A Derry woman who moved to the USA after marrying during World War II has been crowned queen of the Bucktown Seafood Festival, at a special event in New Orleans.
A Derry woman who moved to the USA after marrying during Worl War II has been crowned queen of the Bucktown Seafood Festival, at a special event in New Orleans.
Mona Lestrade was made queen by organisers who selected her for her “contribution” to the growth and development of the Bucktown area.”
Mona O’Donnell was born in Derry, Northern Ireland. Jules Lestrade was a native of Bucktown who had joined the war effort in Europe before the United States became involved in World War II. The two met for the first time at the Derry train station on a Sunday morning. The American and his friends struck up a conversation with the young woman while she waited for her brother’s train.
Despite the fact that O’Donnell would only give Lestrade her first name when he attempted to ask her out, the 21-year-old young man assured his friend that he was going to marry their new acquaintance some day.
Lestrade was able to track down O’Donnell, who was well-known throughout the town for Irish dancing, and sent her a letter. Shortly after that, the young suitor spent the weekend at the O’Donnell family home, getting to know O’Donnell.
“That was the only time I had spent with him, before he had to leave,” Mona Lestrade said. “When America got into the war, he came back (to the U.S.) and chose to join the United States Navy.” Over the next three years, he worked in Guam and the Philippine Islands. “Every day, for three years, I got a letter,” Mona Lestrade said. The couple decided they would marry when Jules Lestrade was able to return to Ireland.
During this time in the Pacific, Jules Lestrade also found a small, dusty box, about half the size of a shoe box, sitting all by itself on a top shelf in the warehouse that he was working in. “When he opened it, out jumped about 100 yards of pure white silk,” Mona Lestrade said with a smile. (They believe the fabric was left by Japanese workers, who may have used it for parachutes.) The young man promptly sent the silk home to his mother in Bucktown, asking her to make a wedding dress for his future bride, using his sister-in-law for a model.
When World War II ended, Jules Lestrade returned to Derry Island to marry his bride. The newlyweds soon traveled to America, and Mona O’Donnell Lestrade was welcomed into the Lestrade family and the Bucktown community. Some of the women in the area even threw a “welcome shower” for the young couple. Although everything from the food to the weather was different from anything she had ever experienced before, the young bride soon felt “right at home,” thanks to the parishioners of St. Louis King of France Church and the Rev. Patrick Cunningham, St. Louis’ Irish pastor.
The Lestrades live across the street from their church and have watched the parish grow through the years. In September 1953, when St. Louis King of France School opened for the first time, Monica Lestrade, the couple’s oldest daughter, was one of the first students. Mona Lestrade, always willing to be involved, was the first secretary of St. Louis’ original Mothers Club. “Only a handful of us showed up at the first meeting,” she said, “so everyone there got to be an officer.”
In appreciation of their constant support and encouragement, Mona Lestrade was always willing to help out at St. Louis in any way she could. From soliciting $1 donations for a “Buy a Brick” program to raising money in the early 1950s for the first school building ,to sewing dolls and stuffed animals for the original penny parties and fairs, Mona Lestrade always enjoyed being so close to the church and school. “I love everything about it there,” she said. “The people there are so kind and good.”
Mona and Jules Lestrade were married 55 years, before his passing approximately 10 years ago.
Mona says she is honored to be queen of the festival.
“Some 60 years ago, I left my family, friends, and country, to come here to Bucktown,” she said, “but St. Louis King of France Church and School became my other family and gave me many new friends. It is no accident that God placed me right across the street from SLKF. It was, and still is the center of my life.”
Elaine Binder is a Bucktown resident. Elaine@bucktownandbeyond.com
The article is published with kind permission of http://blog.nola.com/eastjefferson/2013/09/irish_world_war_ii_bride_is_qu.html