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Practically Perfect in Every Way

by John Donovan

My grandchildren, I am about to tell you about my wife, your grandmother. I am married to a woman who is “almost perfect in every way.”  Why do I give her that title?  One of the reasons (there are others) is that before we were married, Eileen, my wife, was called this at work. Eileen worked at Deaconess Hospital in Milwaukee as a Medical Technologist. A medical student called her “the girl who is almost perfect in every way.”  Eileen was kidded about the title by her fellow workers. That phrase, “almost perfect in every way,” was a phrase that was used to describe the main character in the movie, Mary PoppinsMary Poppins was a children’s musical produced in the 1960s.  Mary Poppins, the main character, flew, sang, and brought the joy of sharing in the musical as she worked magic to please two young children.  Eileen, the other young lab techs, and some younger doctors were a happy, fun-loving group.  I once overheard the lab techs say they started a work day by leaving the lab in a single-file fashion, singing, “Hi. Ho. Hi. Ho. It’s off to work we go.” The lab techs happily mimicked the elves of another 1960s Musical, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.

This is not going to be a biography of Eileen. I will tell you about the fifty years I have known her. I met Eileen in 1969, and I began writing this in 2018.  I will tell you that Eileen was born in Duluth on November 8, 1940, and she was the daughter of John Irving (Irv) and Beatrice (Bea) Sliney. She had an older sister named Barbara. If you do the math, you know Eileen was 29 when I met her. When I met Eileen, she had just returned from a two-month-long tour of Europe. She and a friend, Pat Braun, followed a method from a manual on how travelers could tour Europe for five dollars a day. Although a dollar could buy much more then, it was not quite inexpensive. Eileen and Pat traveled to about 13 European countries in about two months using mass transit for travel and lodging in bed-and-breakfasts.  Patricia Braun was one of four Eileen’s roommates living near St. Joseph’s Hospital. When I met Eileen, Anne Johnston, and Sue (I cannot remember her last name), along with Pat, who lived in the apartment.  Pat and Anne became Eileen’s life-long friends, and after they were married, their families shared times with Eileen and my family.  


This apartment was near St. Joseph’s Hospital at the corner of Chambers and Forty-ninth Streets.    Because of its close location to St. Joe's, the apartments of this building were an ideal residence for St. Joe’s employees.  The apartment renters could walk to work at St. Joe’s. It was a long way from Deaconess Hospital, however. Deaconess Hospital (which no longer exists) was just west of downtown Milwaukee on Wisconsin Avenue. Deaconess was about ten miles from St. Joseph’s Hospital. Eileen had no car, so she had to take the bus. There were two bus transfers from St. Joe's to Deaconess. When the temperature was zero, Eileen would use her Duluth experience to overcome the cold.   

People often ask Eileen: “How can you survive that cold waiting for the bus?”.  

Eileen would reply: “I have a heavy coat, boots, warm gloves, a warm cap, and a warm scarf. I begin to feel the cold when I get into Deaconess.”

Eileen is practical, and it seems inconsistent for Eileen to get an apartment so far from work. However, there was a reason for it.  When Eileen moved from Duluth to Milwaukee, Eileen’s sister, Barb, was working at St. Joe's, and Barb lived in that apartment building near St. Joe's. Barb and Eileen are sisters who were, and still are, very close. They went to the same grade and high school: St Jean’s.  They went to the same college: St. Scholastica. Barb started her first professional job in Milwaukee, and a year later, Eileen was to start her first professional job in Milwaukee. Barb was able to get Eileen a place in the apartment complex.

There were over twenty women who lived in the apartment complex. Twenty single women in the apartment complex produced interesting stories.   Many of the residents of the apartment complex were well-paid medical professionals.  A kitchen utensil salesman made it big by selling pots, pans, and silverware to young, well-to-do women planning to have a future ‘ideal’ household home.   

This young salesman, who felt confident of his sales ability, once said, “I can sell silverware to any of the women of the complex.”    


His friend challenged the young salesman by saying: “I bet you can’t sell silverware to Eileen Sliney.”

We don’t know the size of the bet, but the bet was made. The bet was sizeable, and Jeff (name made up}, the salesman, aimed to sell silverware to Eileen and win the bet. The bargaining began. Jeff offered to sell the silverware at the standard price.   Eileen refused.   Jeff lowered the price, but Eileen refused again.  The lowering and refusing occurred and reoccurred several times.   After several months, Jeff realized that he might lose the bet.  Jeff had to cut his losses.  Eventually, Jeff sold Eileen the silverware and won the bet. However, to win the bet, Jeff sold the silverware at a loss and used the bet winnings to make up the difference. Eileen knew the normal cost of an item before she bought it. I did not know she was an excellent family purchasing agent when I married her. Eileen bought clothing, food, and other items at their best price.  She always told me which gas station was selling gas at the lowest price. 

Eileen’s parents, Irv and Bea Sliney, gave their daughters a good Catholic upbringing. Unsurprisingly, they participated in Church services together at St. Catherine’s Catholic Church on Fifty-first and Center.   They both joined the St. Catherine’s choir.  When I joined the St. Catherine’s choir, Eileen had been a choir member for several years.  Also, when I met Eileen, Barb was already married and had moved back to Duluth. Eileen and I met in the St. Catherine’s choir.

