RIP: James Hugh Farren 1928-2022
Jim and his wife Maryetta
One of the regrets of my life is that I had so few first cousins, and those whom I did have were so much older than I am.
Such was the case with Jim Farren, or as his mother, my godmother and dad’s sister, Ann (Conrad) Farren, used to call him, “Jim Hugh.” He was 18 years older than I am, so we never knew one another well.
That is why I treasured the chance to talk with him via phone last summer for more than half an hour. He was 93 at the time, but his memory was acute. We talked about so many things, and he told me much about himself that I did not know.
Jim passed away on March 30 in Scottsdale, Arizona, one day after wishing me Happy Birthday through his son, Derek.
I had hoped to visit Jim and his wife, Marietta a few years ago during the winter, but then Covid hit, and that trip never materialized.
Here is a short bio about my distinguished, yet personable and affable, cousin, who accomplished a great deal in his life and served as a great role model to his sons and to others.
Jim was the middle child of three born to Edward and Ann (Conrad) Farren in 1928. His father was from Portage, and they lived on Prospect Street in the small community along the Cambria County mainline.
His father was a clerk in the U.S. Post Office in Portage, and his mother was a housewife after the children arrived.
The eldest of the three was Ann L. Farren, who passed away in 2011, and the youngest was Mary Ellen Buczkowski, who passed in 2018. They were both in their 80s.
His mother was the tie to my family. Ann Conrad was the eldest of six children born to Charles and Katie (Brady) Conrad of Lilly. She was born on June 19, 1897. My dad, Hugh Sr., was born nine years after Ann and was the fourth of the six children.
Four of those six children were never married and had no children. Hence, so few cousins. The boys, Phil and Jimmie (John Hilary), both passed away as young men. Helen showed longevity like the three Farren children, living until the age of 90.
Ann and Ed married in the mid-1920s, and their daughter Ann was born in 1926. At that point, Ann, who had worked prior to her marriage, became a full-time mother and homemaker.
The Ivy League phenomenon
Having a child graduate from an Ivy League school is a tribute to any family. However, the Farrens had two children earn degrees from the University of Pennsylvania, a tremendous feat for the family. Ann, who graduated from Portage High School in 1944, entered first and earned a B.S. degree in Biological Science. Jim graduated from high school two years later and was then able to secure a spot in the prestigious Wharton School at Penn. That opened many doors for him in his distinguished 40+ year business career.
The question that I asked Jim last year was how two children were able to afford to attend Penn coming from a family of a postal worker.
His answer was interesting, and I was taking a few notes while he talked,
For me, I call it the greatest "welfare" program in American history: The G.I. Bill. I came out of high school (in 1944) and went into the Army for two years, and it was at the end of World War II. They had passed the G.I. Bill, which enabled me to be able to attend Penn.
I also worked during those four years to make money in a variety of jobs, but the G.I. Bill enabled me to afford the tuition for those years.
Conversation with Jim Farren, 2021
Some may quibble with his designation of that bill as a “welfare” program, but his point is well-taken. The government provided benefits so that people could earn degrees, something that they would not have been able to do without the help.
Jim worked hard in the classroom, but during those years, he also noticed a very pretty young nursing student at Penn, Marietta Smith, from Williamsport, Pa.. He said that he first spotted her while working at one of the jobs he held at Penn as an undergrad.
Marietta survives Jim, and they were together this week since they reside in the same living area.
Together, they were the parents of three children: Doug, David, and Derek, all of whom survive.
The journeys and an exciting night in Lilly
The family moved a great deal in the early years as Jim went into businesses that were having financial difficulty and gave them direction as to how to recover and find their way back on solid footing.
I told him that he once had a job in Pittsburgh, and I remembered that because my dad stayed with them in Mount Lebanon one Saturday night when he was officiating a basketball game in Pittsburgh. It was a tremendous respite because he had become ensnared in a major snowstorm.
Jim remembered that trip, along with one in which he, Marietta, and Derek stayed with us in July 1975.
The 1975 trip to Lilly, Pa. was more memorable,
I remember that night well. We were on our way from Connecticut to Illinois. I had just taken a new job, and we had sent out everything with the movers and were driving out.
We figured that Lilly would be a good halfway point, and your dad kindly agreed to let us stay there.
Conversation with Jim, July 2021
What makes that night particularly memorable is that it was the second night in three days in which a shooting had taken place in our home area of Lilly. One of the shootings was just about a half-mile away from our home, and it was one of three over a period of two days — two of which have never been officially solved.
Derek also remembers the night well as he was a young lad at that time.
Jim's relationship with my dad
Something that I did not know before last year was how close the ties were between Jim and my father. Since he was so much older, I did not know about that relationship when Jim was in his formative years.
Jim recalled that my father meant a great deal to him in his youth, and I think that this occurred for a number of reasons. He also mentioned some about my dad’s action in a Portage High School game that still resonated with him about 75 years later,
Your dad meant the world to me. I felt so privileged to have the name “Hugh” as my middle name.
He made a great impact on my life as a young man.
Conversation with Jim, July 2021
I think that my father’s involvement in sports was one positive effect that he had on Jim. And, the story that he related to me that day is one for the ages, but was a tale that he never told me. In Jim's retelling, my dad refused to allow a high school game to continue until both coaches pulled their players to the bench and ensured that they were under control. Here is the story as best as I can remember Jim telling it,
Your dad was refereeing a game at the high school gym on Caldwell Avenue, though I can’t remember who Portage was playing. Somehow, the players started fighting, and he singlehandedly broke it up and sent the players to their benches.
Then, he sat on the basketball at the circle [at midcourt] and insisted that the game would not continue until the players quit their fighting and started playing the game the way it was supposed to be played.
After a short break, the teams returned, and for the rest of the game, nothing happened.
That was a tribute to Uncle Hugh.
Conversation with Jim, July 2021
Jim’s influence on his own sons
To understand Jim’s influence with his family, Derek, the youngest, posted this on social media after his father’s passing,
We lost my Dad, James Hugh Farren, this past Wednesday. He was not only my father and mentor but my best friend. Forever grateful for his love to our family and devotion to his wife of 69 years.
So blessed to have him teach me literally everything. He was such a positive influence on everyone fortunate enough to meet him.
RIP Dad, we are so going to miss your humor, wry smile and love of life.
Another son, J. David, also earned a bachelor’s degree from Penn. He then graduated with a J.D. from the University of North Carolina Law School at Chapel Hill. He has worked as an environmental attorney and is now executive director of the Gaylord and Dorothy Donnelley Foundation in Chicago.
Derek was an accomplished player on the court, and he competed in Division I basketball at Pepperdine, where he earned a bachelor’s degree from the California university. He has worked in business for decades, like his father.
Rest In Peace, Jim. You have earned it.