Dec 22, 2021

Charles Beirne

Charles Beirne was born on June 3, 1929 in Watertown, South Dakota and died peacefully at home on October 31, 2018 in Chicago. He graduated from DePaul University with a BA in English Literature in 1952. He served in the U.S Army Corps of Engineers 1952-1954. He earned his MA in Literature in 1959. He was a teacher with the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) for most of his career. 

One of his most satisfying times was directing high school musicals with his friend and colleague, Leonard Hurst, at Morgan Park High School.

He also taught evening drama classes and directed plays at St. Xavier College. One of his roles was with WBEZ, developing and teaching broadcasting for gifted students. He later was promoted to the gifted coordinator for the city’s high schools. Charles retired in 1993 with 33 years of service with CPS.

In 1954, he married Elizabeth Kelly who he met while a college student at DePaul University. They had nine children. She died in May of 1967. He married Norine Kennedy in December 1968. Norine brought three children into the family and in 1970 they added Amy making 13 altogether. The family lived in Harvey until moving to the Beverly area of Chicago in 1969.

Charles was a proud Democrat and had strong social justice beliefs. He enjoyed discussing politics with his children and grandchildren. He moved a great deal in his early life due to The Great Depression and other challenges. As an adult, he was committed to staying in one place. He achieved this goal, living for 49 years in his Beverly home.

Charles loved theater and was an actor in his youth, a director in his profession and theater buff throughout his life. He loved opera and had season tickets to both the Lyric Opera and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra for much of his adult life. The family often produced plays to entertain themselves and unsuspecting guests.

He enjoyed ballroom and ice dancing. He also taught his children to ice skate. He and Norine took up cross country skiing and explored many parks in the area this way. They also became avid bird watchers and as they aged, the bird feeder outside the dining room window provided much enjoyment. They traveled to National Parks each summer while raising their children. In retirement, they toured Europe, Ireland and visited family in California, Arizona and Alaska.

Charles was a chess player. He had every generation of computerized chess game available and would play multiple games simultaneously. Charles also enjoyed tennis and continued to play into his 70’s. He was an enthusiastic fan of the sport and followed the tournaments very closely.

He is survived by his children, Michael of Santa Clara, CA, Sharon (Gordon) Fuller of Columbia MD, Mary (John) Brubaker of Naperville, IL, Kathy (Dick) Callahan of Juneau, AK, David (Martha Stedman) of Tucson, AZ, John Ventrella, Mark Paul of Long Branch, NJ, Anne of Jacksonville, FL, Carol (Betty Julin) of Arlington Heights, IL, Chris (Nancy Davila) of Austin TX, Dan (Colleen) of Redmond, WA and Amy (Tom) Figel, his daughters-in-law Vivien Alsberg Beirne and Dodie Beirne.

He is honored by the legacy of his 18 grandchildren and 4 great-grandchildren including: Evan (Jessica) Fuller and their children Maya and Naomi, Eliana (Ben) Holgate and their children Gabriel and Miriam, Matt (Jordan) Callahan, Terry Beirne, Neal Callahan, Karen Beirne, Clara Brubaker, Oliver Beirne, Hanna Brubaker, Liz Johnson, Rosalie Beirne, Lily Yellott, Liam Figel, Sean Figel, Nora Beirne, Sophie Figel, Erin Beirne and Quinn Beirne.

He is also survived by his brother Edmund, sisters, Janet, Elaine (Paul) Raglow, Agnes (Diahann McConkey) and sister-in-law Mary Beirne.

He is preceded in death by his first wife Elizabeth, second wife Norine, parents Martin and Agnes Beirne, brothers Patrick and Gregory.

Donations in Charles’ name can be made to:

the ACLU (, The Lyric Opera, Beverly Art Center or WBEZ.


I read the words below written by Michael Rosen and immediately remembered Mr. Bierne and  the stage productions at Empehi...Bye-Bye Birdie and Brigadoon.

Still can sing the songs.  Good memories.

Also thought of Mr Hurst and hours of rehearsing for A Cappella competitions. 

Still can sing those songs too. 

