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The Ganleys: A Family of Veterans

The Daily Times and Chronicle, Wednesday, September 3, 1980

Burlington Past and Present, by John E. Fogelberg (Article # 063)


Ever since they came to town in 1941 and moved into the Chapman house halfway up the hill on Harriet Avenue, the Ganley family has been an active segment of Burlington life, especially during the town’s growing years when the boys were active as builders, active in politics and particularly active in the organization and development of sports.

The matriarch of the family is Mrs. Bertha Mae Ganley, who now lives in the relative quiet of the Birchcrest Arms, in a way now isolated from the large and growing family she and her husband nurtured and fed, the family to whom they gave both spiritual guidance and physical support, for whom they worked and pinched pennies during a long and arduous depression, and for whom they denied themselves much in order so the family might grow and prosper. And Bertha’s family did grow and did prosper.

Last August 17th as many members of the family as could make it gathered for the annual clan reunion at Kingston State Park in New Hampshire. Joining Bertha in the festivities of that day were 115 members of the family Ganley, a family now numbering 14 children and their wives and husbands, 55 grandchildren, 40 great-grandchildren and one great-great grand- child. One wonders if Bertha has trouble remembering everyone’s name.

Bertha Mae was one of six children born to the John Harrisons of Winchester. She arrived in 1897. Shortly after graduating from Winchester High she married in 1916 George Michael Ganley. George was a machinist but the First World War took him from his trade and he became a member, of Co. G, Woburn, and thus became the first of many Ganley veterans. The couple’s children began arriving in 1917 with the birth of Pearl. She was followed over the years by William, George, John Thomas, Donald, Warren, Ruth, James, Charlene, Stephen, Richard, David and Gerald who was born in 1942. There have been only two casualties to date in this roster: George Sr., who died in 1961 as he was being rushed to the Chelsea Soldier’s Hospital, and Stephen, who died only last year. The rest and all their progeny are hale and hearty which makes them a very healthy family indeed.

All of Mrs. Ganley’s children are married. Pearl is Mrs. Ralph Parsons of Woburn, and the only great-grandmother so far. Ruth is Mrs. John Hill of Cambridge, and Charlene is now Mrs. Melvin Hagan of Lowell. Six of the boys stayed in Burlington. Of those who didn’t, William married Ann Jurata and now lives with his family in St. Louis, Missouri; Thomas, who married Irene Fountain, who grew up in a house on Mountain Road which was once Burlington’s one-room Mountain School built in 1794 lives in Lowell; James married Mary Gillis and lives with his family in Woburn where he is a valued and successful salesman for Johnson Bros. Rose Growers; Stephen married Patricia Cronin and had made his home in Weymouth; David married Deborah Rabbett and now lives with his family in Waltham where he is an excellent mason, thus following in the footsteps of three older brothers.

Those brothers were John, Thomas and Warren, who worked as a team of masons during the boom years on a number of buildings here such as the town’s second high school, now the Marshall Simonds Middle School, St. Margaret’s Church, individual homes and various industrial buildings, and in Woburn St. Barbara’s Church and the YMCA. John married Barbara Ellis and Warren married Edwina Marvin, the daughter of Ernest Marvin, once selectman and foundry operator, and niece to Harold Marvin who still runs a foundry business on Adams Street here.

George Ganley worked for years for the Highway Dept. here. He has only recently retired from an active participation in town affairs, that is, almost, since he is now busily engaged in promoting the Retired Men’s Club. He is married to the former Phyllis Martin and is the father of 3 and the grandfather of 6. He was the first Commander of the William Hurley Chapter of the Disabled American Veterans and was the first Vice-President of the Burlington Historical Society, then a small group formed by Charles Casassa and Elizabeth Bennett Lowther to save the old West School as a Burlington landmark, which they did.

Richard works in the construction business and is married to Patricia O’Leary, the family name of another large Burlington family. Gerald, the youngest, was graduated from Burlington High in 1959, went on to graduate from Lowell Tech, married Jeanne White, and today is employed by Digital Corporation in Maynard.

Donald “Doey” Ganley worked for years as a florist in the employ of Arnold Fisher, Florists of Woburn. He married Iona Skelton whose family roots go back to the beginning of Burlington history and beyond that to the England of William the Conqueror. The couple has three children, one of whom. Paul, now teaches in the Burlington school system. Donald and Iona are the grandparents of seven.

All of the boys have been interested to some extent in sports. For many years starting in the 50’s and ending about 1970, George Ganley was instrumental in organizing Burlington Day, a day when any Burlington youngster under 16 was given a free ticket to a major league ball game and bussed to and from the park in Boston, first to the Boston Braves Field and later to the Red Sox ball park. One year the Committee, who raised money by soliciting donations, ran 14 busloads of noisy and excited youngsters to Boston, the busses escorted by police from every town along the way.

Little League baseball was organized in Burlington in 1952 by a small number of interested citizens among whom were Francis Sarno, Richard Doherty and George Ganley. The four first teams were sponsored by Aero Screw, Marvin Bros. Foundry, the Piper Boys and Dom’s Atlantic. Both George and Donald Ganley were managers during the early years and Warren was the League contact in 1953 and later was President of the League. The local games were played on what is now the Common with the backstop on the angle made by Center Street at Sears Street.

Paul Bustead was leading pitcher that first year and Paul Neilsen leading batter but other youngsters were equally as good: Warren O’Leary, George Clark, Gerry Skelton, Ronald Flynn and Richard Shepherd to name a few, all learning the game well. The Burlington All Star team edged out its rival Woburn by a score of 3 to 2 that first year. Donald never gave up his interest in athletics for his interest in the Babe Ruth League and his running of the lines every year for the Burlington High football teams keeps him young in heart and thus always available to help young people develop the same interest in competi- tive sports.

To a lesser degree the boys became interested in Burlington politics. Both George and Donald were elected as Town Meeting Members under the reorganization of 1972. George was also a Cemetery Commissioner for a while, Gerald was on the Capital Budget Committee in 1971 and Warren served on the Recreation Commission from 1967 to 1969.

Thus Bertha Mae has every reason to be proud of her offsprings and not the least of those reasons is the fact that ten of her boys served in the armed forces of this country. That fact was recognized by none other than President Dwight D, Eisenhower who wrote in 1959, “As parents of ten sons; six soldiers, three sailors and one marine, you have contributed much to the strength of our nation. I am sure that the nurture and training your children received at home equipped them to perform their military duties with courage and responsibility.” The Ganley tradition is an inspiring example of citizenship.” Young Gerald is the only one missing in that citation. He was not born until shortly after Pearl Harbor.

Mrs. Ganley thus is veteran conscious. She is past President of the, DAV auxiliary here and has served on the Executive Board of the American Legion auxiliary. She also has done volunteer work at the Soldiers Home. And she has received a number of honors in recognition of what she and her family have done. In 1953 she was selected as Bob Hope’s “Woman of the week.” In 1954 she was voted New England “Mother of the Year” and in 1955 she was honored as the National DAV “Mother of the Year.” But such honors rest but lightly upon Bertha Mae Harrison Ganley’s grey head, now 83. But then she has every right to rest on her laurels.

So may the Ganley tradition continue. Today’s society needs the honesty, patriotism and values that the clan consistently has expressed.