Married to the Mob and other (In)convenient Truths


My father proposed to my mother on their first date.  Tall, dark, and handsome, he didn’t so much ask, as declare his intention.  That night, over red wine and white linen table-cloth, Daddy insisted he would marry Mom, when, if fact, my mother was already engaged and laughed at Daddy’s audacity.  But Daddy knew what he wanted, and Judy Kunkle was it.  Decisive, determined, daring, he had a reputation for getting what he wanted, for making magic happen.

My parents (left and center) during their first year of marriage, my paternal grandmother (right).

Having graduated from Indiana University of Pennsylvania in June of 1960 with a degree in elementary education, my mother applied to several Pittsburgh schools, choosing ultimately to teach Kindergarten in Fox Chapel—an upscale Pittsburgh suburb where the houses have wide lawns and domestic help is more common than the cold. 

At the time my mother was engaged, and had been promised in marriage to another boy before that.  She had dated Millard while attending high school in Homer City and accepted a ring from him before he left to join the military and she went off to college.  With Millard gone overseas, it wasn’t more than a year before, as a cheerleader, she began dating the school’s star basketball player.  Poor Millard was quickly cast aside for George—big man on campus.

But when she ultimately finished college a semester before George, whose own progress toward graduation was slowed down by basketball, it was again out-of-sight-out-of-mind when she began dating Daddy that fall, maintaining her engagement to George, romanced by Daddy on the side.

My mother, fair, freckled, and fun, says she doesn’t remember the name of the tavern where she met my father, but that Daddy was tending bar at the establishment.  She was out with girlfriends, a Friday night on the town.

After that initial introduction, Daddy began calling my mother’s Shadyside apartment and talking to whichever of her roommates answered the phone.  Soon however, he began asking for “Judy” and talking to her exclusively.

When she returned to Homer City over the Christmas holiday (1960), she said Daddy called every day, what back then would have been expensive, long-distance calls, persuading her by the end of those two weeks, to break off her relationship with George and begin dating Daddy exclusively.   Daddy proposed to my mom on Valentine’s Day, and they were married several months later.

On a sunny Saturday in June 1961, my parents married at the Methodist Church on the corner of Main and Church Streets, and though she didn’t know it at the time, the mafia had made its way into the heart of this small town, Homer City girl.

Church where my parents were married more than 50 years ago; photo taken during last week's trip to Pennsylvania.

Though my mother told me last week she knew nothing about this aspect of Daddy’s “business” before they married and only came to realize gradually during their first year of marriage, I also discovered from reading their marriage announcement published in the Indiana Gazette that the man who is currently, 50 years later, the underboss of the Pittsburgh crime family was in my parent’s wedding party.  The text of that announcement is reproduced below.  (To read the original and see a photo of my mom in her wedding dress, click here.)

When I told my mom I thought it was “interesting” she would be engaged three times in the course of 4 years, each time breaking off the engagement when a more attractive suitor came along, but not end her marriage to my father, when she found out about his mafia affiliation, she blamed the “sanctity of the marriage vow” for her decision.

Perhaps, because the Bible, conveniently, does not mention the mafia, and therefore does not condemn their crimes specifically, the “sanctity” of marriage trumped the offences committed by the organization.

This was, at best, a loose understanding of “sanctity” and an uneven application of the term, since my mother married the mob, quite literally–an (in)convenient truth, whose meaning differed according to the context.

It was into this “sanctified”setting that I was born one year later, but the marriage and mafia games were already well, and conveniently, under way.

Judy Kunkle may have been a prize, but what else would Daddy win?

42 thoughts on “Married to the Mob and other (In)convenient Truths

  1. I can see that we are in for a real treat with future posts after the trip with your mom. I find it interesting, but not surprising, that your mom held onto “the sanctity of marriage”. My own mother said the same thing when she explained why she was in an abusive marriage for nine years. It was only when he cheated on her that she finally left.

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    • It’s interesting what women will put up with in the name of marriage being a sacred arrangement, when what their husbands do is far from sacred. Sorry to hear your mom put up with abuse. That must have been hard for you. Thanks so much for reading, Tara. It’s great hearing from you this morning. Have a great day.

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    • It is weird. I knew that my dad had been friends with the man for years, but seemed to rememember one of his brothers or him in wedding pictures, but this confirmed what I only vaguely suspected. I thought, perhaps, he had only been at, as opposed to in, the wedding.

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  2. It sounds like your trip down memory lane with your mother was indeed successful. As I read this, I kept picturing one of those interview clips from WHEN HARRY MET SALLY http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=guinBnWWuKE&feature=player_embedded. Its fascinating how couples get together, and sometimes even more fascinating how they stay together. Although, I am beginning to understand that, for women of our parent’s generation, the sanctity of marriage had more meaning and more power, or at least provided a good excuse to not pursue anything different.

    Keep writing Kathy. Your story becomes more fascinating with each addition

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    • I’m so glad to hear the story still interests you, Lisa. I will check out the clip, as I don’t remember it.

