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Mary Hagerty, welcoming matriarch of her family, dead at 96

Kids know there are some houses where it’s best not to cross the threshold. The moms in those homes don’t want to deal with any muddy footprints. Their lawns are golf-course perfect. And no one is allowed to sit on the living-room furniture.

And then there are moms like Mary Hagerty, whose back yard always seemed to be worn thin from all of the kids who ran, wrestled and somersaulted on it.

She also produced an endless supply of peanut butter-and-jelly sandwiches for the hordes of kids descending on her home in the 5300 block of West Monroe in Austin.

“All of the boys in the neighborhood came to our house to play cards on a rainy day, to play in the back yard,” said her son, Mike Hagerty. “My mom would feed whoever was there.”

Mrs. Hagerty, 96, died Dec. 15 at the Lutheran Home in Arlington Heights.

She raised five children born between 1947 and 1957.

After her parents died, she also took in her younger brother, Bill, then about 50, whose bout with encephalitis at 16 left him with short-term memory loss for the rest of his life. If a visitor dropped in to see him, walked out the door and turned around and came back, he wasn’t able to remember they’d been by seconds earlier. She took care of him for 25 years.

“That was a promise she had made to her mother,” said her daughter, Mary Wayne. “Both my parents were so good to him.”

She made her children feel they could do anything. When her son John was about 6, he brought home a test with a gold star on it.

“She just lit up and said, ‘This is my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased,’ ” he recalled.

When her youngest went off to school, she volunteered at Loretto Hospital. So began a 25-year career. She was hired as a gift shop worker and rose to be director of volunteers.

Mrs. Hagerty was born in Canton, Illinois, near her parents’ hometown of Peoria. Her father, Pete Buckley, sold plumbing parts, but he was better known as a barbershop singer. As a young man, the “boy bass’’ sang on barges on the Mississippi River. In 1945, his quartet, the Misfits, won an international championship sponsored by The Society For The Preservation and Encouragement of Barbershop Quartet Singing in America. (He always felt the Misfits were before their time. Five years later, the Buffalo Bills won the same award — a group that went on to fame in the stage play and movie, “The Music Man.”)

Because of the Great Depression, the family moved often so Peter Buckley could find sales work. One of their stops was in South Bend, Indiana.

“She was in sixth grade in the Catholic school in South Bend, and the principal came in to tell her friend, Mary Jean Rockne, that her dad had been killed in a plane crash in 1931,” Mike Hagerty said. “It was Knute Rockne.”

The Buckleys put down roots on Clarence Avenue in Berwyn and joined St. Odilo’s parish. She attended St. Mary High School, then on the West Side of Chicago.

A young Mary Buckley Hagerty.
A young Mary Buckley Hagerty.

On a double-date, she met John Hagerty.

“My dad was dating somebody else, and she was dating somebody else,” Mike Hagerty said. “They decided they liked each other better.”

Born on Dec. 7, she was celebrating her 22nd birthday when the world shifted.

“All their friends are there,” her son said, “and they hear about Pearl Harbor.”

John Hagerty served in the Army in New Guinea and the Philippines. When he came home on leave in 1943 to marry Mary Buckley at St. Odilo’s, tropical diseases had whittled his 6-foot frame to 138 pounds.

Mary and John Hagerty in 1943.
Mary and John Hagerty in 1943.

After returning home in 1945, John Hagerty worked in phone installation, and Mrs. Hagerty kept busy with their children and hosting gatherings of the groups that made up the Venn diagrams of her life. She had friends from grade school, the telephone company and a “cousins’ club.”

“She knew everything about everybody, and their kids, and where the kids went to college,” her son said. “She kept up with them all.”

Four of her five children grew up to be teachers — one of them a teacher-lawyer. The other became a nurse.

“There were always books around our house,” Mike Hagerty said. “All our lives, we went to the library every two weeks.”

After 17 years in Austin, the Hagertys moved to Elmhurst and joined the parish of Mary Queen of Heaven.

Mrs. Hagerty loved to travel, especially enjoying a memorable trip to California, where she spotted one of her favorite actors, James Garner, at a golf tournament. Her husband encouraged her to ask him to pose with her for a picture.

“She’s looking up at him adoringly, and he’s pointing at the camera, [as if to tell her] look at the camera,” said her daughter, Mary Wayne.

But Mrs. Hagerty refused to shift her gaze.

“I’d rather look at you,” she told a charmed Garner.

Mary Hagerty refused to follow actor James Garner’s directions to look at the camera for this family photo when she spotted him playing golf while on vacation in California.
Mary Hagerty refused to follow actor James Garner’s directions to look at the camera for this family photo when she spotted him playing golf while on vacation in California.

She had great faith in St. Anthony, the patron saint of misplaced things.

“She lost an item while she was on one of her European trips, and she prayed to St. Anthony,” said her daughter.

After her return home, Mrs. Hagerty found it, but she insisted she hadn’t forgotten to pack it and that St. Anthony deserved the credit.

“It miraculously appeared back at her home in Elmhurst,” her daughter said.

John and Mary Hagerty.
John and Mary Hagerty.

She loved music, starting when she kept a teen scrapbook on handsome baritone Nelson Eddy. Mary Hagerty sang and hummed constantly. After a trip to see the redwoods of California’s Muir Woods, she sang “This Land is Your Land” for the rest of the vacation thanks to the line, “From the redwood forest . . . ”

She especially loved the Gershwin tune “Someone to Watch Over Me,” the traditional Irish folk song “The Water is Wide” and “Till There Was You” from “The Music Man.” Two of her favorite movies starred Deborah Kerr: “King Solomon’s Mines” and “An Affair to Remember.”

Mary Hagerty in one of her many hats.
Mary Hagerty in one of her many hats.

Late in life, when her hair thinned, she began wearing hats. At her funeral, her family displayed them with the sign “Hats Off to Mary.”

Mrs. Hagerty is also survived by another son, Robert; a brother, Robert Buckley; 11 grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren. A daughter, Kathleen Bryers, died of breast cancer. Services have been held.