 30 members, the idea of 20% of the membership doing 80% of the work translated into a very few bodies doing only a limited amount of work. With over 100 members, currently, we have many more brothers doing a great deal of organizational work. Back then it was a small, much more intimate organization. Consequently, our relationships became very personal and that small group remains very much dedicated to each other today. Our challenge now is to retain that intimacy and personal commitment to each other within a much larger Division.

  1. What did you hope to achieve as President and how did that work out?

When I joined the Division, we were meeting in the old McBride’s off of 119th Street near Metcalf in a tiny, tiny snug where you couldn’t completely stand between tables. At that time, it was as much a social club as anything. It was uncouth and unrestrained and we all alternated between cringing and laughing until we cried. I haven’t laughed that hard since. Presidents usually set the tone for any organization and, for Craig’s two terms, the Division was a very casual and fun group. Craig’s knack is in making everyone feel welcome and appreciated. John O’Neal followed Craig and his term much resembled Craig’s except that we did more singing. During John’s term McBride’s closed for the second time and we moved to Bacchanalia not too far from McBride’s, where I served my term as well. Back then, when you wanted to get victims to serve as officers, you “built a slate” of members who agreed not to say “hell, no.” Today, we actually have elections of multiple candidates. As president, my focus was to introduce a little more formality and ceremony into our Division. During my 2 years we sort of moved towards a more formal organization that followed rules and introduced some ceremony into our proceedings. Many of the older members were initiated in the classic Animal House manner and I wanted to emphasize some of the Irishness and Catholicness of our Order hoping to ensure that we would be a sustainable organization. Since you shouldn’t have a meeting without a gavel, I used for a nut cracker my parents used at Christmas time. Craig was supportive, but cautioned me against becoming too serious. He said, “Just be careful. You’re going to ruin the fun of this and then we’ll be lost.” He was right, of course, and I’ve passed that warning on to all the subsequent presidents. Lastly, in order to get fresh meat to serve as president, I hoped to set a low bar and demonstrate that if an idiot could serve as president, anyone could. Clearly, I accomplished that goal because every president after me did a much better job than did I. Despite all the stress and ‘cat herding’, it was very rewarding and humbling to serve my brothers as president. Early on in my presidency, my wife Barb drilled into my head that not everyone thinks like me and this realization continues to serve me well.

  1. What sets the Kansas AOH apart from other AOH divisions and other fraternal societies in our area?

I think we have many more active members than either of our neighboring Divisions. Our challenge is to retain the intimacy of a Division with 25 members as we grow to over 100 brothers. Over the years I’ve made some great friendships in our Division and I look forward to spending time getting to know all my Hibernian brothers. Simply, they’re people who I care about. I think we have a lot of respect for each other and concern for each other’s families. That’s pretty unique, too. I’m not sure that’s the case everywhere these days. Given that everyone has a lot of other things going on in their lives, there’s still a lot of guys who put in a lot of time for this organization and really enjoy being Hibernians. This sense of brotherhood is especially rare in today’s society where people just don’t ‘join’ much anymore.

 

2010-2011: Andy Sprehe

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1. What drew you to the AOH and how has the Kansas AOH changed since you served as President??

I grew up in an Irish Catholic family of 9 and my mother was probably the major influence to all of us kids in our Irish heritage. I’ve always had a fond soft spot in my heart for my Irish heritage. Once I learned about the AOH through my brother in Chicago who is a Hibernian, I joined here in Kansas City.

2. What did you hope to achieve as President and how did that work out?

One of my major components in my back history has been in membership and organization, and one of my goals was to see that the org. grew to 100 members, which has been a reality since 2017. That has been one of the major changes since I was in charge. I’ve seen the division become more stable and able to donate as well.

4. What sets the Kansas AOH apart from other AOH divisions and other fraternal societies in our area?

It’s a very interesting chemistry of like minded Irish Catholic guy who have bonded on a very close relationship, and I’ve been involved with the Pearse and St Joseph Divisions, and by far our members are steadfast to helping out at our events and they are very genuine in their interest level in creating a relationship within the organisation. That’s our biggest attribute, how close we are to each other, our like for each other, and our support for each other.

2012-2013: Shaun Cronin

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1. What drew you to the AOH?

A brother introduced me and I’ve enjoyed it ever since.

2. How has the Kansas AOH changed since you served as President?

It’s bigger, there’s more people involved in a variety of capacities. So we get to see some of the guys who were originally involved in the beginning stick around and the new guys join in.

3. What did you hope to achieve as President and how did that work out?

One thing I tried to achieve was more involvement in the Irish community, participation in more events than just the parades. Events at Browne’s, fundraisers, & activities in the community. There are more members of other groups as members of the Kansas AOH now.

4. What sets the Kansas AOH apart from other AOH divisions and other fraternal societies in our area?

When I was president, I spent time in Milwaukee with their AOH. There are some similarities with other divisions, as they face the same issues and challenges as us with involvement and finances, growth, keeping interest, and focusing on culture. So we aren’t as different, though we are apart because we have higher participation. There are still 80% of the members participating at the Irish Fest. We have a bigger age span than others. We can mix well with a wide range of experience, age, & interest. We have athletes, artists, musicians and we have common interests in our culture & our history.

2014-2015: Denny Dennihan

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1. What drew you to the AOH?

I’ve always appreciated my Irish Heritage as well as my Catholic faith. Both have been very important to me growing up and I have tried to instill both those life tenet’s in my family and children. I went the first time in the earliest days of the Fr. Donnelly Division and, although the numbers were small, there was this wonderful, infectious spirit amongst the group. I was immediately drawn to the comradery which I soon saw as an evolving Brotherhood. I have enjoyed many deep-rooted friendships since those early days and count my Divisional Brothers as many of my closest friends to this day.