I remember the evening when Eileen and I first met.  We met at the first choir social gathering, which I attended.  At the time, I was boarding a private home. The owners of the home were an elderly couple named Schmitz.  Minnie Schmitz was very active in St. Catherine’s and a choir member.   Therefore, Minnie knew both Eileen and me.  It isn’t surprising that I would talk to a young, attractive woman at the party, and it isn’t surprising that Eileen would talk to me.  (St. Catherine’s choir was like most church choirs I belonged to; most singers were older than forty.  So, it was good to see a person about my age.)  There is more to it than that, however.

Minnie Schmitz was playing matchmaker.   Eileen, at a later time, described Mrs. Schmitz's actions. Minnie gave Eileen an ongoing report of where I was at the party and encouraged Eileen to talk to me.  Eileen thought I had just gotten out of school and, therefore, I was too young for a 29-year-old woman.   Finally, a lot out of Eileen’s courtesy to Minnie, we talked.   During the conversation, she realized I was older than she had thought.  (I am just one year younger than Eileen).  We got to know each other enough for me to ask if I could take her home and Eileen said ‘yes’.  I had an old American Rambler station wagon.  The car got a flat tire while driving her home.   About two weeks earlier, I had surgery to remove a growth in my chest.  Changing a tire was a common thing back in those days.   After the drive home, I went into Eileen’s apartment to meet some of Eileen’s roommates. 

To make an interesting conversation, I told Eileen’s roommates and some of their boyfriends there that Eileen had changed the tire because I had surgery.  I did change the tire, but we had the roommates going, and the tale was enjoyable.  The enjoyment led to more fun times. Eileen’s roommates often were visited by their boyfriends.  The group was made up of couples.  Pat and Frank, Frank Meyer were there. Anne and Bob, Bob Smith were there.  There were Sue and Dick (I cannot remember Dick’s last name either).  Eileen and I made it a foursome.   The couples enjoyed the company of the others.   Boyfriends were often mentioned when one of Eileen’s roommates was mentioned.

The couple’s names just seemed to roll off the tongue.   So much so that in some cases, they were missed pronounced: “Frank and  Pat” was sometimes mispronounced as “Frat and Pank”;  “Dick and Sue” as “Sick and Do.”  

Eileen had three social circles of friends: work friends, roommate friends, and choir friends. Eileen was also close to her family. Although Eileen’s family lived in Minnesota when I met her, Eileen would often make the long trip to see them. She would have to take the Grey Hound Bus on a Friday night and return by bus on Sunday. She often slept on the bus. Eileen’s mother, Bea Sliney, lived in St. Paul.  Eileen’s sister, Barbara, lived with her husband,  Darrold Johnson, in Duluth along with their young family.  Eileen’s Dad, Irv,  died the year before I met Eileen. When I met Eileen, she would go to Duluth more frequently than St. Paul.   This was because Barb and Darrold would host birthday celebrations and holidays. Bea would travel from St. Paul to Duluth to be at these family celebrations. In 1969, there were three Johnson children: Amy, Pam, and Darin.  Barb and Darrold’s youngest child, Joel, was born on February 20, 1970.   Darrold’s mother, Jenny, lived beside Barb and Darrold in a small home.

Eileen and I had the choir friends in common. Ch choir groups socialized outside of singing at Mass and participated in weekly singing practices. Some of these groups had spent time together and were very close.  The Walljaspers, one of these groups, was centered around three middle-aged women.  These women were sisters raised in a ‘good Catholic family.’   They had two brothers who were priests.  The Walljaspers hosted choir parties.  I remember attending a Christmas party at the Walljaspers, where the two priests attended. I began to talk to the younger priest.  He asked me what I did for a living.   

“I’m a computer programmer,” I replied.

“Computers, a new topic in the news,” the priest said (this conversation took place in the 1960s). “And what does a computer programmer do?”   

Sometimes it is hard to describe a basic subject. But I started to describe what work I did. “Cards with data punched in them.” (Again, this conversation took place in the 1960s) “are read into the computer.  The data is transferred into the central processor of the computer. The computer processes the data into information through programs, and I write the programs.” (I surprised myself in how well I described my programming job)

“What good is it to have this information on the computer?” was the next question.

I confidently replied: “Once you have the information on the computer. You can print it on a hardcopy.”

My bubble soon burst, however, when the priest said. “Don’t try to impress me; just tell me what you do.”

I was devastated.   

Grandchildren, my computer profession was called Data Processing in the 1960s, and it was a leading edge and, in some cases, a bleeding edge profession. The profession had its challenges.   But life would be boring if it did not have challenges. Looking back, I can only thank God I was so blessed to get into the computer field when I did.  I got paid well and enjoyed working with computer software, first as a computer programmer, then as a data administrator, and finally as a database administrator. Yes, I can thank God for the day I decided to take a course in Data Processing over fifty years ago. Now I look back and am even more thankful that I met Eileen, the girl who is ‘almost perfect in every way.’ Eileen is my compass in the journey of life. At times, I struggled quite successfully, and I was victorious. Other times, I was not.   I know I have had successes because of the woman who is ‘almost perfect in every way’. 

Grandchildren, the above was the beginning of a story about my life with Eileen. I started writing it but stopped when I was 76. Now, some years later, I submitted this when your Dad, or to others, Uncle Tim, started Donovan Memories, and I thought maybe you would enjoy it. I will write about later events you so desire.

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