Local CultureNeighborhood News

Notebook Recollections: The Mary Pesek House Pt. 2

Local icon Tim Rumsey walked to work most days from 1987 to 2000. He began as a form of exercise but kept at it for his love of local lore harvested through his interactions with people on the street. He began documenting his musings and eventually filled 53 pocketbooks with his observations. He continues writing about his observations to this day. Here is just one tale.
By tim rumsey, md
We learned in last month’s Recollections that the 1917-built Pesek house on Michigan at Erie breathed old world elegance, some mystery and St. Stan’s Czech royalty. Uncle Cy Pesek was the chief architect for the new St. Stan’s after the 1934 church burned to the ground. The Pesek family sponsored two stained glass windows, one for Mary and one for her beloved younger brother Tommy. They also purchased a family pew. Joseph Kovarek, Mary’s maternal uncle, was the traveling secretary for composer Anton (Symphony of the New World) Dvorak. A framed, giant lithograph of Dvorak was proudly displayed in the Pesek home. in pencil by the Master, himself.
Recall, also, 59-year old Paul Johnson was in home hospice in the Pesek home with his foster-father, Dennis Morgan and three other adult foster men who Dennis still calls boys.
Winter 1997
Dennis Morgan’s call came late at night. Landline. Mary was fading. Could I come down?
Of course.
Ninety-five year old Mary Pesek was ready to go. Home Hospice was easing her along. 
I told Dennis, 20 minutes, walking time.
The Winter night was exquisite. Dark and clear, 30 degrees. Quiet, big, soft snow fell. The whole scene candle-lit.
Summer-Fall 1989
Mary had been alone since her mother’s death in 1972. The home is considered the jewel of West 7th. From then on, her only companions were cats. Mary had two or three cats for a number of years. Later, eight. Then 15. And the ferals! Eventually, Mary spent all her money on cat food, which she ate.
Neighbors tried to help with lawn care or hellos until they couldn’t. Mary wouldn’t answer her door. Of course they wondered about the cats. Someone must have called the city. Mary’s mind and house seemed to deteriorate together. 
Mary stopped paying bills. Her heat was shut off. She let the phone go. She opened the door for a guy once, who she thought was an angel, coming to take her away. He took away some jewelry and an ivory statue.
Eventually 529 Michigan was so overgrown with scrub trees, truant perennials and pesky, annexing flora that her home was no longer visible from the street.
The city finally sent a housing inspector over in early 1988. He walked in to see Mary garden-hosing the Dvorak litho. She thought the house was on fire. He recorded what he thought were at least 100 inside cats; with basement cats and outside cats totaling 150. The smell was the worst he ever experienced in 25 years of garbage house inspection. His old trick of Mentholatum in each nostril and two handkerchiefs over the face were useless. He saw cat feces, cat hair, cat bones. He saw live cats eating dead cats. The walls were clawed and denuded. The wiring was exposed and ratty. Books had turned to confetti. Fifty years of neatly arranged Prague newspapers were goners. The Persian rugs were urine soaked and disintegrating. Furniture springs simply fell out of their frames and sat beneath the skeletons of chairs and couches, like their own excrement. 
The Pesek house was condemned. A public health nurse brought Mary to United Hospital where our medical residents took care of her. Wheels were set in motion to eventually transfer Mary to a nursing home and to tear down her house.
Sister Alice, from St. Stan’s and Betty Moran from the West 7th Federation had another idea. They received a one-month reprieve to clean up the house, get rid of the cats, and bring Mary back home with a live-in caretaker, Dennis Morgan. Betty approached the Bremer House, a half-way house for women, to form a basic volunteer corp.
Neighborhood volunteers and the Federation went to work. Though some escaped, 125 cannibalistic cats were put to sleep by the Humane Society. Other volunteers fixed the plumbing and sold Mary’s old car to catch up payment on bills. Sister Alice and Betty-plus-crew threw away rugs and furniture; they scrubbed and washed then did it again. They painted the inside of the house. They got some secondhand furniture. Alice Rivard provided carpentry magic. Dave Thune and Ed Johnson chain-sawed the renegade landscaping. 
They saved the Pesek house. 
The city and county were impressed. Mary came home. Dennis became a certified adult foster care provider. He continued home improvements, guided by old photos. Two years later, it was back to life. Mary lost the house to condemnation, and Dennis was able to buy the house through the Federation.
Dennis took great care of Mary. Paul Johnson and Michael Lee joined the foster family at Mary Pesek’s house. Kevin and Kyle came years later. 
I officially met Mary and Dennis on a 1991 house call when I was asked to be Mary’s doctor. I had heard about Mary and the house going to heck, and was amazed at how beautiful it was. There was a fire in the fireplace. New rugs and furniture. Mary was nicely dressed and pleasantly out of it. I had to verify her continued need for foster care. That was not hard to do. She thought it was 1950; she called Dennis “Tommy” and kept asking him where the cats had gone. She asked me if I wanted to dance.
Winter 1997
Back to the house call to declare Mary Pesek’s death. I sat with Dennis as he stroked her arm.
She wore satin pajamas and lay on satin sheets. She was at peace. There was a fire in the fireplace. Mary was in the sunroom, in the same spot where her beloved brother, Tommy, was waked in the casket. 
December 2022
Now 25 years later, Paul Johnson received hospice care in that same home. In this lovely house of Love.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *