Spring is the season that carries with it the rebirth of life all over the planet. This year, women’s eternal role in that unfolding will be celebrated on May 12.
In honor of Mother’s Day, we at WAG decided to pay tribute to the late Ann T. Mara of Rye, a woman who embraced motherhood in all of its manifestations and inspired her children to do the same.
The occasion also gives us an opportunity to shine a light on an organization that captured Mara’s heart through focusing on the support and education of underprivileged children — a mission that encapsulates the influence of mothers on society.
Mara was best-known for her role as the matriarch of the dynastic family that owns the New York Giants. Her late husband, Wellington (son of Giants’ founder, Tim), was considered to be one of the most influential figures in NFL history.
But as their daughter, Ann Mara Cacase, recalls: “Nobody loved football as well as my mother did.”
Mara, known as the First Lady of Football, embraced the role of mother hen to generations of Giants players as well as to the wider Giants community.
But her own brood could rival them in number. Until her death in 2014, Mara nurtured 11 children, 43 grandchildren, including actresses Rooney and Kate Mara; and 16 great-grandchildren. (There are now 25.)
“She loved us all unconditionally,” Cacase says.
Mara’s philanthropic support of organizations such as Boys Hope Girls Hope; Inner City Scholarship Fund, St. Vincent’s Hospital Westchester and Ronald McDonald House of New York was an extension of that maternal love. Then, in her final years, a group of boys in Newburgh and the school that saved them caught Mara’s attention.
San Miguel Academy of Newburgh is a faith-based, tuition-free middle school for boys located in what has been deemed “the murder capital of New York.”
Rev. Mark Connell, a school founder, introduced Mara to his students. Many of them faced a future of gang activity, low expectation and crime. San Miguel provides a haven where these at-risk kids can begin to feel a sense of stability and self-worth.
“She was just so impressed by Father Mark’s passion for this,” Cacase says, adding that Connell stays involved in the boy’s lives long after graduation. There’s a need for continued support.
In order to qualify, families have to fall below the poverty line. In most cases, English is not their first language. The school relies largely on donations to survive.
Mara’s devotion to the school was so steadfast, “We ended up naming the Family and Children’s Services Program after her,” says Melissa Paul, San Miguel’s director of development.
Now, Cacase, her siblings and their children follow in Mara’s footsteps. Cacase remembers the moment the family’s commitment to the school’s success was sealed.
Mara had just returned from the opening ceremony of a new playground at San Miguel when Cacase dropped by for a visit. She vividly remembers how happy her mother looked.
“‘I had the best day,” the elder Mara said. “I had one of the best days since your father has passed.”
That was the last time Mara visited San Miguel Academy. “She passed away right after,” Cacase says. Soon after, family members held a meeting. They felt compelled to continue the family involvement with San Miguel.
“She showed us (philanthropy) is not always about giving money,” Cacase says. “It’s about giving your time.”
Cacase is setting the example. She starting visiting San Miguel herself. “I got very attached to (the kids),” she says.
She brings boys to sit in her family box at MetLife Stadium, visit the field and meet iconic players. This year, Cacase brought some of the boys to the Giants’ training camp.
“They loved it,” she says, “just to see these kid’s eyes light up.”
It’s a feeling that her mother knew well. She would often say: “If you believe in your heart that you can make a difference, beautiful things can happen.”
All three of Cacase’s children volunteer for the summer program at San Miguel. And a recent conversation with her brother led to the donation of extra Giants equipment. “They were able to give not only to the boys but to their families and the community,” Paul says. “We had three different shipments. We look like a retail stock store.”
Cacase says, “Nothing makes me happier than that.” The outpouring of gratitude included a father of triplets who was moved to tears by receiving sneakers from the shipment. “That just made my life,” she says.
Cacase is filling the role laid out for her by her father in a speech he gave on her wedding day: “If Reggie Jackson was really the straw that stirred the Yankees’ drink, then Ann Marie is the Cuisinart and Mixmaster of the Maras.”
Now she’s helping to continue the legacy of her mother. “She was smart, generous, fearless, loyal and so full of energy,” Cacase says.
On Oct. 25, Cacase will be accepting the IMPACT Award of 2019 from San Miguel Academy, in a ceremony at the Westchester Country Club.
“I’m very humbled by the honor. I’m not sure I’m worthy of it,” Cacase says. “But I know my mother is.”
For more, visit newburghsanmiguel.org.