Jerome O’Keefe, 89, has nine children and the kind eyes of a father who has seen it all. Although he earned a law degree and passed the Bar exam, O’Keefe chose to pursue a career in sales to support his family. He sold lingerie for the company that makes Warner bras, said Katharine O’Neill, one of O’Keefe’s four daughters.
“We always had free bras,” she joked, thinking back on her youth.
“My Dad would leave on Monday morning and come home on Friday night. He was the disciplinarian, but he wasn’t a stern Dad. My Dad probably has the best character of any person I’ve ever known. He was great example to all of us, and he loved my mother dearly,” she said.
O’Neill said that although her family was large, growing up in Geneva, Illinois, she and her siblings never wanted for anything. Their parents worked as a team, she said. Their mother, Marica O’Keefe, stayed at home with the children while Jerome worked to clothe, feed and put all of the kids through college.
“They never fought. It was amazing,” O’Neill said.
Growing up in the O’Keefe family meant going to church together on Sundays for Mass and a love of learning and reading.
Although it was busy raising such a big clan, O’Keefe always made time for each of his children when they needed him.
“Even as adults, when each of us has gone through turmoil in our lives, Dad has been there for us with support and advice,” O’Neill said.
When interviewed by staff at The Fountains earlier this month, O’Keefe’s advice to young fathers was simple: “Remember to love them, read to them and just try your best to teach them the important things in life.”
The advice served O’Keefe and his family well. As he approaches his 90th birthday, he has more than 20 grandchildren and six great-grandchildren to show for it.
‘Don’t be afraid to change a diaper’
Edward Young, 88, is the proud father of two girls and jokes the best advice he can give about being a good father is to make sure to pick out a good mother.
Raised in Chicago, Young lived with his wife, the late Elnora, “Nora,” in Lake Zurich for more than 40 years. When Fountains staff interviewed Young earlier this month about being a father, he told them it was important to, “always show your wife and children love.”
He also recommended being a partner in child care.
“Don’t be afraid to change a diaper. It’s not only the woman’s job to do it,” he said.
Some of Young’s favorite memories with his children include watching movies such as “It’s a Wonderful Life” and “White Christmas” on TV during the holidays.
“We had a really fun childhood,” said young’s daughter Julie Vormittag of Crystal Lake.
“We lived right across the street from a park here in Lake Zurich, and we’d go tobogganing and ice skating in the winter, and played basketball in the summer.”
Vormittag said her father set an example for her and her sister Melanie Collard of McHenry by living a sturdy, moral life and by being involved in volunteer projects with the Lions Club.
“I’ve learned from my Dad the importance of family and the importance of teaching good, wholesome values to your family. You can teach them everything that you know, and they’re still going to make their own decisions, but you’ve given them the best baseline that you can and all of the love that you can,” she said.
Young said he took cues in parenting from his own father, making sure to get his daughters involved in Girl Scouts and talking to them about the importance of making healthy lifestyle choices. He added he is very proud of the women they are today.
‘Always be proud to be a dad’
Kenneth Schroeder, 92, led an exciting life. A former pilot with the U.S. Navy in the 1940s, he recalls his time in the service with pride. Almost as much pride as when he talks about his three daughters, Ellen McDonald of Joliet, Beverly McGinn of Crystal Lake and Trish Fischer of Colorado Springs, Colorado.
Schroeder raised his daughters in Arlington Heights and always has been the relaxed, blue-eyed, kind man he is today, McGinn said.
“My Dad has always been gentle spirited, and he was always an excellent caretaker,” she said. “He would take care of sick neighbors and sick family; he was always there to be a caretaker for other people.”
McGinn said even as a small child she loved to hang around with her father, whether he was working on the family cars or running to the grocery store.
“In my little girl eyes, he was always my teddy bear, my protector, my friend,” she said.
When interviewed by The Fountains staff earlier this month on his advice for young fathers, Schroeder said, “Always be proud to be a dad. You only live once, so make the best of it by spending as much time as you can with your kids.”
Schroeder said some of his favorite memories of relaxing with his girls included time spent watching television together.
Today, Schroeder’s pride for his family extends even further. He tells anyone who asks about his 18 grandchildren and 19 great-grandchildren, most of whom have reached college age and earned their degrees.
‘Get to know them as individuals’
Jack Sebesta, 91, is the proud father of three and is full of advice for young dads. Sebesta stresses the importance of making time to be with your children to get to know them as they grow.
“I have learned it is important to let your children know you are there and to get to know them as individuals, not just think of them as kids but as people with their own personalities and interests,” he said.
Sebesta did not know his own father very well and has made it a point to be a different kind of dad.
“Being a good dad means supporting your children emotionally and listening without always having to give advice or try to fix their problems,” he said.
Sebesta’s son, Jack Sebesta of Crystal Lake, is grateful for that example.
When Jack Sebesta the younger (there is no Jack Jr., according to the Sebesta family, just a “pair of Jacks”) became a stepfather he tried to emulate his dad. He said it helped him navigate being new to a an already established family and to become close with his three stepchildren, Kate, Sara and Alex.
“Dad was really handy, fixing things in the house, and I would be his assistant. Whatever he was working on, he would explain to me and show me,” Sebesta said. “I also can’t remember a sports game that I played in that Dad wasn’t present for. Dad always really cared about what we were interested in and being there for us.”
Looking back on his life, Sebesta is proud of many things, including his time with the U.S. Army and the travel he did all over the world while working for the Continental Bank of Chicago. But his face lights up the brightest when he talks about his children, Kathy, Sue and Jack.
‘Make sure you follow through’
Being parents agrees with Bruce Brummond, 98, and his wife, Mary Jo, 100. The Brummonds raised six children in Lake Zurich before retiring and moving to The Fountains in Crystal Lake.
Today, Bruce Brummond remembers fondly what an adventure it was to have a large family.
“When we’d go up to visit family in Minnesota, we would put everyone in the station wagon and leave late at night. Then we’d all wake up in Minnesota,” he said.
With five boys and one girl, Brummond was the disciplinarian for the house, but wasn’t a stern dad, according to his kids.
“He was kind and understanding, but he wasn’t a goofy Dad,” said Brummond’s youngest son, Chuck Brummond of McHenry. “For sure he would pretty much demand that us guys tow the line. But it was my sister and five boys, so I’m sure it was kind of crazy in our house.”
When interviewed by staff at The Fountains on advice for young fathers, Brummond said, “If you tell your kids you’re going to do something, make sure you follow through and do it!”
When the Brummond family wasn’t traveling to visit family, they would spend time together playing card games.
“There’s a saying, if you want to be in the Brummond family, you have to play cards,” Chuck Brummond said. Chuck Brummond’s fondest memories with his dad include the big Fourth of July parties the family would have in the backyard every summer.
Although he is an Army veteran with a lot of accomplishments of his own, Bruce Brummond’s fondest memories are of his children’s youth – attending their school activities such as cheerleading and basketball games, and, he said, he continues to be very proud of their achievements as adults.