Jean Ryan

August 3rd, 1916 to December 3rd, 2005
Jean I. Mara Ryan By John F. Brown I can't believe she is gone. Maybe because I don't want to believe it. I still want to talk to her about Christmas. But lest we forget, life makes no promises about tomorrow. My Aunt Jean I. Mara Ryan, 89, formerly of Port Huron, the Matriarch of our family, died Dec. 3, in Washington, D. C. For more than 87 years, this loving, caring woman was a touchstone, a pillar of love and devotion for her community. She was an intricate part of what Port Huron's heart and soul are all about today. Aunt Jean's death marks the end of an era for the Mara clan that spans more than 100 years in Port Huron. She and her two late sisters, my mother, Mary Noreen Mara Brown and my Aunt, Frances Mara Kiernan Muldoon, were the daughters of Frank J. and Reseda Rose "Dida" Mara of Port Huron. In the early 1920s and 1930s, their father, my grandfather, Frank, whose roots stretched back to the Emerald Isle itself --- County Cork Ireland, owned and operated the old United Cigar Store near the northwest corner of the Military Street Bridge in Port Huron. In the late 1930s, Frank, an Irishman's Irishman, and his good friend, Shirley Bankson, owned and operated the former Irish Pub in the 400 block of Water Street. At that time the Mara family lived in the 500 block of Michigan Street in the City's First Ward. My parents divorced when I was about 31/2, and my sister, Mary Paul, was 2. In 1939 we went to live with my grandmother, Dida, and my Aunt Jean, who then lived in the 500 block of Ontario Street. My aunt Fran, lived across the street in the 600 block of Park Street, now Andrew Murphy Blvd. Aunt Jean was born Aug. 3, 1916 in Port Huron. She always claimed the family name was originally O'Mara, but she said her father dropped the "O" in the ocean on the way over from Ireland. She graduated with honors from the former St. Stephen High School in 1933. Shortly after high school Aunt Jean went to work for the former Benedict, DePuy and George law firm located in the old Michigan National Bank Building. Aunt Jean was 23 when she and my grandma Dida, a widow, took Mary Paul and me under their wings. Where do I begin when I try to share my memories of this wonderful woman? Was it when she knelt at my bedside with me and taught me my prayers when I was just a boy? Was it when she helped me learn my Latin so I could be an altar boy? Was it at midnight Mass on Christmas Eve when we shared such joy? Or was it when she held out her hand to us when we had no where to go? Aunt Jean gave me hope when I was filled with despair. She taught me what was right and what was wrong. And she was always there to mend my hurts when tears tore at my heart. What did Aunt Jean do for Mary Paul and me? She cared about us. She really cared. And that genuine, honest love transcended the years to her own children and grandchildren too. Aunt Jean was always the catalyst for everything good in our family. Aunt Jean and my uncle, Robert J. Ryan, were married in September of 1942 in Port Huron, while Bob was home on leave from the Navy's "Fighting Seabees." Bob enlisted in the Seabees the day after World War II was declared on Dec. 7, 1941. He died in March 1974. Their children, Colleen, Bobby, Nora, Michael and Patricia were more like brothers and sisters to Mary Paul and me. It was the same way with my Aunt Fran and Uncle Leo's children too, Mickey, Patty, Mimi and Kathleen. Yes, in the 1940s, 1950s, 1960s and 1970s our lives seemed like one. Aunt Jean was so proud of her faith, family and hometown. In all my life I never heard aunt Jean utter an unkind word about anyone. She lived her life with kindness, patience, respect, dignity and unconditional love for all of us. Her Irish wit and charm, and her zest for politics - she was a staunch Democrat all her life - made for some spectacular conversations at our annual family reunions. She loved reading her daily newspaper, talking politics, and yes, she enjoyed a good mixed drink once in awhile too. And of course if you will, an extra jar or two on St. Patrick's Day. She also loved cards. During her freshman year in high school, Jean, and a group of her close friends, Madeline Karrer-Simpson, Ruth Leahy Smith Abdoo, Mary Graziadei Cogley, Mary Duhig Liberty and Jo Woods Calkins formed a card club that has lasted for more than 50 years. Jean often said that two of the most memorable moments in her life happened when her granddaughter, Alison Friedman, introduced her to President William J. "Bill" Clinton in 1996 in Washington. And when she served as the grand marshal for the 1997 annual St. Patrick's Day parade in Port Huron. She rode the parade route in a convertible with her sisters, Noreen and Frances, as members of her family led the parade. With Aunt Jean's death, the Mara sisters are back together again. They are home with their Heavenly family. How do I know this? Because my Aunt Jean's life was one of faith - a faith she shared with all of us. Who will fill her candy dish now? Who will sing her songs? Oh it's so hard to say good by, the empty feeling in our stomachs, the aching in our hearts. But then again, weren't we lucky to have had her for as long as we did? Aunt Jean is survived by three daughters, Colleen, and son-in-law, Leonard Friedman, Washington, D.C., Nora Ryan, New York, N. Y., and Patricia Ryan, North Street; two sons, Robert and daughter-in-law, Sheryl Ryan of St. Clair Shores, and Michael and daughter-in-law, Kelly Ryan, of Troy, MI; eight grandchildren, Alison and Nick Friedman, Hannah Kate Ryan, Patrick, Erin and Shannon Rose Ryan, Danny and Kelly Mara Ryan; two close nephews, John F. "Jerry" and his wife, Joan L. Brown, Siesta Key, Fla., and Michael Kiernan of Davison MI; and four close nieces, Mary Paul and her husband, Bruce T. Stubbs of Ann Arbor, Patty and her husband, Bud Green of Marysville, Mimi and her husband, Matt Chapie of Grand Blanc, MI., and Kathleen Kiernan of Auburn Hills, MI. And many more nieces and nephews too. Viewing will be from 2 to 4 and 6 to 8 p. m. today in the Karrer-Simpson Funeral Home. Funeral services will be held at 10 a. m. Saturday in St. Joseph's Catholic Church. Rev. Brian Cokonougher, pastor, will officiate. Burial will be in Mt. Hope Cemetery, In lieu of flowers the family requests that donations be made to the Ponderosa Group Home, 5265 Ponderosa, North Street, 48049. And so there you are Aunt Jean. We still see your beautiful smile, and we will always remember what you said: "Be good to each other, be good to yourself." Someone once said that it's better to leave everything a little better than you found it. Aunt Jean did exactly that.

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