April Fool’s Day Birthday? Now, That’s No Joke!


Gerald Joseph Desmond (1909-1979)

Today, April 1, 2019, I celebrate the 110th birthday of my father, Gerald Joseph Desmond Sr. (1909-1979). Dad was the fifth and youngest child of Owen E. Desmond (1861-1953) and Ellen Mary (“Nellie”) Keating (1868-1952).

Born and bred on Chicago’s south side, he lived through headlines proclaiming the beginning and end of two World Wars; the invention of the automobile and airplane; the beginning and end of Prohibition and the Great Depression; the criminal misdeeds of  infamous mobsters  Al Capone and  Johnnie Torrio who shared his city’s streets; the “Space Race” which put American men on the moon; and the hippies and flower children of the 1960s (one of whom was his own son.)

Gone now for nearly half a century, he never witnessed the invention of a “cell” phone (what’s that?), a personal computer (huh?) or an automatic garage door opener—all of which his Desmond descendants use on a daily basis today.

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Dad at his beloved Notre Dame for a football game in October 1976–forty-five years after he graduated.

Dad attended Loyola Academy of Chicago (class of ’27),  where one of his classmates, Robert Ryan, went on to become a Hollywood icon.   Like his brother before him (Owen E. Desmond II, class of ’24), Gerry graduated from the University of Notre Dame (class of ’31). His great-grandson (Colin Vaughan, class of 2020) will graduate from Notre Dame next year– precisely 89 years after Dad did.

Gerry married my mother, Dorothy Donar, a Chicago model and northsider, whose family moved to Chicago from New York City in 1916. Family lore holds that they met on a blind date, and the rest (for them, at least) was history. They wed on 1 December 1934 during the depths of the Great Depression.  (which may explain why no photos exist for that seminal event in their lives.)

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My father, Gerald Desmond (1909-1979) with Barbara Desmond, the eldest of his eight children, in early 1937.

Dad was 26 years old when his first child, Barbara Desmond (1936-2019) was born, and 44 years old when I, his youngest, arrived in 1953. Seventeen years and six more kids between Barbara’s birth and mine may also explain why he was often mistaken by my teachers (and many others) for being my grandfather.

Dad was renowned for his subtle humor, gentle demeanor and the King Edward cigars he picked up at the neighborhood liquor store which he and his sons worked part-time at throughout the 1960s.

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Dad’s father, Owen E. Desmond (1861-1953). Both father and son were fond of cigars.

His taste for a stogie likely came from his own father, Owen Desmond, who was rarely photographed without a cigar in hand.

But back to that April Fool’s Day birthday…

We kids loved playing tricks on Dad on his special day.

As a child, I remember giving him inexpensive toys and gifts —marbles, a bottle of bubbles, and a game of “Pick Up Stix”—all of which would inevitably be returned to me for my entertainment pleasure. (Very thoughtful of him.)

My siblings and I did get into some trouble one year on his birthday, though, when we were a bit older.

In the Desmond household, the birthday celebrant had the pleasure of choosing the dinner menu, so Dad always selected steak. He was none too happy during one birthday feast however, when he salted his steak only to realize that sugar had been placed in the salt shaker by some unknown youthful prankster.

To this day I’m still not sure which one of his kids was responsible for that April Fool’s Day trick—no one ever owned up to it. Result? We were ALL grounded for a day or two.

I can assure you that never happened again.

And that’s no foolin’!

Happy Birthday, Dad.

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Dad, cigar in hand, with  Patti Desmond, his youngest child in the late 1970s.


 Copyright © 2019 Patricia Desmond Biallas















Posted in Biographies, Chicago History, Family Legends, Family Stories, Holidays | 4 Comments

Another Bud on the Branch (Model 18 Nov 2018)

Introducing the latest bud on the Desmond branch: Rylee Josephine Cowen.

Rylee was born last night, 18 Nov 2018, at 10:15 pm CST in Kalamazoo, Michigan. She  weighed in at 7 pounds, 10 ounces.

Her parents are Will Cowen and Erin (Desmond) Cowen; and her maternal grandparents are Donna (McDaniel) Desmond and the late Gerald J. Desmond (1946-2017). Rylee is also welcomed by her big brother, Ethan, who was born 24 Nov 2015.

