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  • Kelly LaVallie

The Irish Roots Behind the STC St. Patrick's Day Parade

Rosaleen Martinez’s story of courage, tenacity, and determination helped to enrich the St. Charles community over two decades ago and every year since.

In 1999, at the impressionable age of just 22, Rosie (as her friends call her) came to the United States with only $450 and a vision for a revitalized life. She was recruited while living in Dublin, Ireland by Maurice McNally to help establish what would become McNally’s Irish Pub in St. Charles. Forsaking everyone and everything she knew in Ireland, Rosie relocated to the Fox Valley suburbs.

McNally's Irish Pub, St. Charles, IL
Rosie and two friends during her days of working at McNally's

Upon arriving in St. Charles, she was instantly embraced by the community. Working at McNally’s allowed her to establish comfort with customers and familiarize herself with the locals. Her Irish roots, however, left her nostalgic for the customs and traditions she was raised with.

She witnessed the difference in celebrations surrounding St. Patrick’s Day, for example. “In America, the day is spent drinking and partying,” explains Rosie, “but in Ireland, it is in fact a family day-a Holy Day. It is spent with loved ones, doing family activities and going to church. The day usually consists of a large, shared family meal and attending a parade in the evening.” Wanting to incorporate more of her authentic culture into the heart of the community, Rosie, with the help of Maurice McNally, the mayor, and local volunteers established the St. Charles St. Patrick’s Day Parade in 2000.

St. Patrick's Day, St. Patrick's Day Parade, Ireland
The family grocery store in Dublin that was a safe and well-known community space

Entrepreneurial roots were part of the fabric of Rosie’s family. As owners of a grocery store in their Ireland hometown, her parents embedded the importance of supporting small businesses within a community. Rosie emphasizes, “My mother Mariam was a key lady in our community. She taught me how to be compassionate to other people and to never turn someone away because of a lack of money. She always looked after the people.” Rosie wanted the parade in St. Charles to not only share her Irish traditions, but also enable the local establishments to receive exposure they otherwise would not have.

From a young age her mother would articulate, “Supporting the small businesses is what keeps the character of a community alive.”

Thousands of patrons now attend the St. Patrick’s Day Parade, and upon March it becomes the beating heart of the St. Charles. The event is now presented by St. Charles Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep and Ram and the opening ceremony is sponsored by McNally’s Irish Pub. In addition to the parade itself, many businesses in the vicinity participate in local events, activities, and services to honor the day:

  • The St. Charles Park District | – St. Charles, Ill holds the Shamrockin’ Along the Fox River 8k and Fun Run starting at Pottawatomie Park.

  • Riverland’s Brewing hosts a variety of family events, as well as creates a unique malty Irish Red Ale specific for the celebration.

  • St. Charles History Museum hosts an annual Lucky Inclusive Hotspot with the Rising Lights Project. Here visitors can create a take home craft, participate in a leprechaun scavenger hunt, and enjoy popcorn while anticipating the opening ceremonies of the parade.

  • Nearby Coroco Coffee offers its customers their exclusive Lucky Latte.

  • Evergreen Pub serves Guinness, Jameson, and corned beef on special.

  • La Mesa creates their distinctive corned beef tacos with Guinness stout cream and a selection of specialty margaritas.

The parade has helped infuse traditions and flavors of the Irish into many local businesses. It has drawn in patrons from various surrounding towns allowing them to experience all that St. Charles has to offer.

Although Rosie’s experience and education revolved around hospitality and hotel management, her life-long dream resided in creativity and empowering women. With the same vibrancy and resolution as in her immigrant years, Rosie embarked on a new career path. Returning to school to study hair design and artistry, she began practicing her craft after only one year and perfecting her skills at Colour Line Hair Studio within two. Her end goal to one day open her own hair salon.

St. Patrick's Day, St. Charles, Illinois, Ireland
Rosie's mother and pillar in their Dublin, Ireland, community

In 2020 however, doctors discovered Rosie had the same BRCA2 gene responsible for the fatal breast cancer her mother suffered. “My mother passed away while I was in America. It has been the biggest heartbreak of my life. I could not attend her funeral because I was awaiting my green card and going through various trials and tribulations here in America.”

Rosie ultimately made the valiant decision to have a double mastectomy. During recovery, she witnessed the outpouring of love and support from the same community she devoted so much of herself to years ago. Peggy Bartlett, her boss for 10 years while at Colour Line Hair Studio | Geneva IL Hair Salon, was a constant presence during her hospital stay as well as when Rosie returned home.

With a renewed strength, and the embrace of her St. Charles neighbors behind her, the doors to Rosie’s Color Studio opened in 2020. When asked if it seemed daunting to start a business during the intensity of the Covid19 pandemic, she responded,

“After all I have already been through-moving to another country all alone, losing a parent, helping to start a business, starting an annual town parade, suffering a double mastectomy-it really didn’t seem all that scary.”

Her belief in giving back to the community is unwavering. Her salon provides services at no cost to cancer patients, including styling wigs, and she provides a safe environment to the immunocompromised. Although she now resides in the Schaumburg area with her husband and children, her heart and her business remain in St. Charles.

There were so many key people within the community that aided in Rosie’s recovery and success. “Ted and Tanya Meyers of Meyers and Flowers Lawfirm pointed me in the right direction when it came to opening my own business, getting my green card, and anytime I needed advice when I was new to America. Their door always remained open and they were my biggest cheerleaders in all my endeavors.”

Credit is also given to Colm Headley, who was the general manager of McNally’s at the time Rosie was employed there and the current owner of The Office. “He took care of me and all those kids that came over here from Ireland. It’s great to see him and all those people who came out here when I did succeed at their own businesses.”

When asked why she would like to share her story, Rosie explains, “Because I want people that see me to know that if you work hard, America will bring you where you want to go. I am an example of how a community can give you life and what you put into it, you will get out of it. Each person and each business makes up the character of the town we live in and if we support them, we will receive support.

I would never change my journey, regardless of the struggle. The struggles are what brought me to where I am.”

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