Bonjour! Comment Allez-Vous – How are you all??
What a great reunion! How great it is to come together to re-unite and to
re-connect with our roots.
How great it is that so many of us could make it here today. If you look
at our Family Tree, there were two people who got this party
started….Evelyn and Frank Tschirhart…my Mom & Dad, also known as
Grandparents to 25 of you, Great Grandparents to 54 of you, and Great-
Great Grandparents to 15 of you. Wow! They made sure they left us all
with a big tribe by having six children, and I’m the youngest of them.
As the oldest survivor in this incredible family, I get to make the speech.
I’d like to begin by giving all of us a moment of silence to remember,
and if you care to, say a prayer for, our family’s loved ones who have
gone before us and rest in eternal peace.
[Moment of silence]
Next, a hearty thank you to those who worked so hard to put our reunion
together, – Colleen, Barbara, Tim, Michelle, Kenny, Lynn, and Jeff.
What a gift! Thank you.
You know, so far, I’ve made it to 78 years old, so I probably know just a
little more about our family than any of you. One of the things I’ve come
to know is that as we get older, we realize more and more that people
won’t be around forever. There is always more that we wish we knew
about the important people who had a hand in shaping our lives. We
often regret not having asked important questions when we had the
So, I plan to tell you about my Mom and Dad and sisters and brothers
who aren’t here to speak up or butt in and tell me “That’s not the way it
happened!” I hope to tell you some things you didn’t know, maybe even
a few things you didn’t want to know!
I hope and encourage all of you to make a gift of sharing your stories
with each other as much as you can, today and always.
Did you know that ………
The Tschirhart name is a German derivation of the French name Gerard?
The Tschirharts came to Canada from the region around Mertzwiller,
Alsace near Strasbourg, France in the mid 19 th century. They were
farmers in the old country and continued to farm in the area around
Formosa, Ontario, Canada, about 180 miles northeast of Detroit. A large
branch of the Tschirharts split off and went to Texas, especially near
Castroville outside of San Antonio. Another closer branch, led by my
Uncle Hudson, went to the East side of Detroit. There are now
Tschirharts scattered around the continent: Long Island, Kansas City,
and of course, Canada
Did you know that my Mom came from the south! Well, not the
southern U.S. but from Amherstburg, Ontario, which just happens to be
south of Detroit. My Mom’s maiden name was Pineau. Her ancestors,
also from Alsace in France, came to Quebec, Canada in the mid 18 th
century, later moving to the Provence of Ontario. Her full name was
Evelyn Maryann Pineau. She grew up the second of 13 children! All of
my brothers worked summers on their great-aunt Josie’s farm, but the
farm was gone by the time I came along.
My Dad’s name was Francis John Tschirhart, known as Frank. He was
born in Windsor, Ontario and had one brother and five sisters. His
father, John Tschirhart, owned a music store in Windsor, the root source
of all the music in our family. It was there that my Dad learned to play
the piano. But he never had a music lesson. My Dad had only a 10 th
grade education but went on to become a bank vice-president by day and
a professional musician by night who had his own 17-piece orchestra for
decades and played “gigs” all over Michigan and Ontario at weddings,
bar mitzvahs, and clubs. He shared his immense talent with the Catholic
Church as well, serving for 20 years as music director and organist at St.
Theresa’s, our family’s parish as I was growing up.
Dad initially worked in Windsor where he was raised as one of seven
children. There, he and Mom had Barbara and Frank Jr in 1923 & 1925.
They moved for a job to Detroit, where my brother Don was born in
1927. It was an economic boom time, but then, in 1929, the stock market
crashed, and Dad’s bank closed. The Great Depression followed, and
they struggled like everyone else. He got a job in Windsor and the
family moved back to Canada. My sister Rosemary was born in Canada
in 1932. Finally, in 1933, Ford Motor Company started a new bank,
Manufacturers’ National Bank, and Dad hired on as a teller. So, it was
back to Detroit, and my next youngest brother, Pat, was born in 1934. I
was the afterthought, born six years later in inner city Detroit when my
mother was almost 42 years old.
My brother Frank was known as Junior in his younger years for obvious
reasons. For some unknown reason, however, Don and Pat were almost
always known throughout their lives by their middle names: Donald and
Patrick, not Robert and James. My wife thought this was kind of odd and
said, so how come they called you Paul? Well sometimes they did call
Through his music, Dad had become a good friend of Guy Lombardo, a
very famous guy many of you older Tschirhart clan members would
know. His Toronto Orchestra, The Royal Canadians, ushered in the New
Year annually as the ball dropped on TV, well before Dick Clark filled
that space. Guy, who played the piano for his orchestra, asked Dad to
move to Toronto and become his piano player so Guy could get out
front, direct, and be the face of the group. Dad (and Mom) said no
thanks. They wanted the stability of his bank position and music
reputation in Detroit, having raised five kids through the depression of
Mom was the loving General of our family. She was kind and a loyal
friend to many. But she was also a strict disciplinarian and believed in
spanking to make her point. She kept the books and paid the bills,
always with a little left for her favorite charities. She mentored us kids
and ran the household with tough love. She always expected the best of
us and made her disappointments very clear. I still hear her voice in my
head as I am about to make a decision. I know she’s watching!