Rylee and Ethan descend from their 4th great-grandparents Humphry Desmond & Mary Huggins (both born circa 1767); Patrick Desmond (b. 1795) & Bridget Cronin (b. 1800); Jeremiah Desmond (b. 1825) & Mary Burns (b. 1829); Owen Desmond (b. 1861) & Ellen Mary Keating (b. 1868); and Gerald J. Desmond Sr. (b. 1909) & Dorothy Donar (b. 1911).

Welcome to the world, Rylee (and to the Desmond family).

Posted in Biographies, Family Legends | 1 Comment

Mishaps, Trivia, and Surprises Revealed while Renovating Decades Old Wedding Album

Eyes only for each other in the fall of 1982 shortly after we met. After 35 years we still (for the most part) tend to see things eye to eye.

Do you know what you were doing 35 years ago today?

I do! I do!

I was prepping for a wedding—my own.

A few years ago, when our wedding album was quite literally falling apart, I decided I’d better redo it if I wanted to preserve all those precious professional photos that were slipping off of its aging pages.

The classic recessional wedding photo. (August 20, 1983)

I distinctly recalled the meeting a few decades earlier when my soon-to-be husband Mark and I met with our wedding photographer who was promoting the “Perma Bound” brand photo album–a product he promised would “last forever”.

It seemed that 30 years in, though, our marriage was already outlasting the photo album that was promised to be “permanently bound.” (That’s a good thing, though.)

A google search confirmed that the Perma Bound company—unlike my marriage—is no longer in business. (So much for that product warranty. I wonder if the company that made my china is still in business. I could use a few replacement pieces.)

But back to the problem with the photo album:

Computer designed photo books that are all the rage today, were a fad of the future, so I decided to move our wedding pix into a “Creative Memories” style album. You know the kind—the ones where you spend endless hours agonizing over which stickers, papers, and fancy pens to employ in the creation of your album masterpiece.

I did it, though. I committed to that labor of love which—while definitely time consuming—did offer me the opportunity to step back, slow down and carefully re-examine the images from that historic day from my past. It even made me realize a few facts about that day that I’d never realized before.

In fact, there were so many facts that were “new” to me about that day, I added a final page to the back of the  renovated album where I could capture them all on a page of their own.

So in honor of 35 years of wedded bliss (OK—not always bliss, but still wedded and still in love), I offer the following personal pieces of trivia, mishaps, surprises, and ironic coincidences, which relate to that personally historic event which I celebrate with my husband today:


  • The groom and his Best Man were both named “Mark”.
  • The Bride and her Maid of Honor were both named “Patricia”.
  • The wedding took place at the groom’s parish, which was named “St. Patricia”.

(Until then, I didn’t even know there was a saint named “St. Patricia”.  You can learn a bit about her here.)

(Clearly, with a surname like that, he was meant to devote his life to God.)

  • The wedding took place on August 20, 1983 ~ precisely 30 years to the day after the bride was baptized at St. Basil’s church in South Haven, Michigan on August 20, 1953.

(That fact was discovered when the bride examined her baptismal certificate for the first time in her life before passing it on to the good Fr. Chapell—one of the many documents  required to get married at his church.)

  • A replica of the postage stamp, used on the envelopes for the wedding invitations, was available several years later as an embroidery kit at a local craft store. The bride bought it, made it, framed it, and hung it in the couple’s home for their entire married life. In fact, she even had it re-framed a few months ago because it, too, was falling apart—just like the decades old wedding album.

         (And the bride never took up an embroidery needle again… Do people actually still do embroidery anymore?)

The recently re-framed embroidery of an image of the postage stamp used on the wedding invitations in 1983. It was stitched by the bride in the early days of her marriage.

  • Two days before the wedding, when the bride went to pick up her gown at the little Victorian house in Algonquin that was known as “Kiki’s Wedding Boutique”, the veil was nowhere to be found.

(Apparently, the young lady assigned to add pearls to the veil brought it downstairs to the tuxedo shop so she could work on it while socializing with her boyfriend—an employee of said shop. The veil remained among the tuxedos until it was discovered there the day before the wedding. Within 24 hours the veil was delivered by the bridal shop to the bride’s apartment 30 miles away, just in the nick of time.)

  • “Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue…”

(In this case the “something borrowed” was a string of pearls the bride borrowed from her sister Dorothy ~ a gift to Dorothy on her own wedding day 20 years earlier in 1963 from her groom, Terry Vaughan.)

