Remembering Jack Brennan - JuniperCivic.com
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Originally published in the September 2017 Juniper Berry Magazine

Remembering Jack Brennan

JPCA leaders with members of the Brennan family. Jack Brennan (inset)

Brennan Field at Juniper Valley Park is named in honor of my father-in-law, Sergeant John Patrick Brennan, NYPD.  Jack Brennan was an Irish immigrant and scholar/athlete at Fordham University, Class of 1929. He was captain of the Fordham track and cross-country teams.

Assigned to the Juvenile Affairs Branch of the NYPD, he distinguished himself as a coach, sending a number of young women to compete in the Olympics as members of the U.S. Women's Track and Field Team.

Jack was a 17-year veteran of the NYPD when he passed away from a heart attack at the age of 49 on his way home after a track meet in 1956. His widow received only $50/month pension and was forced to return to work to support her 3 girls.

According to the Long Island Star-Journal, Saturday, June 6, 1959, the John P. Brennan Memorial Field, its proper title, was dedicated on Sunday, June 7th, 1959 (at 2 PM).  My wife vaguely remembers the event and a family photograph of her mother looking down at a commemorative plaque at Brennan Memorial Field.

The Marine Corps typically honors the fallen with a commemorative marker of some sort to preserve the memory of the person honored.  Years ago, when my wife, Terri, and I were residing at Camp Pendleton, Marine friends of ours who grew up in Queens (as my wife and her sisters did) casually mentioned having lived across the street from Brennan Field, their favorite playground.  We concluded that their Brennan Field was one and the same as the facility honoring Terri's dad.

Terri and I, her sister Margaret-Mary, and our nephew, Sean, visited Brennan Field on September 11th of this year.  Neither of the Brennan sisters had visited Brennan Field since its dedication in their father's memory in 1959. We met Christina Wilkinson, Robert Holden, Tony Nunziato and John & Betty Killcommons at the park house. To everyone's delight and surprise, we found we had some friends in common dating years back. It was a great way to end our NYC visit.

Best regards from way down yonder in Jacksonville, North Carolina.

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SERGEANT JOHN PATRICK BRENNAN BIOGRAPHY

As printed in the 1959 Brennan Field dedication ceremony program

Well known for his devoted work in the field of track sports for women and enthusiastic promoter of Police Athletic League activities, the late John Patrick Brennan has deservedly earned the high esteem of his fellowmen. His talents, his time, his seemingly inexhaustible energy were freely spent in service to the boys and girls he directed so wisely and so well.

John Patrick Brennan was born September 5, 1906 in Glasgow, Scotland. In 1916 he came with his then recently widowed mother to America, taking up residence in Maspeth. As a teenager, he became somewhat of a sports leader in his home town, organizing what was to become a locally famous baseball team known as the EMERALDS.

Brennan brought honor to Newtown High School when his outstanding track feats won him wide acclaim as cross-country champ of Queens. Following his graduation from school where he also starred in baseball, Brennan accepted a scholarship from Fordham where he again distinguished himself as a track ace. Here, as captain of Fordham's cross-country team, Brennan romped off with more wins continuing to hold top honors now as the MAROON'S cross-country star.

Though Brennan never lost his loyalty to his Alma Mater, a new interest ‒ that of the Seventh Regiment the National Guard ‒ came into his life. Characteristic of Brennan, his was more than mere membership. With his singular ability for leadership he organized and participated in the athletic tournaments held by the Seventh Regiment. Spectacular honors came when Brennan as captain led the Seventh Regiment team to two successful State Military Athletic League championships in 1931 and 1932. Years later John's was a familiar figure among the officials at the annual track meets.

Considered by his superiors to have a "talent for keeping his head in the stars and his feet on the ground, Brennan never let adversities discourage him. Confident that what he believed in and what he worked for were serving the highest interests American Youth, Brennan gave himself unreservedly to this cause. In 1945 he was placed in charge of a city-wide track program of the PAL. While much of the league seemed to favor the boys' activities it was Brennan's interest in girls' track activities that soon was to launch him into setting up a sports program for women that would culminate in his having brought nation-wide recognition to this phase of sports.

It was during these years as a PAL official that Brennan organized his first AAU girls' track team. An extraordinary triumph when Mae Faggs of Bayside reached coveted goal entry into the Olympics in 1948. Relieved several years later of his PAL duties, Brennan later initiated a similar sports program in the Equitable Life Assurance Company. Unexpected changes in the company's administrative policy deal a death blow to the then flourishing track team.

However from this seeming death, new life sprung when Brennan's girls rallied to the call of their beloved coach and started a new team, the MERCURETTES. Success met this venture in a remarkably different way. Javelin throwing for girls was somewhat unusual as a sport for American women. However Coach Brennan surprised many by skillfully training Marjorie Larney of Woodhaven for entry into the 1952 Olympics as one of its youngest javelin throwers.

Brennan never looked for nor received remuneration for his unstinting service to youth. As a member of the Police Department for over 17 years, he had recognized youth's need for guidance. His coaching stopped not at the physical but went deeper into the hearts of his young charges. In him they saw a leader, one who brought to the game of life all he had, one who had scored high and well.

It was on his way home from a track meet in late February 1956, that John Patrick Brennan was stricken with a heart attack. Three weeks later Brennan died, mourned far and wide by the many who had come to know and love this great man.

To his three daughters, Margaret Mary, Susan Anne, and Teresa Ellen, and his wife, Margaret Foster Brennan, he left behind a heritage ‒ a beautiful memory of a wonderful father and devoted husband. This field dedicated today ‒ June 7, 1959 – to his memory makes lasting tribute to a great American. May the spirit of John Patrick Brennan pass on to all those that use this field then truly they too will be GREAT...GREAT AMERICANS.

September 2017 Juniper Berry Magazine

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