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In the lilt of Irish laughter

The story of Helen Clare Carey Malloy — 99 years old

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You can hear the angels sing ... even an Irish angel with a glint of mischief in her eye. Helen Clare Carey Malloy still has an ornery Irish spark and lots of love and laughter to share as she turns 99 years young on May 4. In a life well lived taking care of others, first through her nursing career and then as the matriarch of her family, along the way she knew how to have lots of fun.

Helen is very proud of her Irish heritage. She can claim pure Irish lineage on both sides, and she made sure to find the best Irish mate in her husband, Clair “Pete” Malloy. The Irish names roll off your tongue. Born in the early 1800s, Helen’s great-grandpa John Harrington, of Castletown, County Cork, Ireland, emigrated to the U.S. in 1841 and married great-grandma, Hannah Harrington (not related), in Fall River, Massachusetts in 1843. They worked their way west, settling in Crawford County, Iowa, in 1871. It was here their begat, Joseph Harrington, wed Katie Quirk in 1888 in Vail. Katie Quirk was born October 1869 in Ballyclough, County Cork, Ireland, and came to the U.S. in 1870, settling with her family in Dunlap. Joseph and Katie begat Loretta Helen Harrington, who chose Irishman Leo Patrick Carey for her spouse in 1918. Leo Carey’s grandparents Patrick and Mary McMahon Carey were both born in County Clare, Ireland. Leo and Loretta’s daughter Helen Carey was born on May 4, 1922, near Manilla, Iowa.

Irishman Pete Malloy’s lineage begins with his grandparents James Maloy (spelled with one “l” at the time) and Ellen Russell, both of Ireland, who met and married in Long Grove, Iowa, in 1871. Both were born in the 1830s, James in King’s County, Ireland, and Ellen in County Clare, Ireland. Their son Thomas Malloy married Margaret White in Vail in 1901. Margaret White was a daughter of Francis White, born in Canada, and Mary King, born in Offaly, Ireland. Thomas and Margaret had one girl and nine boys, one of whom was Clair “Pete” Malloy, who was born July 22, 1917, in Denison, along with his twin brother, Clarence. Pete’s father and his only sister died in 1920, and his mother raised the nine boys. Pete married Helen Carey on May 6, 1947, at Sacred Heart Church in Manilla.

Helen’s only sibling was her brother, John, and they were best friends her entire life. Helen and John grew up on a farm north of Manilla, and Helen went to country grade school nearby before attending Manilla High School. In those days the roads were not good, so she would spend the school week living in Manilla with her great-aunt and great-uncles Mag, Tom and Pat Carey. Throughout the years, John and Helen remained close, and there were many trips between Michigan and Iowa. Even though John died in 2011, the close relationships with Helen’s sister-in-law, Rhea, and their five children continue to this day.

It must have been the Irish genes and maybe the red hair that gave Helen her adventurous spirit — always up for a challenge. Her family says that she loved to be happy, and if there was a good party, you can be sure she was involved somehow. Helen’s best friend was Helen Healy. Both Helens grew up in the Manilla area, but didn’t meet until they went to nurses training in Council Bluffs. They were in the Army at the same time, and it was “Katie bar the door” as the two of them were always up to something. The saying was what one Helen didn’t think of, the other one did! After nurses training, Helen Healy met and married Joe White of Westside, who just happened to be a first cousin to Pete. Helen and Joe lived on a farm just 2 miles from the Malloy farm, and the two families celebrated together often. In later years Helen’s daughter, young Mary, would label Helen Healy “Heal,” and the nickname stuck for life for the Malloy family. In early times, the two couples were active in the American Legion and marched together in all the Memorial Day parades and programs at area cemeteries.