So, what was so special about our family?
– Our Catholic faith – a major part of our lives
– Music, music, music
– Military service
– Talk, talk, talk; you know, real discussions, not texts or other
– Meals together – every night
– Old fashioned values: the men generally worked, and the women ran
the home and raised the kids. But there were exceptions.
Everyone played the piano, except me. It took a very long time and
many failures to understand that my fingers won’t do what my brain tells
them to do.
On many nights, right after dinner, Dad, or Barbara, or Rosemary would
sit down at the piano and play while the rest of us looked over his
shoulder singing the words from the sheet music.
Rosemary and Pat would often harmonize, sometimes a Capella while
doing the dishes, and I wondered, how did they do that? Their chords
seemed magical to me as a child.
Let me tell you about my sister Barbara. She was 17 when I came along.
She and Rosemary were really second (and third) mothers to me so I was
naturally spoiled. Barb was just the best person ever and such a role
model to me. Throughout my life, right up to her untimely death, she
taught me things, took me places, and insisted that I learn how a
gentleman behaves in the company of ladies, young or old. To this day,
holding a car door open, walking on the outside nearest the street, taking
my hat off in an elevator if a lady is present are part of her legacy. She
was so smart and industrious. But she also really loved to have a good
time. A couple of drinks were not necessary, but they sure helped. I have
very fond memories of Dad playing the piano at parties and Barb leading
the song selection and singing.
Jack was the love of her life: it just took many years and a couple of
false starts before they married – as it was always meant to be. And then
came their beautiful daughter, Colleen.
Many of you probably don’t know that Barbara was almost killed in a
horrific car accident while in her twenties. She was not expected to live;
then she was not expected to ever walk again. The doctors had no idea
how tenacious she was. She far exceeded their prognosis. Thank
One of my fondest memories of Barb happened on the weekend of my
college graduation. On the night before the commencement ceremony,
there was a great party in a large room on campus with well over a
hundred graduating students, girlfriends, and parents. Dad sat at the
piano and played for hours. Of course, about 17 Irish tenors sang every
Irish song ever written, and we all (well not my Mom) drank too much.
The next morning, I was in very bad shape until a guardian angel
appeared at my bedside with about a gallon of orange juice and a cup of
coffee. Barb always knew what to do….And she always looked out for
me. Gosh, I still miss her.
Frank was 15 when I was born. He was a terrific student and a good
athlete. So, when he wanted to enlist at the outset of World War II, Mom
and Dad were furious and forbad him to do so. Once he turned 17 in
April of 1942, however, he didn’t need their approval and went off to
war. He fought on three islands in the Pacific, including the toughest one
of all, Iwo Jima. It took him years to be able to talk about it, and he lived
with what we now know as PTSD the rest of his life. He attended
Dartmouth College for one year on the GI Bill but left and came home
and married his high school sweetheart, Shirley. Oh yeah, he also had
learned how to play Boogie Woogie on the piano. Sometimes when I
watch old war movies and there will be a scene where the troops on
liberty are gathered around while someone pounds away at Boogie
Woogie on the piano, I see Frank in that picture.
You know, Frank went to war when I was only two years old. To this
day, I clearly remember being four years old, the door bell ringing, and
there he stood – big, tall Frank in his uniform, duffle bag over his
shoulder, coming back from the war. What a grand day that was for our
For Frank and Shirl’s wedding in 1948, Mom had bought me a new blue
suit. I looked pretty good for a snot-nosed brat of seven. Of course, at
some point I was running – contrary to Mom’s orders – and, you
guessed it, I fell and tore a hole in my pants. Boy was she mad!
Frank and Shirley were later blessed with four children and eight
grandchildren. Frank was never so happy as when he was cradling an
infant in his arms. Having seen the horrors of war, he embraced the
peace. The more I came to understand what he had done for our country,
the more he became my hero. I tried to call him and thank him every
Because Frank was most largely gone from the house by the time I was
four, I never knew him much growing up. I feel so lucky to have gotten
to know him and Shirley and spend time with them in the last 10 years
or so of their lives.
Don was known as Mr. Contrarian in the family, especially during
family meals. Dad was a Republican, and we generally were strict
conservative Catholics. Not Don, though. He was the family liberal. He
even favored the Jesuits! He argued long and passionately that President
Truman was a good leader against the prevailing opinion of my Dad and
others. But even on different issues, if the opinion of others was one
way, we could always expect Don to go the other.
