On busy nights at Cooney’s Funeral Home when the parlors were all booked, the Cooney family would haul caskets up to the second floor and host wakes in their living room.
That wasn’t easy when nine Cooney kids and a beagle named Pudgie were galumphing around upstairs.
Margaret “Peggy” Cooney, the family matriarch who helped operate the funeral home at 3552 N. Southport Ave., died in her sleep Aug. 1 at her home in Park Ridge.
She was 100 and “walking till the day she died,” said her son Eugene “Geno” Cooney. “My mom loved DePaul basketball and March madness. Up to 100, she would fill out the brackets and follow every game.”
For 33 years, she was Cooney’s hair and makeup artist.
“She was the beautician,” her son said. “She would always inspect the way bodies were laid out and casketed, and she would inspect the way they were dressed.”
Mrs. Cooney also did most of the family cooking, volunteered at St. Andrew’s Catholic Church and sent out thousands of Christmas cards every year.
By 99, she’d scaled back, but last year she still sent out 150 cards.
Growing up in a family with seven brothers and sisters, she learned to be organized. Lenten Fridays meant fish sticks for dinner. Thursday was spaghetti night. That made it easy for her and her husband Thomas to get out and bowl with the St. Andrew’s church league. She’d go to Waveland Bowl from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. He’d feed the kids and bowl from 9 to 11.
They had two big kitchen tables to accommodate everybody, their son said.
“We all ate together all the time,” he said. “She cooked in bulk. My dad did a lot of cooking, too. They were a great team. Lots of times, my dad would get up in the morning and let my mom sleep. He would feed everybody and make their lunches.
“We all got along,” he said, “because we had two great examples in our mom and dad.”
With a big family, though, it could be controlled chaos at home.
“As soon as they got married, they started having children,” Geno Cooney said. “We lived above the funeral home. Telephones ringing, doorbells ringing. My dad running up and down the stairs,” sometimes to warn the kids to pipe down — or else.
“It would sound like a bowling alley upstairs,” the son said. “We were playing football.”
Mrs. Cooney was a churchgoing woman.
“During Lent,” her son said, “she would drag us all to 6:30 mass in the morning for 40 days.”
The Cooneys had a Pontiac station wagon that Mrs. Cooney would use to drive her children to the Waveland ice skating rink in Lincoln Park, the McFetridge Sports Center or the pool at the old Elks Club at 1925 W. Thome St.
When it wasn’t filled with kids, “We would put the bodies in the station wagon” and use it as a removal vehicle, Geno Cooney said.
In 1966, the Cooneys expanded the Southport Avenue location, doubling its size. They sold it about 20 years ago and opened funeral homes in Park Ridge and at 3918 W. Irving Park Rd.
One of the Cooneys’ biggest funerals, held in 2006 at St. Vincent de Paul Church, was for DePaul Blue Demons basketball coach Ray Meyer.
Young Peggy grew up at Addison and Paulina. Her mother Mary and father Patrick, a CTA streetcar conductor, were Irish immigrants from Ballinameen in County Roscommon. She went to Lake View High School and worked as an operator for Illinois Bell.
She and her future husband began keeping company after her sister Eleanor threw a party, needed more chairs and asked for help from Cooney’s Funeral Home.
“My uncle and my dad brought chairs over,” Geno Cooney said.
Soon after, the couple had their first date, at a White Castle, and they were married in 1949.
The family’s funeral business has been operating for 99 years, first at Addison and Marshfield before opening on Southport. At the time, in the mid-1920s, “There were about eight funeral homes on Southport Avenue, and Southport only stretched about three miles,” Geno Cooney said.
Mrs. Cooney loved Chanel No. 5, pink roses, shopping at Marshall Field’s and the movie “It’s a Wonderful Life.” And, her son said, “She always dressed to the nines.”
In addition to her son Geno, Mrs. Cooney is survived by her daughters Mary Lewin, Brigid Magnuson, Patrice Costello and Nancy Forrest, sons Thomas, Martin, John and Denis, 27 grandchildren and 32 great-grandchildren. Services have been held.
“The only advice she gave us was: ‘Be good,’ ” Geno Cooney said. “I took those words to heart. It’s not that hard.”