Generations of Green: How Two Teen Advisory Council Members Share this Chicago St. Patrick’s Day Tradition

In 1962, former Chicago Mayor Daley approached Tom Rowan Sr. and Michael Butler with a crazy idea – use a secret plumber’s dye to turn the Chicago River green for St. Patrick’s Day. They brought their teenage sons to help, making it a family affair for years to come. Six decades later, the river dyeing remains one of the most iconic and recognizable Chicago traditions. It lives on thanks to the Rowan’s and Butler’s passing it down through generations.

Sophia Rowan and Grace Kearns, Teen Advisory Council members and great granddaughter and granddaughter of Tom Sr. and Michael, respectively, sat down with us to share the inside scoop on their family connection to this fun piece of Chicago history, and their involvement with Ronald McDonald House as part of our Teen Advisory Council.

  1. Can you tell us a little bit about yourselves?
    Sophia: I’m a senior at McAuley. The summer before junior year, I heard about the Teen Advisory Council through a mentor and teacher at school. I was interested in different leadership opportunities and after learning about Ronald McDonald House, it seemed like really cool opportunity. This year, I’m co-vice president which means I help plan our fundraising initiatives for Ronald McDonald House.Grace: I’m a junior at McAuley. I first got involved with the Ronald McDonald House through my Girl Scout troop when we would cook dinners at the House. I really value the mission of Ronald McDonald House and was excited when I could finally join the Teen Advisory Council after I turned 16.
  2. Your families started the Chicago River dyeing to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. Tell us about the impact of this tradition in your family and how you celebrate today.
    Sophia: It’s always been a big tradition for my family. Every year, we have a spot on the Riverwalk to watch my dad dye the river green. It’s always been a time for my family to get together and be a part of this family and community tradition. With both Grace and I from the southside, the parade is also a big deal, so we’re excited to see Ronald McDonald House part of it this year.Grace: The tradition was something I feel like I was born into, and St. Patrick’s Day quickly became my favorite holiday. It’s so special seeing my dad and uncles on the boat dyeing the river each year. As a kid it was the coolest thing to me, and it still is!I was an Irish dancer for a while and did a dance event at the retirement home my grandpa was at. We even dyed the pond green there for the full experience!
  3. What is your favorite St. Patrick’s Day memory?
    Sophia & Grace: Growing up, it was, and still is, such a fun tradition and so cool to see it become Chicago history for both of our families. It’s a really neat experience to have two families tied into this. It’s like having an extended family, which is pretty awesome.
  4. Tell us more about your involvement in the Teen Advisory Council. How long have you served, what does it entail, and what’s your favorite part of being involved?
    Sophia: This is my second year in the Teen Advisory Council. I love how it gives us the opportunity to interact with so many different people, as well as bring awareness about the mission to other high school students so that they will also want to get involved. We’re currently planning a really fun fundraising event to have at McAuley in a couple of weeks.Grace: This is my first year in the Teen Advisory Council. My favorite memory was when I was at the House for one of my very first volunteer shifts, so I was still getting the lay of the land. A little girl staying at the House walks up to me and she’s speaking Spanish. I’ve taken Spanish since the sixth grade, so I thought to myself, “Okay, I got this. I can help her.” When she realized I could understand her, she had the biggest smile on her face. I was so happy that I could help her in that moment.
  5. What are you looking forward to most during St. Patrick’s Day this year?
    Sophia & Grace: Seeing the river dyeing and the South Side Irish St. Patrick’s Day Parade, of course!

Thank you, Sophia and Grace for all you do to support helping families get better together in the Southside community!

Keep an eye out for the Ronald McDonald House float and Care Mobile in the South Side Irish St. Patrick’s Day Parade on Sunday, March 17!