After graduating from Mercy Hospital School of Nursing, in Council Bluffs, in May 1943, Helen Malloy worked for a year for Dr. A.L. Smith in Lincoln, Nebraska. With World War II underway, Helen and her nurse friends received a letter saying they were classified 1A and they could be drafted. Several of the nurses then voluntarily enlisted in the Army Nurses Corps to gain the rank of second lieutenant. Since she was discharged as a first lieutenant, she always claimed she had the highest military rank of all the relatives. Helen Malloy served in the Army from April 12, 1945, until discharged on Nov. 16, 1946. She lucked out and was sent to Hawaii on July 6, 1945, by boat. During World War II, Oahu, Hawaii, served as the command post for the U.S. operations in the Pacific. There she worked at two hospitals and a girls’ school that was converted into a hospital. The hospitals treated wounded soldiers from the fighting in the South Pacific, preparing them for transfer to the United States or healing them and sending them back into action. There were also some former prisoners treated at the hospital.

The nurses worked hard but had their fun. Although she did not know him beforehand, one of the patients Helen took care of was from her hometown of Manilla. He was Pfc. Bernard R. “Torp” McMahon. He had moved to Manilla after she left for nurses training. It was so good to have a connection to home.

Helen was in Hawaii when the war ended in August 1945, and she noted that she had a picture in her scrapbook of the people that came to “ring the bell” when the war was over. She and her friends were some distance from the bell, located on the lawn in front of the Capitol Building. She said that when the news came, they all just up and left the hospital in their uniforms for downtown Honolulu to ring the Hawaiian Liberty Bell. Hawaii would not become the 50th U.S. state until Aug. 21, 1959, but the celebration was worldwide. Helen confessed that before the nurses had left basic training in California, “the word was out to be sure to put a bottle (of booze) in your bedroll. So, everyone did, and when they got through ringing the bell, the bottles came out. It turned into quite a party.”

Malloy served in Hawaii until Oct. 24, 1945, when she was sent home because of an illness of her mother. She caught a ride home in a rudimentary old cargo plane, not pressurized or heated. It was so cold, the soldiers finally offered her a blanket. Since she was still an Army nurse when her mother recovered, she remained in the states, serving at Army hospitals that were treating many war casualties. She was mustered out of the Army in November 1946 with an honorable discharge and several decorations and citations that included the American Theater Ribbon. AM Campaign Medal, A-P Theater Ribbon and the Victory Medal.

Helen planned to move to Chicago, Illinois, to join with friends from the Army as a civilian nurse, but a certain musical Irishman caught her eye. After the war, dancing was a popular entertainment, and Helen met husband-to-be Clair “Pete” Malloy at the Verein Dance Hall in Westside. Pete had actually played the saxophone in an Army band in Germany during the war. They married on May 6, 1947, at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Manilla.

Pete and Helen moved to the farm north of Westside known as “Uncle Jim’s Place,” the original farm of Pete’s Uncle James Malloy, his father Thomas’s brother. They were close to the Malloy “home place,” the home where Pete’s widowed grandmother Ellen Russell Malloy settled with her five children after her husband, James Maloy, died and she married Patrick King. When Ellen’s son, Thomas (Pete’s father) married Margaret White, they farmed the home place, and when Thomas died young in 1920 along with his daughter, Mary Ellen, Margaret was left to run the farm with nine sons. Margaret taught the boys teamwork, and they were successful as four of them established the Malloy Hybrid Seed Corn Co., which they operated from the home place after the war until 1965. Pete’s congenial outgoing personality no doubt helped the business, and he was busy and on the go. Helen went into private duty nursing for a while, but soon became a busy stay-at-home mom with five children, Mary, Katie, Pat, Mike and Sheila.

Life, however, was not all shamrocks and shillelaghs for the Malloys. In 1964, at age 47, Pete suffered a massive stroke with resulting disabilities. The hybrid seed corn business was sold the following year. Helen put her nursing skills to work providing care and rehabilitation for Pete and resuming her nursing career working for Dr. J.L. Flood in Vail and Denison from 1965 until she retired in 1984 at age 62. In time, through determined rehabilitation efforts, Pete was able to regain his speech and the ability to walk and went to work at Peters’ Oil in Westside. Pete passed away July 19, 1988.

