The Way We Were: Katherine Monahan

The Way We Were: Katherine Monahan
Katherine and Jimmy with their parents on their wedding day

Once upon a time, 79 years ago to be exact, a little two-year-old named Katherine and her three older sisters found themselves living on the east side of the St. Johns River, in the Granada neighborhood just south of San Marco. Their father, J. Reedy Brown, worked for National Distillers, maker of some of the most sought-after bourbons, such as Old Taylor and Old Grand Dad. After being transferred to several markets, Reedy decided to make the transfer to Jacksonville a permanent one. 

Katherine’s mother, Mary Katherine, set about making a home for her growing family, eventually having one more girl for a total of five. Katherine’s sisters include Rosemary, who lives with her husband in Greensboro, N.C.; Ellen, who lives in Richmond, Va.; Barbara, who lives in Brunswick, N.J.; and Elizabeth, who lives in San Diego, Calif. 

At roughly the same time, a boy named James T. Monahan Jr., affectionately known as “Jimmy,” was growing up on the west side of the St. Johns River on Azalea Terrace next door to Willowbranch Park. Jimmy’s father, James T. Monahan, and mother, Mary Katherine, had moved to Jacksonville in the late-1920s. They first lived in an apartment on May Street, discovered the wonders of Riverside, and never left. 

Sitting, Katherine, Ellen, Elizabeth, Rosemary and (standing) Barbara
Sitting, Katherine, Ellen, Elizabeth, Rosemary and (standing) Barbara

In 1965, Katherine from the east side of the river met Jimmy from the west side of the river. They dated for a year, got engaged and then married a year later, doing their part to bring the two sides of the river together. When Jimmy said, “Katherine finally moved over to the right side of the river,” Katherine chose to overlook the remark.

“If you were under 14 years old, you could go to the San Marco Theatre for just nine cents. If I didn’t have nine cents, my mother would tell me to go to A.B. Williams Drugstore in San Marco and ask them to give me the money and put it on my dad’s account,” Katherine recalled.

Katherine recalled an idyllic childhood in the San Marco area. “Granada was a beautiful neighborhood,” she said. She attended Assumption Catholic School and then Bishop Kenny High School. Her dad took his girls to school each morning but allowed them to take the city bus home. From home, they joined their friends walking to San Marco Square to see movies at the San Marco Theatre. After the movies ended, they took the 31 Colonial Manor bus to Granada and returned home.

Katherine as an infant
Katherine as an infant

Katherine, who started at Bishop Kenny in 1952, was in the first class to complete 9th through 12th grades after the school opened. “Our class was known as “The Door Openers,” because we opened the doors on the new high school. We didn’t wear uniforms in those days, and the girls were separate from the boys,” she said.

Katherine remembered that her home wasn’t air-conditioned. She slept in the bed closest to the street in a bedroom she shared with her sister, Elizabeth. “We had an attic fan,” she said. “I’d open the window. My dad would turn on the attic fan, and it would draw air in from the outside. When I woke up in the morning my hair would be so kinky.”

Her childhood home also had a basement, a Jacksonville rarity, with a clothesline. “On the days it rained, my mother would hang the clothes in the basement,” Katherine recalled.

Her parents, as members of San Jose Country Club, played golf. Katherine was on the country club swim team. They were also members of Ponte Vedra Club. “After mass on Sundays, we would go to the club and play in the pool all day. Then we always went to Beach Road Chicken for dinner on the way home – fried chicken, creamed peas, biscuits and gravy,” she said.

As she and her sisters grew up, they drew the attention of boys looking for a date. “When the boys would call, if one sister said no, they would just go down the line looking for one of us to say yes,” Katherine said. “The word was out that because there were five of us someone was bound to be free.”

Katherine also recalled her sisters would have yard parties when their parents were gone, “because we weren’t supposed to have guys in the house.”

Katherine and two of her sisters went to the College of St. Elizabeth in Morristown, N. J. The other two went to Georgetown Visitation, a junior college in Washington, D.C. After graduating, Katherine taught home economics from 1960-66 at Bishop Kenny High School.

Katherine Monahan with Mark as babe-in-arms holds onto Jim in front of their Ortega Forest home on Waverly Lane.
Katherine Monahan with Mark as babe-in-arms holds onto Jim in front of their Ortega Forest home on Waverly Lane.

One evening in 1965, Katherine was volunteering at the St. Vincent’s Hospital’s information desk. Jimmy Monahan came in to see a friend who was a patient. He noticed her name tag and asked if she was Rosemary’s sister. It seems that Jimmy “might have had one date with Rosemary.”

Soon, Jimmy began hanging around outside the hospital until Katherine finished her volunteer shift at 9 p.m. He would follow her home, because she had her own car, and then take her out. One favorite date-night spot was a Japanese restaurant in Miramar near the cemetery. Other times, they would have dinner at the Seminole Club downtown.

