Despite their years of service, long Irish heritage and presence in Leavenworth, Don and Marilyn Murray said they were ready to clap for someone else during a recent Sunday Mass at Leavenworth's Immaculate Conception Church. Even after their names were announced, Marilyn said she was a little taken aback.
“Surprise, probably,” Don said, asked for his initial reaction.
But with proud Irish heritage and deep Leavenworth roots, the pair are a good fit to be the grand marshals for the 30th annual Leavenworth St. Patrick's Day Parade at 1 p.m. March 17 in downtown Leavenworth.
“We were very proud having been selected, but we also very deeply feel that is kind of a tribute to the whole family,” Marilyn said.
She said her mother always said she was Irish and her father's father claimed Scotch-Irish heritage. They also were among the first official citizens of the state.
“My family goes back to the beginning of Kansas, in 1855,” she said.
Don's father, Robert, arrived here in 1909 from County Tipperary, Ireland, after his mother died and an aunt living in America asked to raise him. He would not actually be able to leave the country until he was 11 because of a World War I-related trans-Atlantic travel ban.
Shortly after arriving here, without family at Ellis Island on a boat, Robert was enrolled at Cathedral grade school, now known as Xavier Catholic School, beginning a tradition of Catholic schooling for the family that continues today — one granddaughter, Meghan, graduated in 2010 and grandson Sean is set to graduate this year.
“I figured it up, and it has been going on more than 100 years that we've had kids in the Catholic school system,” Marilyn said. “We hope it continues.”
It's not the only thing that has persevered. Marilyn said over the years, they've kept the Irish aspect of the family history alive, corresponding by mail with the members of Don's side of the family still living in Ireland. And the traditions of both sides made for some very green gatherings.
“Anytime there was a family celebration, it was always Irish,” Marilyn said.
But the Murrays were recognized as the grand marshals for more than their family history. Through the years, they've both been involved in a number of activities, including the annual Irish dinner at Immaculate Conception Church, of which they were on the original committee, and the annual Greenway Auction, a benefit for the area's Catholic schools.
Don has also served as a member of the Knights of Columbus for 47 years and Marilyn has served as a member of Immaculate Conception's altar society. And, especially when their children were younger, the Murrays could typically be found at events for the Catholic schools, though Marilyn said that work grew out of necessity.
Page 2 of 2 - “When you have children in a Catholic school, you volunteer a lot,” she said.
Though it does take up a good portion of their time, both agreed they wouldn't know what to do if they didn't volunteer.
Don and Marilyn said the pride in where they went to high school persists today and extends beyond them – Marilyn said Don's brothers and sister frequently come back from their respective homes in Atlanta and Chicago for events at Imac.
“They're very supportive,” she said.
It's a spirit of community that Marilyn said is common among graduates of Immaculata. She added she felt the Irish heritage of the school, with its green and white palette, has something to do with that.
The couple say they have missed few, if any, of the annual St. Patrick's Day Parades here, though a few have been watched from the comfort of their car. And both said they are excited to this year be the figurative leaders of that parade, along with Irish international officer Gareth Prendergast, who will serve as the honorary grand marshal.