Berkley mayor inducted into Michigan Irish American Hall of Fame

By: Joshua Gordon | Woodward Talk | Published September 30, 2015

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BERKLEY — When Phil O’Dwyer came to America from Ireland, he did so for an education and never fathomed it would lead to him being a vital part of the Berkley community some 40 years later.


But it is the work that O’Dwyer has done as a city councilman, and now mayor of Berkley, that saw him inducted into the Michigan Irish American Hall of Fame Sept. 19.


O’Dwyer joins an elite company of inductees since the hall of fame was established in 2012, including Henry Ford, former Attorney General Frank Kelly and former Michigan Supreme Court Justice James Ryan.


“I was very honored and humbled by being nominated in the first place, and then being selected,” O’Dwyer, 67, said. “When you look at the list of the inductees, it is an impressive hall of fame. To be listed amongst Henry Ford, Frank Kelly and James Ryan is a huge honor.”


O’Dwyer was nominated for the hall of fame by longtime friend Nora Cassidy, whom he has known in the Michigan Irish community for several years. Once someone is nominated, the inductees are chosen by a board based on lifetime achievements.


O’Dwyer was inducted in the public service category. Councilwoman Eileen Steadman has been on council since 1997 and has worked alongside O’Dwyer for his entire tenure as a councilman and mayor, which spans 10 years.


“He is a very intelligent man, and he loves the city of Berkley,” she said. “He understands the needs of the city of Berkley, and he has just been a really good person to have representing the community. He is well-deserving of this tremendous honor, as he has been a mainstay in this community for years.”


O’Dwyer was born in Tipperary, Ireland, and completed all of his education through his undergraduate degree in Ireland. When it came time for graduate school, O’Dwyer chose the University of Notre Dame as his next step before later earning his doctorate at Wayne State University.


A job teaching at Madonna College, now Madonna University, is what brought O’Dwyer to Michigan, and he settled in Berkley in 1980. O’Dwyer said it was by chance that his family ended up in Berkley, as they were able to find a house that fit their needs.


“When we purchased a house in 1980, I became active in the community, and over the years of being involved in a variety of aspects of the community life, I was persuaded to run for council in 2005,” O’Dwyer said. “And by 2011, I was persuaded to run for mayor. Berkley was very much accidental, but we discovered that we were in one of the finest places you could live in America.”


In 1979, six years after coming to America, O’Dwyer applied for citizenship in the United States and became a dual citizen of both America and Ireland. Now, O’Dwyer teaches counseling psychology at the Oakland University graduate school.


O’Dwyer will once again run for Berkley mayor in November, this time unopposed.


Staying in America instead of returning home to Ireland was a decision O’Dwyer made because of the opportunity in the United States, he said.


“I quickly realized America is the land of opportunity, and my involvement in education was such that there was a greater opportunity to teach at the university level in America,” he said. “I love the American optimism and progressive thinking that is a characteristic of America. We can retain the values of the past, yet embrace progressive talk at the same time.”


As far as maintaining his Irish roots, O’Dwyer said there are about 2 million people of Irish heritage in Michigan, and organizations like the Irish American Club in Detroit allow him to take part in Irish festivals, Sunday Mass and generally be surrounded by other Irish Americans.


“I hear the sound of two different drums,” he said. “There is the melody of a rich Irish heritage and the enduring challenge to not stop thinking about tomorrow, which is the American optimism.”


For more information on the Michigan Irish American Hall of Fame, visit www.michiganirishamericanhalloffame.org.

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