A uniquely American family
What makes a family in this country uniquely American is different from what makes families in other parts of the world uniquely representative of their own countries. If you think of a Hungarian family, for example, you might picture one whose bloodlines and cultural heritage go back through ancestors who lived in the same general area for more than a thousand years. Their national identity is bound up tightly with their ethnic roots and their ancestral home. When Hungarians, or Germans, or Frenchmen in their own countries marry someone from another country, they are often seen by their own countrymen as creating a family that is somehow a little less Hungarian, or German, or French.
An American family, on the other hand, might not look back much farther than a generation or two to the time when their parents or grandparents immigrated to this country from Europe, or Africa, or Asia. Many brought nothing with them but the determination to forge a better future through education and extremely hard work. That future often included joining with those who had come from other parts of the world. That’s why the United States is often called the great “melting pot,” where the intermingling of bloodlines and ethnic heritages seems to make a family more American, not less. An American family might well stem from ancestors who are a mixture of Italian, Canadian, Pilipino, Sioux Indian, Dutch, Welsh, Irish, and English.
That’s exactly the case of the O’Hare family of Sharon.
(Rose) Elizabeth O’Hare’s father, Luigi Elia, came from Italy when he was 15 years old.
Luigi, or Louis as he was known here, married Margaret Esposito, a girl of Italian ancestry who was born in Hillsville, PA. Margaret had suffered rheumatic fever when she was twelve years old, which left her with a weak heart. But that didn’t stop her from raising a large family.
Louis had a building put up in Farrell with a store on the first floor and an apartment above it. While working as a foreman at Sharon Steel, he rented out the store and lived above it with his family. He went to night classes and learned to speak, read, and write English. He was proud to be an American citizen. When any of his relatives moved here, he took them down to Pittsburgh to get their citizenship.
Elizabeth was born in 1918, the oldest of the seven children. She started school when she was just five years old. Because of her mother’s weak heart, Elizabeth had a lot of responsibilities at home.
“Dad worked from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. in the steel mill, and Mom couldn’t leave the younger children, so I guess you know who was the errand girl. Each month when the mortgage was due I came home from school at lunchtime, ate lunch, and hurried, half-running, to the S.J. Gully Bank, then back to school.”
When the kids came home from school on Fridays they all pitched in to clean the house.
“We’d start dusting and running the sweeper and cleaning the bathroom. We didn’t do the kitchen floor until Saturday morning.”
She also worked outside the home – in the store downstairs. Through the years, she worked for four different proprietors.
“In those days, during the Depression, if they didn’t make money, they bailed out,” she said. “It was hard to make money, because everybody bought on credit. You couldn’t do anything if they didn’t pay their bills.”
Elizabeth was the youngest member of her graduation class at Farrell High School. She went to business school for two years at the Commercial Institute on Vine Street in Sharon, then got a job as a secretary at Fessler Machine. There she met a machinist named Carl Raymond O’Hare, a single parent with two daughters – Carol (born in 1935) and Darlene (1937). He was working there because he was not eligible for military service due to a football injury.
“He was very upset about that,” Elizabeth said.
Carl gave expression to his patriotism by participating in the Buhl Independent Rifles, a group which had been formed back in 1898 as a company of men who wanted to train for military service. By the time Carl joined, the group was widely known as an excellent drill team that performed regularly in local parades.
Carl and Elizabeth were married on September 24, 1944. Not satisfied with being a machinist, Carl took night classes at Sharon High School to learn to drafting. He started working for Westinghouse, eventually becoming top draftsman. He worked there for 35 years until he retired in 1977.
“We were pretty poor,” Elizabeth said. “We bought this house when it only had five rooms, then we kept adding on to it.”
They had to add on, because in addition to Carl’s two daughters from his previous marriage, Carl and Elizabeth had four children of their own – James (born in 1945), Margaret (1947), Dennis, nicknamed Butch (1948), and Beth (1951).
“When Margie was born, they told me she would need special attention,” Elizabeth said. “She needed operations on her feet so she could walk properly. For about six years, from the time she was five, I took her to about five different specialists. And we went every week over to Youngstown for special education. Then I had to keep training her according to what we learned there.”
Elizabeth’s caring for Margie led her to become involved with MCAR. For about 13 years she had a girl scout troupe for handicapped girls, and she worked at MCAR when they needed help in the kitchen.
“At that time they didn’t have paid employees. I was making the dough for pizzas. We’d put them in the refrigerator overnight and the next day they would bake them the next day.”
When Margie was 17, she started working at MCAR, too, and continued to work there for 38 years. Several companies had contracts with MCAR to assemble products, but those eventually faded away. Now Margie stays at home to help take care of her mom and the house.
Having a large family without an abundance of money didn’t stop Carl and Elizabeth from providing their children with a lot of unique experiences to give them an appreciation of the great country in which they lived.
“My husband was a great one,” Elizabeth said. “He wasn’t a sit-at-home man. When he was off on Saturday and Sunday, he liked to go on weekend excursions to places of interest around here.”
On his annual vacations, he took the family on more extended trips, as far as Canada, Florida, Washington DC, the Grand Tetons, Yellowstone National Park, and Pike’s Peak.
“We got enough clothes ready for a week,” Elizabeth said. “We would stay at motels that had kitchenettes. I’d fix breakfast and pack a lunch. We couldn’t afford to eat out. At night we’d get back to headquarters and I’d cook supper. About once a week we’d stop somewhere that had a Laundromat.”
“My husband liked to dance, too. We took dance lessons and went to the Over-21 Club at Idora Park every Wednesday and sometimes on Saturday.”
Elizabeth is proud of the success of her children.
“They went to college on loans. Jim graduated from Pitt and Dennis from Penn State. Beth went to Ohio University in Athens, Ohio, for two years. She was there when there was all that student unrest in the early 1970s. They sent all the kids home, and she never went back.”
Elizabeth is also proud of the diversity represented by her family, truly a microcosm of the Great American Melting Pot. Jim’s wife Josie is from Canada; Dennis’s wife Cecilia is from the Philippines; and Beth’s husband Dale van Luven is part Welsh, Dutch, and Sioux. Her stepdaughters Carol Pepe and Darlene Bozzo both married Italians.
Elizabeth still lives with her daughter Margie in the home she and Carl bought shortly after they got married. Carl passed away from heart problems in 1980.
They have eight grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.
Excerpted from Lives of Quiet Inspiration, Volume 1, by Joe Zentis. Hermitage, PA: Green Street Press, 2007