It follows that he became an excellent investigative journalist. Writing
was a huge part of his life. With his shapely beard, he actually resembled
Two anecdotes: I was told that he fell out of a boat when he was a kid
and would have drowned had Mom not grabbed him by the hair and
pulled him back in. That lead to a lifetime fear of the water for both
Mom and Barbara. Another time, at age sixteen and strongly forbidden
to smoke, Mom saw him on the street smoking with friends. She literally
pulled him home by his ear!
So, after serving in the Army in the Philippines after the war, he came
home and married his high school sweetheart, Marge. She was from a
family of five girls, so naturally she and Don had six boys. He went to
night school and got his degree many years later with, I believe, three
sons at home at the time. That’s perseverance!
By the way, Mom’s and Dad’s first eight grandchildren were all boys. It
was Frank’s daughter Barbara who finally broke the mold! Of the 25 in
that generation, there are 15 boys and 10 girls. Guess who is the oldest
of the Grandchildren???
Unfortunately, in 1997 they lost their son Kevin in a tragic hospital
accident. I can’t imagine the grief of burying a child or losing a husband
and father, Debbie. He will never be forgotten as Kevin or as his stage
name, Guido, the percussionist.
Don and Marge were very active in their church. I always thought it was
appropriate that they taught a pre-Cana marriage preparation course:
they could have written the book on how to have a successful marriage.
Later, Don cheated the grim reaper following major heart surgery, and
then lung cancer whereby he actually had a lung removed. For 10 or so
years afterward, he lived, loved, and drank martinis well past his
doctors’ estimates. One day, Debbie and I came home from work in
New Jersey, knowing that Don and Marge would be arriving before us
for a visit. We had given them the garage door combination to make
themselves at home before we got there. We arrived to find them both
out by the pool with martinis in hand, having, of course, discovered the
bar. They were incredibly fun to be around.
Marge was clearly the rock that stabilized their family. She was so
artistically talented with a style all her own. Their home was always a
What can I say about Rosemary? Larger than life, the matriarch of the
Farkas clan. Nurse, mother of five sons and one princess, and Blackjack
dealer extraordinaire! When she was young, Rosemary always had a bit
of an “edge” about her. Always willing to debate any issue. She and her
friend Jane, who lived across the street, used to talk pig Latin to each
other to keep me from understanding their conversations – mostly about
boys, I think.
As a nurse and mother, her life was always about serving others. She
endured the pain of burying a son, Larry, nursed Mom and Dad in their
final days, and then lost her best friend forever, her husband Dick. One
never had a problem hearing them. We lovingly referred to them as the
LOUD family from Saturday Night Live fame.
Dick was a real competitor right up to the end of his life, playing center
field and telling stories about how well he could still play.
Anecdote: when Rosemary and Dick came home from Alaska, they
stayed with us for a while before moving into their home in Dearborn
Heights. We had a ping-pong table in the basement, which was the scene
of many epic battles between some pretty good players. Dick used to rile
me with sarcastic comments, especially if I was not playing well. One
day he really got under my skin, and I literally threw my paddle at his
head. Fortunately, my poor play continued, and I missed. I couldn’t
believe what I had done and eventually apologized profusely for losing
my cool! I had so much respect for Dick and really missed him when he
lost the fight to an aggressive cancer.
Rosemary loved and cherished her kids, her grandkids, and then their
kids. She spoke lovingly of each until the day she died. She was very
special to all who knew her, and our lives were really diminished by her
Pat, or Jim as he was known to some, was my real best friend growing
up. At six years older, he was not a typical big brother. O sure, we
fought sometimes, but he always had my back. He thought that I was
going to be a great athlete one day, notwithstanding my limitations in
both talent and natural ability. He would throw passes to me until I
learned to catch the football with my hands and not my body. He would
hit or throw ground balls to me until I learned to field them well. And he
pitched to me until I could hit a little, even his pretty lame curve ball.
He also cautioned me about things. You know, he warned when I was
starting high school, “Dad has a really good reputation in this town.
Don’t ever do anything that would screw it up or you and I will have a
problem.” And if you smoke, I’ll kick your ass.
Pat actually would be my driver for dates in the early years of high
school, picking up my date, dropping us off at the dance or movie or
whatever, and picking us up afterward to drop off my date, waiting
patiently in the car while I walked her to the door and maybe tried to
steal a kiss.
