They say now they wish they had asked more questions and kept more family mementos when he was alive.
Recently, three siblings and a cousin gathered to share and compare the contents of scrapbooks, ring binders and manila envelopes filled with photos, old newspaper clippings and most precious of all, manuscripts in the their subject’s handwriting.
Joseph McNamee, former schoolteacher, church organist, choir leader and author, was the subject of a fact-gathering party by three of his grandchildren and a grand niece.
The condensed work, when it is complete, will become part of the genealogy archive housed at Pacific City Hall.
In 1884, McNamee began teaching at the first LaBarque Hills School, which was later named the McNamee School in his honor. He would father two children who became teachers. His daughter Mary taught at McNamee School for 30 years.
“She taught me all eight years,” said Sarah Jane Brennan May, her niece.
May, a collector of old photos and newspaper clippings, met with Joseph McNamee’s grandchildren — Sarah Faszold, Louise Sappington and Dan McNamee — to compile a history of the man the grandchildren knew as Pop. Dan’s wife Margie also helped with sifting through collected snippets from McNamee’s life.
McNamee family members were parishioners of St. Patrick’s Rock Church in Catawissa, where Joseph McNamee served as organist and choir leader. From that remote country church, pioneer priests walked and later traveled by horse and buggy into the series of valleys in north Jefferson County to administer to a convent and chapel set up by the Sisters of Mercy, which later became St. Joseph Hill Infirmary.
The area is known as Little Ireland, identifying the Irish immigrant families that located there. In 1867, preservation society minutes show that parishioners wanted a school. They met with Jefferson County officials, held an election and elected a school board to form a school district.
George McNamee, Joseph’s father, who had immigrated to the Pacific area from County Tyrone in Ireland, was chairman of the first school board elected and organized the new school in April 1870.
George McNamee had nine children. Young George would lead the St. Louis Mounted Police for his entire work life. A panoramic photo of the mounted officers, with George at the center, hung in family homes throughout the lives of younger generations.
Joseph, the youngest son, decided to become a teacher.
George built a two-story frame home, with porches across the front, for his large family. Joseph McNamee would later acquire the family home and live there until his death.
In addition to teaching for 35 years, McNamee wrote a manuscript on the lives of the priests who had served the Catholic families as they moved into the area. Plowman Press, Pacific, published the book “Pioneer Priests.”
McNamee’s granddaughter Sarah has the handwritten manuscript for the book, which shows no smears, strike throughs or erasures.
McNamee also penned a 26-page manuscript, which was never formally published, on the history of the LaBarque Hills, a combination romantic and academic depiction of the area the Irish families called home. That manuscript was found in the old St. Patrick’s Church library and later incorporated in an East-West Gateway Council of Governments study of the pristine LaBarque Creek and its watershed.
“He did make a contribution to the community,” his granddaughter Sarah said. “He was so correct in everything he did.”