      But, yes, I think the trip went well enough. I wasn’t able to accomplish nearly as much as I would have liked, but I did get some stuff done.

      Hope you are managing to dig out.

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  3. Wow. I haven’t been here in a bit (family stuff and school….but my family stuff doesn’t even make the radar screen compared to what you grew up with) but it sounds like these are awful revelations to have to live with. Do you ever worry for your safety as you write about this stuff (and name names?) You are a brave woman and fortunate to have taken your life back. Blessings to you.

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    • Good question. Actually, I don’t worry as much since the names are already all over the internet. I don’t think I’m saying anything anyone who knows about these things doesn’t already know–if that makes sense. But thanks for wishing me well and for reading. Blessings to you, too.

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    • I know what you’re saying. It does seem strange to say you “like” a story like mine–too weird, right? I hadn’t put that together, actually, until you said it.. It was a strange way to grow up, for sure, but I can’t imagine now ever having any other life. Thanks for reading–and commenting–as opposed to just clicking “like.”

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    • Thanks, Renee. I always take your responses super seriously. I’m especially pleased you think the writing works here. I wasn’t sure about that aspect of this post. Glad to hear you like the conversation with my mom.

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  4. The things that women will put up with for the sake of their man is puzzling to me. Didn’t understand it as a kid and don’t understand it now. Someone once made the following statement about me, “She doesn’t put up with much.” Their probably right and that’s probably why I’ve spent most of my life single.
    Great story and beautiful pictures, Kathy. Thanks for sharing with us.

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    • I never thought I was willing to put up with much, but now that I have a partner I adore, I can imagine being willing to tolerate a lot–not that I do, by any means, but love is a powerful emotion. We are such strange creatures.

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  5. Wow. People the world over tolerate amazing things in the name of love. While I am a relatively new reader of your site, I must say that I particularly like your “voice.” Well worth stopping by. 😉

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  6. Kathy, you have hooked me again.
    Your gentle soul is so far-reaching…I just know that this story will be heard by millions, touched by millions (who will be moved and warmed and shocked and just fall in love with your story ~ like I have!!).

    xoxoxoxoxo

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  7. Kathy – I come back here as often as I can to see if your story has progressed. I am really hooked on reading your saga although I know it must have been a difficult life – I find it rather intriguing and of course so well written.

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    • Oh, Jacke, I’m so glad the story interests you. It would probably grab my attention, as well, assuming I were not the one to have lived it. I’m also pleased you enjoy the writing, as a strong voice is what I would need to get a book contract. Thanks so much for reading.

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  8. “The sanctity of marriage” sounds like an excuse too many women trot out to explain their reasons for remaining in a union that does not have their best interests at heart. Similar to “staying together for the kids,” something that I – fortunately – never believed was a good enough reason for being unhappy.

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  9. I, like Tori, am blown away by that enormous wedding announcement that tells me what your grandmother wore – for goodness sake! I can’t help but wonder if the truth is harder for your mom to admit: that she just couldn’t resist your dad and didn’t want to leave him (but feels that that somehow makes her bad). Obviously, that’s a major assumption for me over here to be making. Can’t wait for more!

    Your work here has taken on new meaning for me as I’m reinvigorating the idea of recording the stories of my mother and aunt, for different purposes. I’ve resigned that my blog reading will actually occur the evening before I previously said it would since mornings are not good for me and I can’t wait any longer!

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    • Oh, dear Rose, I promise to stop commenting on your timing. Really just a joke.

      When I went to PA, I took an digital audio recorder so I could have a record of what both my mom and aunt had to share. The Olympus I used is compatible with Dragon software, which translates voice into text automatically. I’ve not yet purchased the softward, but tried it. It seemed to work amazingly well.

      I think we all need to get these family stories down while our parents/grandparents are still around to share them–that is if we’re interested in hearing them and passing them on.

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  10. It doesn’t surprise me that your mother would stay married due to the “sanctity of marriage” clause. So many women of that generation put up with all kinds of stuff in the name of wedding vows. I can think of more than a few, unfortunately.

    It’s amazing to me how much you’re able to find about your family history. The trip to PA must have really paid off. (Stating the obvious here: I am so far behind in reading your blog that you’ll probably have your book finished before I get caught up!)

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    • How funny. I don’t think you’re behind at all–if anything not more than one post. It actually never occured to me that it might be unusual how much family history I’m able to uncover. But I do think the trip to PA helped.

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  11. Incredible! Who has wedding announcement like that anymore? Mine would have said “The bride had greasy hair and wore a dirty hiking top over a borrowed sarong skirt”. Come to think of it… I need to have that announcement published, post haste! 🙂

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  12. Perhaps, because the Bible, conveniently, does not mention the mafia, and therefore does not condemn their crimes specifically, the “sanctity” of marriage trumped the offences committed by the organization.
    I am unceasingly amazed by the leaps of explanation we’re willing to take to make our not-so-good choices seem like the only sensible ones.

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