"What did they think they were doing
those English teachers
staying on after school
to put on plays?
I was an ant in a play about ants.
Then I was a servant
in Much Ado About Nothing.
Hours and hours rehearsing
in winter classrooms.
My father did it too,
bringing home the problem
of how to make blood for Julius Caesar’s toga
and snakes for Cleopatra.
They got no money for it
these English teachers.
Sometimes headteachers were pleased
sometimes mildly irritated 
that the hall was out of action
for their assemblies.
We left school.
They retired.
They’re all gone:
Mr Jones, Mr Brown, my father.
There are one or two photos
blurred pictures of unbelievably young people
with too much make-up round the eyes;
some marked up play scripts,
the character’s name underlined in red,
stage directions - ‘move stage right’.
voice directions - ‘urgent’.
Did they know that we would carry the memories
for decades?
60 years since ‘Much Ado’. 
Did they know that it’d be easier to remember
the lines and the Leichner make-up
than how to do simultaneous equations
and the correct order of the cities down the Rhine,
though I can be a red corpuscle
and describe my journey from the left ventricle
to my fingers and back
(it involves all four chambers of the heart).
Did they know that some of us
would do more and more and more
of things like saying words out loud
or writing words for others to say out loud
or just working with a few other enthusiastic people
to get something done.
Did they know that?

I once bumped into Mr Brown
on Russell Square Station.
He was in his 70s
I was in my 60s.
I had a lot to tell him.
He had a lot to tell me.
There wasn’t time. 
We said, ‘Let’s meet up.’
We didn’t.
He died soon after.

He had an obituary in the Times.
They asked me to add a bit.
I wanted to say that 
those hours in the winter classrooms
being an ant mattered then
mattered again and again
and still matter.
Well, they matter to me.
But did he know that?
Did he know that they would go on mattering?
And if he knew that, 
where did he and Mr Jones and my father
learn that the kids in their plays
would go on thinking about 
being ants and servants
for the rest of their lives?"


You have a wonderful way with words Marie. Thanks for sharing ‘deep thoughts’!

Tony Visser


I can't take credit for the reflection; it was written by Michael Rosen. I only commented that his words evoked memories from Empehi.



Thanks for sharing Michael’s thoughts. I remember seeing Brigadoon and was moved by the performance. We were fortunate to have teachers that cared.

Sandy “Schuessler” Wright

Great memories...

I know all of us who were able to participate in Drama and Music at EMPEHI are the better for it. I shudder when I hear music and art are being eliminated from schools...the quest to decrease costs, costs more than they can imagine.

 I taught Art as a volunteer when my daughter was in elementary school.  It was a program started by a parent. I saw so many kids who were not "doing well" in school, shine in the art program. They were given the chance to show talent and gain confidence. Who knows how that helped them in their lives.  I know it was rewarding for me.  

I can still sing songs from Pirates of Penzance, and A Capella ...not as well, since I cannot hit the high notes anymore.  We were lucky to have the talented and dedicated teachers who gave us such precious gifts.



Great memories of EMPEHI

We were so fortunate to have had Mr. Burn and Mr. Hurst to allow many of us to participate in the wonder of music and drama...and to give all the experience of watching.  I can still sing some of the songs from Pirates of Penzance, though I cannot hit the high notes anymore.  I shudder when I hear schools cutting art and music. They may cut the budget, but at a GREAT price to the students.

I taught art in my daughter's elementary school as part of a volunteer program...and saw many students who were not doing well with regular schoolwork, shine and gain confidence in art and music enhance learning in so many ways. 



Thanks so much. I had one of my most memorable experiences at MPHS through him, but had no idea of his whole life. How interesting.

Many thanks Patt.



Thank you for this information about his life. I always like him, and Mr. Hurst.


Very nicely said, Marie.

I remember how well I thought the late Andy Bendel sang in some of our MPHS productions, Brigadoon, I think.  The faculty and students did some very nice work.

Craig Hullinger

Even though I cannot carry a tune in a bucket, and I can only act stupidly, the music and drama programs at Empehi deeply enriched my life as well as added additional joy to several reunions where we all enjoyed participating in (even by watching/listening) Mr. Hurst and choir members perform.  I am so grateful.  And art -- no talent there either but I appreciate art in all its forms thanks to the efforts of dedicated teachers and my fellow students.  

God Bless all teachers, but especially those who continue to devote themselves to the art of teaching students who may or may not want to learn.  And damn those who would remove arts (and physical education) from schools.  Those who are not intellectually inclined may find their true calling in these areas.  Art and Music have kept many students in school.

Judy Halligan Willingham '66


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