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Eileen (Duane) Hickey

Updated: Apr 17, 2023

Eileen (Duane) Hickey, daughter of James and Catherine (Stephenson) Duane was born on April 5, 1929, in a thatched roof cottage in the tiny village of Ballinahistle (“waterfall” in Gaelic) in County Galway, Ireland.

Eileen was the second youngest in a family of twelve children. Her four much older sisters had left home, so Eileen learned to survive growing up amongst her seven brothers. After doing her many farm chores, including tending the livestock and working the fields, she cooked and helped in the kitchen, fetching water from the well and keeping the peat fire lit. To keep up with her brothers, she learned the Irish game of hurling and became an excellent marksman. She was educated in the local primary parish schools and, because she was a good student, a local nun secured a spot for her in a boarding school some distance away. Eileen could not bear to be parted from her mother, so when the nun came to fetch her, Eileen hid in the fields until the nun finally left, opting instead to stay with her sister Kathleen in a nearby village and attend the secondary convent school there. With her brothers Gerry and Gus, 15-year old Eileen excitedly dug open the 2,000-year old secret passage and tomb site of Caher Hill on their family’s farm, after discovery by their pet greyhound and numerous napping sheep.

Eileen left home at 17 to become a nurse in England, right after the war. Times were hard, food was in short supply, and nurses-in-training worked many long hours for little or no pay. She endured, earning her English nurses pin in 1951, the first of four countries in which she became certified as an RN. She served briefly as a nurse for the Irish Army, and then followed her beloved brothers, Gus and Gerry to Toronto, Canada. She emigrated in April 1953, on board the refurbished vessel, the Georgic, and danced her way across the Atlantic, ultimately landing in Halifax, Nova Scotia. A kind gentleman offered to carry her bags, to which she assented, only to discover that passengers disembarked in alphabetical order, separating her from her bags and identity papers. Luckily, the gentleman was found and she disembarked and boarded a train to Toronto. She thought she would be living with her brothers, but Gus, possibly fearing his mother’s wrath, and to Eileen’s dismay, found her a spot in Rosary Hall, run by nuns. Because she was a nurse and unmarried, both prerequisites for the job, she was quickly hired as a stewardess with Trans-Canada Airlines and flew on DC 3s and 4s on routes in Canada and the US. Not long after that, her roommate and future sister-in-law Mona Corboy, introduced Eileen to her future husband Brian. She traded in her glamorous wings (and airsickness) for a more traditional nursing career. Together, she and Brian started a family near Toronto.

Brian landed a job at Massey Ferguson and, when a plant position opened up in Des Moines, Eileen, Brian, and their four children, along with a number of other Scottish, Irish, and other immigrants, transferred to Iowa in 1967. Eileen earned RN pin number 4 and, when not patching up all the kids in the neighborhood, taking care of her now five children, she worked at Des Moines General Hospital, in the OB and cardiac care units at Mercy hospital, a retirement facility, and Drake University Student Health. After retirement (a nurse never really retires), she volunteered with Hospice and as a school nurse.

She loved Ireland, England, and Canada, but it was Iowa that she and Brian called home, for 56 years on 23rd Street. She traded in her Irish citizenship for American in 1982. She loved reading, gardening, quilting, verbally sparing with and teasing anyone within earshot, spending time with friends and the 23rd Street gang, befriending and assisting many of all ages, throwing an epic St. Patrick’s Day party, and, most of all, being with her beloved family.

Those left to cherish her memory are her children: Paul Hickey (Leslie) of Des Moines, Ann Bonanno (Ron) of West Des Moines, Patrick Hickey (Mary Elizabeth McNary) of Washington, DC, Sean Hickey (Mary Ellen Arndorfer) of Flagstaff, AZ, and Mary Hickey (Erich Ernst) of Des Moines; her grandchildren: Ben (Tanna), Brian (Sarah Hunter) and Corey (Shekoofe Saadat) Bonanno; Aisling and Aidan McNary-Hickey; Mia Grace Hickey; Nolan and Conall Ernst; her great-grandchildren: Brielle and Brynlee Bonanno; along with her sisters-in-law Pauline, Teresa, and Florence, and many nieces, nephews, and cousins, the world over. Eileen was preceded in death by her husband Brian; infant son James; her parents; her sisters Mary, Bridget, Kathleen, and Peggy; and her brothers John, James, Patrick, Michael, Gus, Frank, and Gerry. Eileen, a dutiful daughter, sister, devoted wife, mother, grandmother, great-grandmother, nurse, friend, neighbor and shelter in the storm, will be loved and missed by God knows how many.

Visitation will be held April 18th from 4 to 7pm followed by the Rosary at Sacred Heart Catholic Church. Mass of Christian burial will be celebrated at 10:30am at Sacred Heart Church, on Wednesday, April 19th. The Celebration Mass will be livestreamed the day of at the following link:

In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to Suncrest Hospice, Calvin Community of Des Moines and Sacred Heart Church.

Online condolences may be expressed on the Brooks Funeral Care Facebook page.

“Good Auld Shtick”


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