They say that one of the first steps to learning about your family history is to talk to your oldest living relatives. They actually knew the people behind the names in your family tree print-out. These relatives have stories to tell, memories to share.
Nearly ten years ago my mom and I set out to learn more about our family and arranged to meet two of my grandpa’s cousins – Donald and Gerald Regan. The brothers taught us much more than we thought possible about my grandpa, the entire Regan family, and growing up in Clontarf, Minnesota .
Donald passed away last month, one day shy of his 96th birthday. He was a loving husband, father, and grandfather, a proud Navy veteran of World War II, a successful businessman, and a former mayor of DeGraff, Minnesota. Donald was friendly, outgoing, and charming. He loved to be in the mix and hear the latest news. Donald’s brother Gerald said he inherited these traits from the “Regan side” of the family. I will miss Donald’s delightful gift for storytelling and am grateful I had the chance to listen.
Donald and his sister, Kathryn.
The first time I met Donald in early 2004*, he brought my mom and me on a driving tour of Tara Township. As we drove out from Clontarf, with what seemed to me to be an endless expanse of land on either side of the road, Donald began telling us who lived and farmed each section, beginning with the original nineteenth century settlers through the present-day owners. From the front seat, his brother Gerald filled in the gaps. I was in awe – I didn’t even know the names of the forty other residents of my condominium!
As we slowly rounded a corner, Donald pointed out a grove of trees set off from the road, and he stopped the car.
“Can you see a house in there? That’s where John was born. Let’s see if we can’t get closer.”
John was my grandpa and Donald’s first cousin. Donald and Gerald grew up across the railroad tracks from my grandpa in Clontarf. Donald took a sharp turn into the “driveway” – a muddy springtime mess of rocks and decaying twigs. I was certain we would get stuck, but Donald knew what he was doing. We got out of the car and walked up to the house. Donald made sure we didn’t get too close, it wasn’t safe. There was my grandpa’s birthplace, glass gone from the windows and walls gently caving in, but still standing thanks to that grove of trees.
Several years later, when Donald had moved into the Manor in Benson, he navigated his scooter down to the Whistle Stop Cafe to meet us for lunch, with the same purpose and confidence with which he drove up to Grandpa’s house that Spring day. I liked how Donald maintained his independence – with a touch of determination. Mom and I came to town a couple of times a year, meeting Donald and Gerald for lunch and a chat about “old times”. Without fail, Donald and Gerald dazzled us with entertaining tales of life in Clontarf.
At each meeting with the brothers, I waited patiently for Donald to break out his “Annie voice”. In a high-pitched tone he would say, “Oh, Sonny!” mimicking my great-grandmother Annie Hill Regan’s chastising her son for some transgression or another. I simply loved how Donald scrunched up his nose and exclaimed this phrase with a twinkle in his eye. This meant the world to me, and I think Donald got a kick out of it as well.
Donald helped fill in the gaps in our family history left by my grandpa’s early passing. My mom and I were a captive audience as Donald and Gerald reminisced about old times. As Donald helped me get to know my grandpa through his memories, he gave me a special glimpse into his own life. The Donald who was a protective older brother to Kathryn, a boy earning a little extra money sweeping out the furnace at McDermott’s in Clontarf with his brother Gerald, and Julia’s youngest son. We were lucky that Donald was so generous with his memories, his time, and his friendship. Rest in peace, Donald.
*I am sure I met Donald in the 1980s at a Regan Family picnic, but I didn’t get to know him until Spring of 2004 when my mom and I first visited Clontarf together.
Donald W. Regan
September 14, 1917 – September 13, 2013
Donald W. Regan, 95 of Benson died Friday, September 13, 2013 at Meadow Lane Nursing Home in Benson. Mass of Christian burial will be 10:30 a.m. Saturday, October 5, 2013 at St. Bridget’s Catholic Church in DeGraff. Burial will be in the church cemetery. Visitation will be held from 4:00 to 7:00 p.m. Friday at the church with a rosary at 4:30 p.m. Visitation will continue on Saturday for one hour prior to the service. Funeral arrangements are with the Harvey Anderson Funeral Home in Willmar.
Donald William Regan was born on September 14, 1917 in Clontarf, the son of Patrick and Julia (Duggan) Regan. He attended Clontarf Elementary and Benson High School, graduating in 1936. After his schooling he entered the U.S. Navy where he served his country during WWII. On December 27, 1945, Don was united in marriage to Margaret Helen Coy at the Catholic Church of Visitation in Danvers. They made their home in DeGraff where Don managed the DeGraff Lumber Company. They were able to share in 57 years of marriage before Margaret’s death on July 27,2002. Don enjoyed traveling, dancing, watching sports, especially Notre Dame football, Vikings and Twins. He was the Commander of the Hughes-McCormack Post of the American Legion until his death, was a member of Knights of Columbus and had served on the school board, city council and was mayor of DeGraff.
Donald W. Regan died Friday, September 13, 2013 at Meadow Lane Nursing Home in Benson at the age of 95. He is survived by his children, William Regan of Benson, Julia (Everett) Richardson of Surprise, AZ, Dr.Timothy (Michelle) Regan of Santa Rosa, CA, Patrick Regan of Mpls, Duggan (Cindy) Regan of DeGraff and Daniel Regan of Blaine; 7 grandchildren; 3 step-grandchildren and 6 step-great-grandchildren. Don was preceded in death by his wife, Margaret; son, Bruce; siblings, Clarence, Howard, Catherine, Agnes and Marjorie.
– from Harvey, Anderson & Johnson Funeral Home