In spite of hardships, Helen and her children recall the fun of family events and get-togethers on Sundays with uncles, aunts and cousins. Following strict Catholic rules, the Careys and the Malloys would do no business or any physical work on the Sabbath, but they could pursue their passion and skills at card-playing, perhaps assisted with a few nips of Irish whiskey. Noting their skills, Pat Malloy opined, “The Careys drank well.” A gutsy risk-taker in card-playing, family and friends learned to partner with Helen, because she always won. The great St. Patrick’s Day celebrations and parades were planned with enthusiasm. Helen was well-known for the special green wig that topped off her St. Patrick’s Day attire. She had a favorite hat trick of her father’s that kept her grandchildren mystified. She donned her jaunty straw hat and told the children she could hold her breath and make her hat tip off. She puffed her cheeks up full and meanwhile leaned her head back against the wall, catching the hat’s brim and tipping it up.

Helen returned to Hawaii a couple of times on vacations and found Honolulu had changed quite dramatically since the 1940s. For several years she and other nurses who served together in the Army enjoyed getting together for reunions.

Always ready for a new venture, Helen, along with Joe White, both WW II veterans and in their late 80s, took one of the first Honor Flight trips on Aug. 11, 2009. Daughter Katie Lawler laughed that when she picked up Helen and Joe at midnight on their return that day, they were still high on the event and talking about the wonderful trip. In 2019, Helen and Joe each received a Quilt of Valor from the American Legion in Westside at Westside’s Sesquicentennial event.

Raising five kids and working as a nurse, there wasn’t much time for Helen to have hobbies. In retirement she did learn to play bridge and enjoyed the many friends in her bridge group. She especially enjoys socializing with friends, although she bemoans the fact that she has outlived most of them. She also learned to china-paint and has given many lovely presents to her family and friends. Helen still lives in her home in Westside with her son Pat.

Not much can get Helen down, but the isolation of COVID made life too quiet. In 2020 when COVID hit right about St. Patrick’s Day, the Irish vehicles parade in Westside was cancelled, and the bars were shut down. So, her children Pat Malloy and Sheila Nebbia, along with her husband, Steve, garbed up in their Irish attire complete with horns to blow, and Helen in her green Irish wig and decided to have a “one-car parade.” They drove around town, honking and singing and stopped at a friend or two for an Irish toddy and just made their own fun.

Helen’s red hair may have faded to silver white, but not her Irish spirit. Physically slowed down, she is still mentally alert and always ready for a joke. A devout Catholic, she watches Mass on television. Always a mother, her son Pat Malloy says Helen still bosses them around, telling him when to wear a jacket because it’s cold, to drive carefully and stay safe. Daughter Katie Lawler says she took over her mother’s reminder, “It’s a Holy Day, you know” and gives her mother a chance to grin at the table’s turned.

Helen takes credit for a long legacy of Irish begets and begats. Her children are: Mary (Jim) Gray, a retired nurse, Marion, Iowa; Katie (Ed) Lawler, Carroll Chamber of Commerce retiree, Carroll; Pat Malloy, a countertop fabricator, Westside; Mike (Sue) Malloy, retired and in Omaha, Nebraska; and Sheila (Steve) Nebbia, a retired account executive, Omaha. She enjoys her 16 grandchildren and 27 great-grandchildren. Hopefully she has instilled her indomitable spirit and sense of fun into one and all.

At the end of the day, Helen can honestly say she made a good life for herself and her family, through good times and bad, always keeping a sense of God’s blessings, keeping her bit of mischief, and now and then enjoying a friendly dose of Irish whiskey. As Helen’s son, Pat Malloy, summed up their lives with her, “There was a lot of laughter in that house.” And there still is!

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