Because Jimmy had a boat near the Ortega River Marina, Katherine would go over to D.J. (Dennis Joseph) Lanahan’s dock so he could pick her up for a ride on a Saturday afternoon or go downtown to eat dinner. D.J., who died in 2004, lived on the river across the street from the Monahans. He graduated from Immaculate Conception High School, attended Loyola University in New Orleans and went on to establish the Lanahan Lumber Company in 1946.

According to Jimmy, Katherine and he dated “too long,” but Katherine remembered just a year of dating and then a yearlong engagement. They were married at Assumption Church on Beach Boulevard, at 10 a.m. Three of her sisters were bridesmaids with Elizabeth serving as maid-of-honor. The wedding reception was at San Jose Country Club.

The newly married couple first rented a house on Westfield Road in Ortega Forest, before purchasing a home in the neighborhood on Waverly Lane. It was a one-story, four-
bedroom home with a circular driveway. 

“Jimmy belonged to the Quarterback Club,” Katherine said. “When he went to a meeting, I would take the children to eat dinner with mother and daddy.”

Jimmy and Katherine Monahan at Cypress Village
Jimmy and Katherine Monahan at Cypress Village

Jimmy worked for The Auchter Company, following in the footsteps of his father and grandfather. Jimmy’s grandfather and George Auchter Sr. worked together on Hell Gate Bridge in New York City while waiting to be inducted into World War II. After the war, George contacted his grandfather and asked him to come work for A. Bentley & Sons in Boynton Beach. While living there, he worked on the Ortega River Bridge, and there still is a plaque on the bridge with A. Bentley & Sons engraved on it. The company decided to move back to Ohio, but George and Jim didn’t want to go, so they formed Auchter Company in Jacksonville. 

Jimmy joined the company in the mid-60s and worked there for 38 years as general superintendent. He oversaw construction of many Jacksonville downtown buildings – Wells Fargo, BB&T, Sun Trust, The Landing, American Heritage/11E, the Times-Union Performing Arts Center, St. Vincent’s Hospital, Baptist Hospital Steinhart Building, Gulf Life and both Aetna Buildings, among others.

Katherine became pregnant during their first year of marriage and had to quit teaching. She discovered quickly it was a challenge to keep up with her three boys, James T. (Jim) Monahan III, Mark, and Tim. Dr. James “Jim” Porter McNeil, Jr. delivered all three of her sons. After Tim started school, Katherine served as a substitute teacher in the public schools until 1988, when she returned to teaching home economics at Bishop Kenny until 1998.

“I taught in the same classroom that I did back in the 60s,” Katherine said. “I was so excited because they decided to renovate my classroom, and I was able to work with the architects to get just what I wanted.” She often runs into students who tell her they still have the “jams” (shorts) that she had her students sew each year.

Life in Ortega Forest was great for the Monahan boys. “We enjoyed going to the Yacht Club and belonged to the swim club,” Jim said. “As long as we stayed off Verona Avenue and Ortega Forest Drive, which were fairly busy, we could ride our bikes anywhere in the Forest to friends’ houses.”

Katherine and Jimmy Monahan celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary in 2016
Katherine and Jimmy Monahan celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary in 2016

Katherine’s family also belonged to the Ponte Vedra Club, and her boys enjoyed surfing at the beach. Vacations were usually spent at Jacksonville Beach or in South Ponte Vedra. Family friends would rent homes, and everyone would stay together. Jim recalled that Walter Lampe, a local appraiser who died in 2014, and his two kids would pick up he and his brothers in his Jeep and let them drive on the beach.

All of the Monahan sons played baseball in the Navy Ortega Lakeshore (NOL) Little League. Jim recalls practicing at Venetia Elementary School and on the NAS base.

Mark and Jim attended St. Matthew’s and then Sacred Heart Catholic School. Tim attended Sacred Heart. All three boys went to Bishop Kenny.

Jim went to Florida State University and joined First Union in 1990. Mark went to Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Va., and to the Medical College of Virginia in Richmond. He did his residency at Shands in Gainesville and joined a neurological practice in Richmond. Tim attended Hampton Sydney College in Farmville, Va., before joining Merrill Lynch.

Katherine and Jimmy have five grandchildren – Matthew, 16; and Michael, 13; Reedy, 18 and Bridget, 16, both of whom attend Bishop Kenny and Mary Katherine, 13, who attends Assumption. Tim still lives in Ortega Forest, and Katherine often babysat his children when they were young.

After 53 years of marriage, three sons, five grandchildren and many great memories of life in the beautiful historic neighborhoods on both sides of the St. Johns River, it seems obvious that when east meets west wonderful things can happen.

By Karen J. Rieley
Resident Community News

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