Date Posted: 2012-08-10

Gerhart A. Kopf, 92, of Fulton, Ill., died Friday, Aug. 10, 2012, at University of Iowa Hospitals in Iowa City, Iowa.   

A memorial service will be held in the coming weeks. Cremation rites have been accorded. He will be buried in Nebraska.

Gerhart A. Kopf was born at home in Eddyville, Dec. 29, 1919 the oldest of six children of Niels and Lydia Struempler Kopf.

He married Alice L. Schmidt on July 7, 1941; she survives. They celebrated their 70th wedding anniversary with a large family gathering in 2011.

Gerry was raised on a homestead ranch in Dawson County. His grandfather, Nick Kopf, was known for cattle drives between the ranch and Texas. Only German was spoken in the household until Gerry was five years old, when the family took in a teacher boarder. He remembered riding home from a cold Christmas Eve service in his parents' one-horse sleigh, nestled at their feet with his brother under a buffalo skin robe. He and his siblings walked over one mile of roads and pastures to the one-room school through eighth grade, collecting dried cattle droppings on the way home to be used as heating fuel.

Gerry helped raise Hereford cattle and farmed with horses on the prairie sod ranch. He graduated from Lexington High School (class of 1938) and was active as a tackle on the football team, participated in operetta productions, and provided artwork for the yearbook. He developed his gift to play piano in his teens, preferring to learn new songs by ear rather than by reading sheet music. Gerry served as banquet pianist and spoke on "Change" including predictions for the future at the Classes of the "8s" Lexington High School Alumni Banquet June 2008. In his heart, his home remained the Nebraska prairies of his ancestors.

He attended University of Nebraska as possible architecture major for one semester, before returning to the ranch during the Great Depression. Gerry remained an ardent Nebraska Cornhusker fan throughout his long life.

He played piano just out of high school in a traveling swing band across the Midwest during the big band era.

He served as the army chaplain's assistant at Ft. Dodge, Iowa, during World War II, playing music for church services. He farmed near Eddyville 1941-1948. After one profitable year, he left farming to work with Steckley Hybrid Corn Co. in Lincoln and Grand Island, eventually serving as company sales manager. He relocated with his family to Fulton in 1955 in the same position where he also became involved with hybrid corn variety development at their Dewitt, Iowa, plant.

Upon sale of the company, he became sales manager of Drives, Inc., until 1981. In this position he traveled extensively throughout the U.S. and parts of Canada, through a period of major growth for the company.

In 1981, he established the Bald Eagle Nursery outside Fulton, where, building upon his knowledge of corn genetics and hybridization, he became respected as an authority on ornamental grasses, as well as chestnuts, hazelnuts, and hicans. He worked with nationally respected researchers on hicans (Abbott tree), helping to get Abbott tree seeds shared with the People's Republic of China in a horticultural exchange program.

Gerry loved to travel and throughout his life he would bring home plant specimens for local propagation. He was instrumental in developing the Twin Ponds Research Farm near Galena Territory in Illinois, specializing in the genetic development of hazelnuts and grasses as potential alternative biofuel sources 2000 - 2006.

He focused his energies on beautifying the Fulton landscape and gardens. As a volunteer he planted and maintained thousands of daffodils and tulip beds along 14th Avenue with the help of many community volunteers. He beautified Melody Hills subdivision overlooking the Mississippi River in Fulton during its development, planting hundreds of trees and personally designing and constructing stone walls and landscaping. He also landscaped the Fulton windmill site along the river. He shared many beautiful hosta plant specimens with local gardeners.

Gerry was respected as an advocate and expert on bluebirds, having documented the fledging of over 150 bluebirds in one spring season, in birdhouses built and maintained by him at the Twin Ponds Research Center. One summer he was able to get a bluebird to consistently land on his arm and eat grubs out of his hand. He also shared his knowledge of chimney swift migration and lectured locally on such topics as "Our Earthly Past," discussing local geology history.

During the late 1950s and 1960s he served on the Fulton School Board and as an elder at St. John Lutheran Church. He was honored as Grand Marshal of the 2001 Dutch Days Festivities for his contributions to the beautification of the City of Fulton and was awarded a key to the city.

Gerry continued to play piano in venues such as Bush's Café, Clinton Country Club and Fulton Sr. Citizen's Center throughout his life, to the delight of many listeners. Recently he wished that he still had a "gig."

He fully appreciated fine wine and dining, especially New Orleans cuisine. He was also an excellent photographer, often much to the impatience of family members, and to the horror of Alice, when the children were perched at the edge of mountain precipices for dramatic effect.

Gerry greatly looked forward to his Euchre games at Cousins Subs in Fulton. His upbeat mood was evidence of a good Euchre day. He took great pride in becoming co-champion of their Third Annual Euchre Tournament January 2011.

He was looked to as the patriarch of a large extended family, and spent many hours recording and sharing family genealogy, with the help of Pam. In later years, he remained active with courage despite numerous physical challenges.

He was a beloved husband and father, instilling in his children a standard of self-sufficiency, excellence, hard work, and obligation to do the right thing. Gerry was extremely proud of the many accomplishments of his children and grandchildren. He will be greatly missed by all.

Children include Connie (Dean) Long of Mankato, Minn., Trudy (Michael) Landwirth of Peoria, Ill., Pamela (Glenn) Gealy of Columbia, Md., Kyle (Kim) Kopf of Florida; and Kendall at home. Also surviving are grandchildren, Christina and Joseph (Marie) Long; Amy Landwirth; Matthew and Rachel Gealy and Kelly, Scott and Nicholas Kopf, as well as great-grandson Orion Long.

Gerry's parents; brothers, Ferdinand, Donald and Aaron and sister, Arleen, preceded him in death. He is survived by his sister, Dolores and many nieces and nephews.

Memorials are suggested for Fulton beautification to FACE (Fulton Association for Community Enrichment), Attn: Gerry Kopf Fund, P.O. Box 292, Fulton, IL 61252; Bethesda Lutheran Communities, Development Department, 600 Hoffmann Drive, Watertown, WI 53094; Christ Lutheran Cemetery, Attn: Maynard Struempler, 78020 Lodi Road, Oconto, NE 68860-1236; or The American Heart Association.

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