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Nora Bunce, always ready with tea and scones, dead at 85

There wasn’t any ill that Nora Bunce didn’t think could be soothed by a “cuppa” tea.

“If you were cool, it would warm you,” said one of her daughters, Eileen O’Grady. “If you were hot, it would cool you. If you were stressed, it would relax you.”

As soon as someone dropped by for a visit, “She’d be running for the kettle,” her daughter said.

Mrs. Bunce’s scones, fragrant with butter and buttermilk, were so delicious that her recipe has been shared and re-shared on the Irish heritage website — with a title honoring her maiden name: “Nora Malone’s Scones.” [See recipe, below.]

Mrs. Bunce died Wednesday at Lexington Health Care Center of Schaumburg. She was 85.

“Everybody called her Mom,” said Noreen Bunce, another daughter.

She was born in the Irish village of Killawalla, near Westport, County Mayo. Her hamlet was Derreenascoobe. In Gaelic — a language at which she excelled — it means “the Little Derry” or “Oak Wood of the Broom.”

Her parents, Martin and Catherine Malone, operated a 26-acre farm. Everyone in the family had a job.

“She would bring tea out to the men working in the fields,” said another daughter, Kathleen Bunce.

During World War II, times were hard. “My grandfather’s bicycle was parked up against the wall for years because they couldn’t get tires for it,” Kathleen Bunce said.

Killawalla is a picturesque village of wildflowers, stone fences, donkeys and sheep, but its biggest export has been its people. According to, it lost two-thirds of its population between 1841 and 1851, when Ireland starved during An Gorta Mor — the Great Hunger.

Nora Malone was about 17 when she decided to seek her future in Chicago, where her maternal uncle, Tom Treacy, headed a top orchestra that entertained Irish immigrants in the 1930s, ’40s and ’50s.

In 1949, she arrived in Chicago, where she stayed on the West Side with Tom Treacy and his wife, Mary, landing a job as a live-in maid for a wealthy family.

She later worked at a Jewel store in Winnetka, where she often saw relatives of New Trier High School alum Charlton Heston shopping. She also had a job at Sears and waitressed at the old Stouffer’s restaurant downtown.

She loved going to dances. Cute, curvy and bubbling with laughter, the redhead caught the eye of William Bunce, a gas company worker from Ballylongford, County Kerry, Ireland.

“He was a gentleman,” said Kathleen Bunce.

The couple married in 1956 and settled in St. Bart’s parish on the Northwest Side.

Nora and Bill Bunce
Nora and Bill Bunce

Mrs. Bunce was proud of her 1970s kitchen remodel, featuring a new refrigerator, stove and dishwasher all in avocado-green. She turned out outstanding potato salad and fried chicken.

Her son, John, recalled how she urged guests, “Eat up! If you leave here hungry, it’s your own fault!”

Nora Bunce
Nora Bunce

When another daughter, Mary Fain, gave birth to twins, Mrs. Bunce moved into her house for days at a time, doing laundry, bathing the babies and feeding them during the night so Mary could sleep. When Mrs. Bunce left to go home, “The twins were both crying, and I was crying,” her daughter said.

Nora Bunce visiting Ireland.
Nora Bunce visiting Ireland.

Her speech was sprinkled with Gaelic. Her children and their friends were called “a stóirín” ( little treasure) and “a ghrá mo chroi” (love of my heart). Something off-balance was “crooked like a dog’s hind leg.”

Mrs. Bunce enjoyed the music of The Dubliners and the Clancy Brothers and Irish songs like “The Old Claddagh Ring.”

She embraced American culture and humor, too. “She liked ‘Wayne’s World.’ She thought Wayne and Garth were hilariously funny,” said Kathleen Bunce. “She loved ‘Saturday Night Live.’ She thought Dana Carvey as the Church Lady was hilariously funny.”

After her husband died of a heart attack at age 50, Mrs. Bunce worked at the Donut Pantry at Six Corners, at a Jewel and as a “tray lady” at Our Lady of the Resurrection Hospital. She also did babysitting.

In addition to her children, she is survived by her sisters Mary Malone Madden, Eileen Malone O’Connell and Bridget Malone Cahill and four grandchildren. Visitation is from 3 p.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday at Cooney’s in Park Ridge, with a funeral Mass at 10 a.m. Monday at St. Paul of the Cross Church in Park Ridge.

RECIPE: Nora Malone’s scones

3 cups of flour

3/4 cup of sugar (and maybe a wee bit more)

1 stick of butter (or margarine)

1 level tsp. baking powder

1/2 tsp. salt

1/2 tsp. baking soda

Raisins (as much as 1-1/2 or 2 cups, as you like)


Mix all dry ingredients together first, then break butter into mixture. Mix it well. Add raisins and buttermilk to wet the mixture (start with 1 cup). Mix until sticky, then flour up your hands and dough, turn out to knead until it sticks together in one ball. Flour rolling surface and roll out with a rolling pin until 15″ to 18″ wide and 1/4″ thick. Use a glass to cut biscuits. Bake at 350 degrees on a greased baking sheet for 30 minutes (should be brown on top). If making soda bread, bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour. Hope you enjoy them like we do!

Nora Bunce and her family.
Nora Bunce and her family.