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Leahy family: Singing, baking and pranking

Life in a large family fondly recalled for Irish clan

March 14, 2012

Kathleen Leahy Pulz remembers feeling sorry for kids from small families.

"I would think, 'How dull," she said.

With nine siblings - Tim, Terry, Tom, Brian, Kevin, Maureen, Ned, Gerald and Dan - there was always activity happening in the Leahy household on Hillcrest Drive.

As the family expanded, parents Kathie and Edward "Bud" Leahy looked for a larger home and inquired about the seven-bedroom house next door to the Kneeland-Walker house, which is now the Wauwatosa Historical Society headquarters.

The Leahy family has owned its Wauwatosa home since 1959. Pictured are (from left) Brian, Kathie, Kathleen Pulz-Leahy and Kevin Leahy. Photo by Robert Lewis.

The homeowners had four criteria. The buyer had to be Irish, Catholic, poor and have a large family, all of which fit the Leahys perfectly, Kathie said.

For many years the third-floor wasn't heated so the kids shared three bedrooms with pranks ensuing. For example, Tim put wads of wet toilet paper on top of door so when his father entered to check on them it came down on his head.

Another prank resulted in the only time the kids recall their mother shedding tears. Shortly after the youngest son was born, one of the boys tosed a doll wrapped in a blanket at their mom. She thought they had thrown the baby.

"Our mother rarely yelled at us and really never cried," Brian said. "She's one solid rock."

Having 10 kids kept her too busy to fuss. Kathie encouraged them to play sports and they all had jobs at Kissler's Bakery in East Tosa.

With a 20-year age difference between the oldest and youngest siblings, there was at least one Leahy working there for many years, Kevin said. They showed up at the bakery by 3:30 a.m. to make doughnuts.

The kids did get in plenty of fun. Parties on the top floor of the home were well-attended by the Tosa East students. There's even a Facebook page called Third Floor Memories to reminisce.

Lavish vacations weren't part of growing up in a big family. Instead they packed into the car and went camping or swimming at Pewaukee Lake. Kathleen fondly recalls those drives, when her parents would entertain, immediately silencing their brood.

"Father would say we're going to sing all the way there and harmonize all the way home," her mother said.

The musical talents had an impact on at least two of their children. Sons Brian and Tom, as well as their children, have performed Irish music as band Leahy's Luck for the past 20 years.

"We used to pay (our kids) by the song," Brian said. "The more songs they learned, the more they got paid."

The grandkids - now spread around the United States - have been replaced with professional musicians for most performances. But they do come back on special occasions and will play with their dads on St. Patrick's Day in Chicago. The annual Irish Fest concerts have become a family reunion with more than 60 relatives attending last year.

Brian is also responsible for creating the Tosa Tonight concert series. It started with three shows at the Historical Society. As it grew, it was moved around before finding a permanent home at the Hart Park.

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