Man praises wife for keeping home fires lit

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Thursday, February 14, 2013

— Two snowmen, side by side and holding hands, greeted Kathy Brennan when she came home from work last week.

Her husband, Bill, had sculpted the figures in the front yard of their Janesville home to represent him and Kathy.

Always the romantic, Bill knows how precious being together with Kathy is after living apart for three years and three months.

"I wasn't home for three Valentine's days," he said.

When The Gazette asked readers to share the sweetest things that loved ones have done for them, Bill responded with a handwritten letter about Kathy.

She kept the home fires lit, he declared proudly.

When the Janesville General Motors plant closed in December 2008, Bill had the chance to continue working as a millwright at a GM plant in Arlington, Tex. With a daughter still in high school and other grown children in Janesville, Bill and Kathy were unwilling to uproot their family.

So Bill moved to Arlington alone in January 2009, and Kathy stayed in Janesville.

The night before he left, Bill cried with his youngest daughter, who was 15 at the time.

"Looking back, it was the right thing to do," Bill said. "My sweetheart since sixth grade and now my wife of 40 years remained in our home. She assured me every day we were doing the right thing."

In the final sprint to retirement, Bill worked 95 hours a week for more than two months to get in his required time.

"They knew I was on a mission to get home," said Bill, known as Sparky to his friends. "I had to have my hours in by April 1."

Last year, Kathy flew to Arlington to bring Bill home to his five children and eight grandchildren, for good. He felt a great sense of peace on the flight to Janesville.

"I remember thinking, 'We did it,'" he said.

Bill and Kathy stayed strong during their separation by staying connected.

"We spoke every day on the phone," Bill said. "We prayed for our love to be reunited."

In addition, Bill either flew home or Kathy flew to Texas every two months. They sent each other cards. They wrote letters. They wondered how their relatives, who came from Ireland, communicated when it took weeks for a letter to arrive.

Bill and Kathy are Catholics, who draw on their faith for strength.

"I went to Mass every day that I could," Bill said. "I had three grandchildren born while I was down there, and it was painful to miss their births."

He realizes that others have it harder.

"We constantly thought of all the men and women in service who were deployed and who put themselves in harm's way while they were separated from their families," Bill said. "At least I did not have anyone shooting at me. We thought, if they can do it,

so can we."

Their separation was not the first.

In 1994, Bill transferred to Janesville to work at GM after a Pennsylvania plant closed. Kathy and the kids came a year later after selling their home.

While Bill was in Texas, Kathy kept busy at her job as a teacher's aide at St. William Catholic School. During the first two years, her youngest daughter was still at home. During the last year, Kathy was on her own after her daughter went off to college.

"I had never lived alone," she said. "One of the hardest parts was being in the house by myself."

Bill and Kathy encourage other GM families still separated because of the Janesville plant closing.

"You have to stay true to each other," Bill said. "You have to stay close. You have to stay focused on what the mission is. You have to stay sober. There is great temptation out there to tear up the family."

The Brennans have 20 people in their immediate family.

"Our grandkids and five children admire us," Bill said. "Hard times will come for them, and they will look back and say that Mom and Dad did it."

In addition to Kathy, he acknowledges four other sweethearts in his life. They are his daughters, Christina Mary Ott, Angela Marie Flynn, Theresa Rose Braun and Kayla Anne Brennan.

Kathy believes God has blessed her and Bill for being strong. Now, they are readjusting to living with each other again.

"The kids are so thrilled their papa is home," she said. "They missed him so much. We are all together again and extremely glad it is over."

Last updated: 8:11 am Monday, April 29, 2013

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