On the 114th anniversary of her mother’s birth, Oct. 1, 2015, Peggy McGrath passed away at the Hospice of the Sacred Heart in Dunmore, at 4:17 a.m. Margaret died from multiple medical complications she had battled for more than a decade. She was 86 years old.
Peggy was born at home on May 4, 1929, in Bethlehem. Margaret Mary Callahan was the third daughter of Albert Callahan, an ironworker from West Pittston, and Martha Cromley of Plymouth. Her father, Albert, died in 1931 at the age of 37. His widow returned to the Wilkes-Barre area to raise their four daughters, Alberta, Elizabeth, Margaret and Juliana, plus Albert’s son, James, from a previous marriage. Though Martha was not Roman Catholic, she honored her husband’s dying wish to raise his children Catholic.
Despite the many hardships of being a single widow during the Great Depression, and unsupportive families due to a marriage of mixed religions, the Callahans were nurtured and fostered lifelong bonds. Peggy attended St. John’s Elementary School on North Main Street and James Coughlin High School in downtown Wilkes-Barre, where she graduated in 1947.
Always hard working, Peggy was employed from a young age. At age 12, she worked as a domestic and is remembered for unknowingly serving the distinguished soon-to-be Congressman Dan Flood ice in his beer. During high school, she worked part-time at the Hotel Sterling, first as a hat check girl and later as a switchboard operator. There, she met a handsome bellboy named Raymond McGrath of Hanover Township.
After a three-year courtship, they married on Jan. 6, 1949, in Holy Savior Church in the East End section of Wilkes-Barre. These high school sweethearts remained married for 35 years until Ray’s death on his birthday, July 6, 1984. Like her mother, she never dated or remarried again. Their union produced three children, Renee Anne (1952), Raymond John (1954) and James Lucas (1959). The family eventually resided in South Wilkes-Barre, living in an apartment on New Alexander Street. Later they purchased a home on Amherst Avenue.
Ray and Peggy were active members of St. Theresa Parish and were involved in several civic and athletic organizations. Margaret was tenacious and strongly dedicated to her family. Peggy’s character earned her the beloved nickname “Hurricane,” whose characteristics she affirmed until her dying day.
The Callahan sisters were never far apart throughout their lives. The McGrath children and the children of her sisters were frequently in each others’ homes and were raised as one large family, often under the supervision of “Nana” Martha Callahan and Aunt “Betty” Callahan. Holidays were a special time for Peg, and she and her sisters rotated holiday meals between their homes with husbands, parents and cousins in abundance.
As the time passed, grandchildren arrived and “Granny” took the same enthusiastic approach to family. Peggy often drove hundreds of miles for soccer matches, recitals and her grandchildren’s myriad activities. She often shared the story of driving to Boston to see her granddaughter, Jessica, in a recital who followed her music teacher’s advice — “just fake it” — and pretended to play the violin on stage.
Peggy, full of abundant energy, seemed always involved in a project or task. When not sewing, knitting, cleaning or organizing, she would find projects, sometimes for herself and often for her children and husband. Usually accompanied by a sister, her energy seemed boundless. After her sister, Jule and her husband, Jack Monahan, purchased a fixer-upper home on New Elizabeth Street, it was Peggy and Jule who renovated the kitchen, complete with cabinets, wallpaper and plumbing. When Jule’s oldest child, Jill, married and moved to the West Coast, the “Dolly Sisters” took “PowderPuff” Mechanics and then drove cross-country to San Francisco.
Most of her grandchildren have fond memories of Peggy, Ray and family members on trips and outings in “Gee-Who,” a used and aging camper van Peg had discovered in a classified ad. She polished, cleaned and fussed over the van until it shined and was as comfortable as any living room. This “can-do” and stoic nature served her well through her life and helped her overcome two major floods in 1972 and 2011. Molly Brown had little on Peg McGrath.
Margaret retired from the Social Security Administration after a 20-year career in government service in 1997. In the first decade after retiring, Peggy and her oldest sister, Alberta Walsh, drove cross-country visiting family then exploring cities and towns across America. She eventually sold the family home and moved to the Gateway Apartments in Edwardsville.
The widows became active volunteers for the American Red Cross and St. Ignatius Parish. In 2010, Peggy, along with Alberta and son James, moved to a family complex in West Pittston. She lived at 810 Susquehanna Avenue, overseeing family occasions and, despite declining health, continued baking cookies for Ruth’s Place, showing concern for others until her death.
Surviving are daughter, Renee Hanan and her husband, C. Addison Hanan, Nantucket, Massachusetts; son, Raymond J. McGrath and his wife, Diane McGrath, Lansdale; and son, James McGrath, West Pittston. Peggy has five grandchildren, Amanda Ringeman and her husband, Jason Ringeman, Carrollton, Texas, Raymond P. McGrath and his wife, Tara McGrath, West Norriton, Jessica Hanan and her husband, Bryan Jennings, Nantucket, Brandon Hanan and his wife, Kerry Hink Hanan, Tampa, Florida, and Dr. Jennifer McGrath and her husband, Cale Spaulding, Chicago; and two great-grandchildren, Lucy and Lily McGrath, West Norton. Margaret leaves behind her best friend, companion and older sister, Alberta Walsh, West Pittston.
Sisters, Elizabeth and Julianna, preceded her in death.
Peggy loved her nieces and nephews and is survived by Mollie Davis and her husband, Doug Davis, Collegeville, Kevin Walsh, Columbia, Missouri, Jill Bursack, Philadelphia, Jane Stewart and her husband, Paul Stewart, McCungie, Tim Monahan and his wife, Christy Wydra Monahan, Larksville.
Pinochle was a lifetime pursuit and Peggy vacates her seat near her card partners, good friends and in-laws, Catherine Ann Salko and her husband, Michael Salko, Wilkes-Barre, Hedwig “Hedy” McGraw and her husband, Joseph McGraw, Shavertown. She enjoyed the love and support from her husband’s family, nephew, Dr. Patrick McGraw and his wife, Dr. Michelle McGraw, Mountain Top, Michelle Tomaselli and her husband, Joseph Tomaselli, Shavertown, Kate Salko, Herndon, Virginia, Michael Salko, Remington, Virginia, Steven Salko, Philadelphia, Suzanne Salko, Charlottesville, Virginia, Jack McNulty and his wife, Deborah McNulty, Shavertown.
Per her request, friends and family are invited to a memorial Mass to be held at 10 a.m. Oct. 31 in Corpus Christi Church, 605 Luzerne Ave., West Pittston, followed by a luncheon of her favorite foods at noon at her home, 810 Susquehanna Ave., West Pittston. No mourning clothes, please, and attendees are encouraged to wear a light blue item — her favorite color. Peggy’s last request was a Halloween party and open house for friends and the community. Full-size candy bars and tooth brushes for all kids with refreshments for adults from 4 to 8 p.m. Oct. 31 at her home at 810 Susquehanna Ave., West Pittston. Look for the flying ghosts.
In lieu of flowers, please make donations to Ruth’s Place, Volunteers of America, 425 N. Pennsylvania Ave., Wilkes-Barre, PA 18702.
“Take life as you find it, but don’t leave it that way.”