Long-time Wheeling farming pioneer Erna V. Koeppen (nee Koelper) passed away peacefully July 10 surrounded by her loving family after suffering a massive stroke on July 5.
The Koeppens and Koelpers have been fixtures in the Wheeling area for more than 100 years as farming pioneers. Erna, and her late husband of 48 years Andrew Koeppen, were the owners of the Koeppen Family Farm on Dundee Road in Wheeling. They took over the family farm from Andrew’s parents William and Minnie Koeppen who started the vegetable operation on Dundee Road in 1918 when Wheeling was in its infancy.
The original Koeppen Farm is now home to the Wheeling Village Hall, the Wheeling Police Department, the Wheeling Park District and Aquatic Center, Holmes Middle School, Heritage Park and the former Wickes Furniture. The 120-acre farm was the center of Wheeling for many years before the final 10 acres were sold to the Wheeling Park District in 1991, allowing for the construction of the park district aquatic and recreation centers.
Koeppen Farm was a vegetable operation where Erna was a vital part of the success of the fourth-generation family farm. Not only did the Koeppen family operate a seasonal roadside vegetable stand, but they also sold much of their produce to large grocery store chains and many of their tomatos made their way to dining room table across the United States with a contract the family had with Campbell’s Soup.
Erna grew up just a few miles away from the Koeppen Farm on her family farm, which is now home to the Chicago Executive Airport along Palatine Road and Wolf Road. Her family homestead farm later became the Koelper Flower & Greenhouse operation before being sold to the then-Palwaukee Airport for runway, taxiway and t-hanger expansion.
“It was a lifestyle my grandparents enjoyed and their passion for it was shown through hard work, love of family and pride in community,” said Erna’s oldest grandson and Executive Director of the Lake County Farm Bureau Gregory Koeppen. “Growing up on the farm, Grandma was in the fields or washing produce every day at sunrise and still found the time to make it back to the farmhouse to make us breakfast before we started working in the fields and selling produce.”
“Over the years, she greeted thousands of customers, many of whom would drive from Chicago to get their fresh produce, with a welcoming smile of friendship and love," Koeppen said.
“Even in the 90 degree temperatures after a long day of working in the fields and selling produce from the Dundee Road stand she always had a home cooked meal waiting on the kitchen table, a hug for her husband, children and grandchildren and story or song to put them to bed,” he added.
“She was one of the most humble, hard-working and caring individuals I have ever met and I was so proud and fortunate to call her my grandma and be able to share her with so many others. She will be missed by her family and friends, but her legacy will live on through all of us and those she touched in her 90 years on this earth,” Koeppen said.
Erna was the loving mother of Gerald (Jane) Koeppen, Sharon (John) Lemke and Jane (Michael) Frey; dear grandma of Gregory Koeppen, Kelly (Pat) Dudle, Kevin (Laurie) Koeppen, Kristine (Kevin) Seifert, Andrea (Mark) Guthrie and Timothy Frey (Nikki Thompson); and great-grandma of Grace, Andrew and Carlyn Koeppen, Madison and Molly Dudle, and Kaitlyn and Kayla Seifert. She was proceed in death by many siblings, in-laws, nieces and nephews who valued her work ethic and love of family and community.
Visitation will be July 12 from 3-8 p.m. at Kolssak Funeral Home 189 S. Milwaukee Ave., Wheeling. A Celebration of Life service will be held at 10 a.m. July 13 at St. Paul Lutheran Church, 100 S. School Street, Mt. Prospect. She will lie in state one hour prior to the service at the church. Interment will follow the service at Memory Gardens Cemetery.
In lieu of flowers donations to St. Paul Lutheran Church are appreciated. For funeral information call (847) 537-6600 or visit www.funerals.pro.