2. How has the Kansas AOH changed since you served as President?

Frankly, it has changed dramatically. In the early days before I was President, our numbers were much smaller. Although there was enthusiasm towards fund raising initiatives, it’s very difficult with at best just dozens to muster the manpower to pull off fund raising efforts. As such, I don’t recall where any of my 5 previous Presidents ever were able to maintain a treasury balance much in excess of $1000 – $2000 dollars at any time, so you could say we struggled. I would say the  major stated initiative of my Presidency was to leave office after two years with a minimum treasury balance of $10,000. We were able to do that and more, having my last meeting treasury report come in with a balance of $12,000 and few receivables. But that last year we also logged 2000+ volunteer man-hours while donating to charity just over $7000. And Charlie Lamont & Gordie Grohmann have continued our success with Gordie recently stating our treasury is over $23,000 and our charitable giving has never been higher. I would consider us a strong, youthful, vibrant AOH Division.

3. What did you hope to achieve as President and how did that work out?

Well as I stated above, establishing financial security for the Division was my priority. But additionally, I was hopeful of improving some of the things I felt were loose ends. Revising our original By-Laws providing better governance for how we should operate, improving our new officer transition process by moving elections from the November meeting to October meeting giving an almost 90 day transition time where outgoing and incoming officers could meet, established charitable giving guidelines for discipline in the process, established a structured new member initiation process set for each April & October vs a more moving schedule previously, and of significant importance to me, directed the reimbursement of past debts.

4. What sets the Kansas AOH apart from other AOH divisions and other fraternal societies in our area?

First thing that comes to mind is the quality of the men in the division. We come from all walks of life, all socioeconomic levels, all backgrounds, but we share a love of our Irish Heritage and Catholic Faith. It is evident in our interactions how these common heritages bond us together in a real sense of Brotherhood. This is evidenced in our coming together at IrishFest, Irish Parades, Irish Road Bowling Scores, monthly meetings, and numerous other Irish venues around town. Unlike the national AOH conundrum of an aging membership, The Fr. Donnelly AOH Division could most probably have the greatest number of younger members of any division nationally. We could (and should be ) the poster child division showing all other AOH Divisions how it’s done. I’m familiar with many other fraternal organizations in town, belonging to a few, but hands down Fr. Donnelly AOH has a vibe like no other. I’m so proud to be a member of this group of Brothers.

2016-2017: Charlie Lamont

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1. What drew you to the AOH?

2002 — when the division was starting, Sean Riley asked me to join. It was a time in my life when I needed something to do, my wife had died in 01, so I needed something to do, and once I joined and got to know the guys it was a mutual admiration society.

2. How has the Kansas AOH changed since you served as President?

Hasn’t changed much, it’s only been a year. It has gotten incrementally better. Each president brings something to the table. It’s always a benefit.

3. What did you hope to achieve as President and how’d that work out?

I wanted to increase our visibility in the community, and I wanted to do some more good within the Irish Catholic community. That’s how I came up with the scholarships & the Hibernian Cup football game.

4. What sets the Kansas AOH apart from other AOH divisions and other fraternal societies in our area?

It’s not so much setting us apart as the brotherhood that we’ve fostered, we’ve grown and embraced. It gives us a certain essence that I’ve never seen in any other fraternal organization. There’s a true friendship in this division. It’s heartening & I’m very glad to be a part of it.

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History of our Namesake

Kansas City’s first historian was Father Bernard Donnelly. In the mid-1850s, he was assigned as pastor to the riverfront Town of Kansas, later to become Kansas City. The happenings of the day were written in his records of marriages, baptisms, and funerals. These records give a first-hand account of daily life in the early town and aided his friend, Reverend William J. Dalton, in writing The Life of Father Bernard Donnelley.

6826357_1069809384Bernard Donnelly was born in Kilnacreva, Ireland. His poor parents could neither read nor write. He excelled in mathematics in school, pursuing studies in algebra, geometry, and trigonometry. He became a civil engineer and worked on the construction of the Liverpool docks in England. Donnelly sailed to the United States in the early 1830s on a journey that took 80 days. He took a teaching job in Philadelphia and in 1840, over 40 years old, he entered a seminary in St. Louis. Ordained in 1845, his first parish encompassed the area from Independence, Missouri, to Indian Territory, now the state of Kansas. He traveled throughout the area until the middle of the 1850s, when he was assigned to the Town of Kansas.

After the Civil War the Town of Kansas expanded south. Donnelly opened a brickyard and a stone quarry on land owned by the Catholic Church in Quality Hill. He brought hundreds of Irish laborers to pave streets and build many of the city’s earliest structures. In 1857 these laborers built a brick church at today’s 11th and Broadway streets, replacing the log church built there in 1835. This church was the center of the town’s Catholic Diocese until the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, still standing, was completed in 1882. Donnelley sold some of the church’s property on Quality Hill to build St. Teresa’s Academy, The St. Joseph’s Orphan Home, and to purchase the land for St. Mary’s Cemetery.

Father Donnelly had an unwavering faith in Kansas City that prompted him to write in 1880, “Kansas City is likely to become one of the larger cities of the United States.”

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Fr. Donnelly was key in the building of Old St. Patrick’s Church at 8th and Cherry in Downtown Kansas City, Missouri, one of the oldest still active Catholic churches in the region. The bricks that line the exterior walls of the church today were those laid by Irish bricklayers in Fr. Donnelly’s employ in the mid-nineteenth century.