As a senior in high school, I was his best man when he married Evelyn
in 1958. He had actually met Evelyn at Frank and Shirl’s wedding in
1948. Evelyn was Shirley’s first cousin. They really did not connect
after that meeting until running into each other at a party many years
later. And the rest, as they say, is history. They lived in Germany for a
couple years, where Jeannie was born, travelled throughout Europe, then
came home. Five kids, life in Traverse City, strong political views, and
Michigan football. What an irony that so many of his kids went to
It was hard to live far away from him for so many years thereafter. We
would not speak for months, but then one of us would pick up the phone
and we’d talk for an hour or more like we were just picking up where we
had left off. When Ev and Pat both got sick, it was hard to experience
their fairly rapid demise. But Evelyn never seemed to lose that Irish
sense of humor or that glow in her smile – right up to the last time we
gathered for a lunch organized by Michelle – knowing that we were
really saying goodbye.
Then Pat followed, still clinging to life with his faith and sense of humor
intact. We were so happy that he came to visit us in Sarasota not long
before he died. Catching up with him, talking about all the important
things in life; I was so lucky to have that visit with him.
And so, that brings our story to me. I have been so blessed. Many of you
know more about Uncle Paul than the other aunts and uncles because
I’m still hanging around. I grew up in a family divided – over college
football. Dad, Frank, and Pat thought the sun only came up over the
Michigan Football stadium, now known as the “Big House.” It’s really
just a monstrous hole in the ground … and Dad would take us out to
Ann Arbor to see it because we couldn’t believe one had to go down to
get into it.
On the other hand, Mom and Don loved Notre Dame. I followed the
Wolverines with great passion, sometimes in tears if they lost. The
whole family loved the Detroit teams, something we all could agree on. I
was an ardent Red Wings fan in the glory years of the 1950’s, a Lions
fan as they competed and won championships in the 50’s too. Mom and
Dad actually had seasons’ tickets for the Lions for many years. And the
Tigers – well I suffered with their near misses for the AL pennant until
1968, the year I moved away, and they finally won it all.
Once I thought the priesthood beckoned, but that was not to be my
calling. I wanted to follow the military inspiration of my brothers, so I
seriously considered the Naval Academy. But then, after a year off, I
applied for and was accepted to that school in South Bend, Indiana. I
also applied for an NROTC Scholarship. I got the NROTC appointment,
but only to Villanova, my second-choice school. I was accepted to Notre
Dame, but not with a scholarship. What to do? What to do? How could I
ask Mom and Dad to sacrifice for me to go to Notre Dame and forego a
scholarship to Villanova?
Enter Don to the rescue. He persuaded Mom and Dad to send me to
Notre Dame, for which I will always be grateful. Most of you know that
Notre Dame has been a huge part of my life for 60 years!
I decided to major in chemistry, a subject I had enjoyed in high school
and for which I had showed some aptitude. Well, I hit the wall. I guess
God had other plans for me. In my junior year my organic qualitative
analysis professor – try saying that fast – told me: “Tschirhart, you work
hard, and you can be a chemist. You’re just not ever going to a very
good chemist.” With that, I switched majors and graduated in pre-med.
But first, as a non-scholarship NROTC graduate, I owed the Navy two
years of active duty, most of which I spent bouncing around the Pacific
Ocean on an old destroyer that had been built for World War II. In port
in San Diego, I took and did well on the LSAT. I wanted to go to
Michigan Law School but didn’t get in largely due to my lousy
Chemistry grades. [Another reason to have abandoned my love for the
Wolverines?] So, I went to Wayne State Law School and have since
been blessed with a wonderful career in the law as well as the Navy
We have one honorary member of our family here. Paul Bertin has been
a dear friend to me and to our family since 1953. That’s 66 years –
through our families’ lives’ ups and downs. Many of you already know
him. Ironically, at some point, we discovered that he was a second
cousin to Marge Tschirhart. Regardless, he will always belong. Just
don’t challenge him on the golf course. Thank you for welcoming him
and his wife Mary to our gathering.
Now, about my wife Debbie. Did you know I’m a cradle robber? Did
you know that some of you nephews are older than she is? Raise your
hands those of you who are over 66! Did you know that she and my
Mom had this wonderful, interesting relationship late in Mom’s life?
Debbie only knew the older, much more mellow, open minded Mom.
Mom would come to Debbie to seek out inside family scoop. She would
visit us in Chicago and would sometimes travel and vacation with us.
She came to be friends with Debbie’s grandmother Madeline in New
York who was actually three years younger than my Mom. Madeline
and Mom roomed together in Hawaii, a lifelong dream trip for them
Debbie came into my life in 1978, which at the time, was very unsettled.
She has been a remarkable partner and mother ever since. She had a
brilliant career in the airline industry, and, as everyone knows, she is
actually the CEO of our family wing.
Each of our three kids, Lynn, Jeff and Leanne, is individually unique,
and I am so proud of each of them.
Let me tell you about my grandsons … Well….Maybe at the next
Now go mingle….Play…Break bread together…Share your stories, and
just be together all you Tschirharts! Enjoy this very special day!