  • The ceremony was to include the lighting of a “unity candle” by the bride and groom to signify that their two lives would thenceforth being joined as one. That did not occur. The candle melted because the bride had left it in the trunk of her car during the recent heat wave.

(Chicago temperatures the preceding week exceeded 103 degrees, so…no unity candle and no lighting ceremony.)

  • Extended screeching was provided by the bride’s nephew 18-month old Patrick Desmond (whose name is strikingly similar to “Patricia Desmond”–the bride’s given and maiden names). The unexpected sound effects of that enthusiastic toddler made it a bit difficult for those in attendance (including those at the altar) to hear the recitation of the vows.

(Hmmm….If people couldn’t hear the vows being spoken, does that mean this 35 year old marriage is actually invalid?)

Apparently Patrick Desmond, who screeched as the wedding vows were recited at church, had a song request for the band at the reception as well.

  • The reception was held at “The Delphian House” where the groom once worked as a teenager busing tables.

(The tables were turned that day though, when employees of the banquet hall waited on and served the groom, his bride, and their guests.)

  • When the reception was over, the bride and groom returned to the groom’s house to change their clothes; say good-bye to his parents; and head off for their honeymoon. As they waved good-bye and pulled away, the groom—anticipating the years ahead of him—thought to himself: “Now what?”

(This was confessed to the bride by the groom about 10 years into their marriage.)

And thus, Mark and Patti began their new life together as husband and wife:

Mr. & Mrs. Mark Biallas

Happy Anniversary, Sweetie Pie!

(…and I wouldn’t change one thing about that day from 35 years ago.)


An update on the cast of characters since August 20, 1983:

The bride’s brother, Gerry Desmond, who stepped in for his dad to walk the bride down the aisle: Well, he’s gone now. So is the bride’s brother, Brian, who’s son Patrick screeched throughout the recitation of her vows. Gerry and Brian both passed away last year.

The bride’s brother Gerry, walks her down the aisle on August 20, 1983.

Patrick (the screeching toddler) has five kids of his own now. The eldest, Daniel, came to visit Great-Aunt Patti for a week this summer to absorb all he could about Desmond family history and, in the process, helped make a family history discovery of his own. (More on that another time…)

And Terry, who gave his bride Dorothy that pearl necklace back in 1963—the “something borrowed” this bride wore 20 years later—well, he’s gone too, and is also sorely missed by all of the Desmond family. Mark’s parents, Karl and Arlene Biallas, passed on as well—his dad a few years after the couple got married and his mom just a few years ago…

Numerous names have been added to our mutual family tree over the past 35 years. Mark and I are now great-aunt and great-uncle to many of  those descendants, and we also became parents ourselves.

Our home of 33 years began with a childless couple in 1985. It welcomed two back-to-back babies in the late 1980s who were raised to adulthood and now is just housing the two of us again.

We had our house built in 1985 and have lived here for 33 years. A few years in, I pointed out to my beloved that “The house is too quiet” and “The house is too big for us. Perhaps we should start a family”. So we did.

And then we went on to do all the things parents do with and for their kids from strollers, scouts, schooling and sports to the best guidance we could muster to get them through their young lives and on their paths to adulthood.

Meg, Director of Communications at the Center for Public Justice in Washington D.C., married Samory Henry last year.

The next generation: Meg Biallas marries Samory Henry, June 3, 2017 at the Church of the Resurrection, Washington, DC.

And Kelly is now a Registered Nurse on the med-surg floor of a local medical center and fully enjoying all the freedoms and responsibilities of her young, single life.

Kelly Biallas graduates from nursing school, December 2016.

Like our parents before us, Mark and I now belong to the “older generation.” Most of our friends from the neighborhood have left, living their lives in other locations. And I’m back to repeating things I said three decades ago:  “The house is too quiet” and “The house is too big.”

So…maybe it’s time for another change.  Time will tell, as it always does.

Meanwhile, here’s to the next 35 years in the cycle of life with my beloved, Mark.

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Celebrating our 25th anniversary in Venice, Italy in 2008.

 Copyright © 2018 Patricia Desmond Biallas


Posted in Biographies, Family Stories, Photo Stories, Social History | 6 Comments