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Tribune Chronicle spotlights Kathryn "Kitty" Bruder Packard by Charles Ohlin

Remembering Kathryn Bruder, the Irish-American Packard

Kathryn, better known as “Kitty,” was the oldest daughter of John and Hannah Donegan Bruder, Catholic immigrants from County Limerick, Ireland. (The Bruder surname is the anglicized version of O’Bruadair.)

John and Hannah Bruder arrived in America around 1860, and first settled in Iowa, where their oldest son John was born. The family briefly relocated to Ravenna, where Kitty was born in 1873. John then moved the family to Niles, where he worked as a puddler in an iron mill. Kitty’s sisters Nora, Margaret, Mary and Nellie, and brother William were born and raised in Niles.

We do not know much about her youth, but Kitty was an intelligent, confident and self-sufficient young woman. After completing her basic education, and with few other opportunities available to her, Kitty took a job as a waitress.

By 1900, Kitty lived in Warren, and worked as the head waitress of the Park Hotel, supervising the other staff. W.D. “Will” Packard and his 8-year-old son Warren were regulars in the hotel dining room, and that is likely where Kitty first met the 36-year-old widowed industrialist.

The following year, Will’s brother Ward constructed a modern, three-story apartment building on North Park Avenue, known as the “Packard Flats.” Will was anxious to move there and offered Kitty a job as his housekeeper.

Will and his son moved into their luxurious apartment in 1902. Will wrote in his journal: “Kitty Bruder the housekeeper and her sister here. First meal in the new apartment this noon. What a pleasure to have a home of your own. Warren is happy and contented in the change.”

Will paid Kitty $25 per month ($780 today), plus room and board. She received a $5 per month raise the following year.

While Kitty officially was Will’s housekeeper, she assumed the far more important responsibility of caring for his young son. Will traveled frequently for his thriving lamp and automobile businesses, and Kitty often cared for the boy while his father was away. Warren adored Kitty, and she treated him as if he were her own son.

In 1904, Will purchased riverfront property on Mahoning Avenue with plans to build a rambling craftsman-style house he named “Riverscourt.” Kitty’s reluctance to take on housekeeping duties in the new residence became a major stumbling block to Will’s plans for suburban bliss. Will solved this dilemma by marrying Kitty. Kitty was now lady of the house and stepmother to her beloved Warren.

Despite the differences in their social status and religious backgrounds, Will and Kitty’s marriage seemed happy. Will retired from most of his business endeavors shortly after remarrying in 1906 and devoted his final 17 years to philanthropy. Kitty was content to live quietly and privately as wife and stepmother. Interestingly, Kitty’s sister, Nora Bruder, replaced her as housekeeper of the Packard residence.

In 1917, Will built an estate on Lake Chautauqua, New York, where he and Kitty spent their summers. In 1920, they moved from Riverscourt to a new mansion near Packard Park named “Packard Place.” That same year, with his health declining, Will Packard drew up a new will.

Will told his attorney that he wanted Kitty to be treated fairly after he was gone, and he certainly accomplished that goal. Will died in 1923 leaving an estate worth more than $1.3 million (roughly $22.5 million today). For the rest of Kitty’s life, Will’s estate paid all her living expenses and provided her with a generous allowance to spend however she pleased.

Kitty remained devoted to her stepson Warren and his wife Dorothy and doted on grandchildren Warren III and Rosalie, even after the family moved to Detroit. In August 1929, just weeks after he and his family traveled home to visit with Kitty, Warren was killed in a plane crash in Michigan. Kitty was devastated by her stepson’s tragic death. Warren’s remains were returned to Ohio, and his funeral was held at her home.

Kitty quietly supported many local charities after her husband and stepson’s deaths, and her kindness and generosity earned her the respect of the community. She was described as “discrete in her philanthropy, not wanting to draw attention to herself.” Kitty made one exception, and it was in her stepson’s memory, when she publicly donated $1,000 ($20,000 today) to the American Legion Clarence Hyde Post to purchase new band uniforms.

Kitty died at her home on Feb. 10, 1940, after a short six-week illness. Monsignor Edward Fasnacht officiated at Kitty’s funeral Mass at St. Mary’s Church, and she was buried between her husband and stepson in the Packard family plot in Oakwood Cemetery.

Through shrewd investments, Kitty amassed a small fortune of her own, leaving an estate worth $670,000 ($14 million today), which she divided among her surviving siblings and two nieces.

Charles Ohlin is the director of Education for the National Packard Museum.