Bernhard Huenkemeier, an old and honored resident of Freeport for more than half a century, is deserving of a prominent place in these pages, not only for the energy and ambition he has displayed in the development of the commercial and social interests of this part of the state and the upright and manly character that he has fashioned in the sunshine and shadow of life, but also for his friendly and sympathetic nature.. He is a man of broad sympathies and generous impulses, and during the long years in which he has been connected with very important interests in Freeport, he has made a host of friends who rejoice at every stroke of good fortune that has befallen him, and will gladly peruse this sincere tribute to an honorable man, a public-spirited citizen, a kind friend and neighbor and a gentleman in every social and domestic relation in which he may be found.
Mr. Huenkemeier was born in Lippe-Detmold, Germany, August 19, 1822, and is a child of Bernhard and Sophia (Schilling) Huenkemeier, both life-long residents of this ancient German principality, where the family maintained its home until after the death of the husband and father in 1853. The bereaved widow and mother then crossed the ocean and became an inmate of• the household of her son Bernhard for a short time, after which she established a home of her own where she remained until her death. There were five children in the old homestead of whom the subject of this review is the oldest, and the only one now living. His brother Henry married Elizabeth Mernitz, who, when she became a widow, accepted Joseph Schwab of Freeport as her second husband; he is now deceased. She still lives in the city; Louisa and her husband, Henry Schmertman have long since been numbered with “the great majority.” Henrietta was the wife of Henry Witte, who still survives and is a Freeport stone mason; August F. was born June 5, 1842, and coming early into this country developed unusual mercantile ability. He became a prominent merchant of Freeport, acquired a considerable fortune, and died September 2, 1892. His widow and children still occupy the family mansion on Stephenson street.
The subject of this review, in common with the other inmates of the old-country home, received only a common school education, but after the German fashion, it was solid and lasting. When he was sixteen he was apprenticed to the trade of stone mason, and the last years of his stay on German soil were spent in mastering it in such a fashion that it would be the key to fortune in the new world. In 1848 he sailed for America and was the first of his family to break away from the restraints and hindrances of centuries. It was a journey surcharged with adventure for the young man to leave home and kindred and all the near and tender friendships and associons of life, and plunge into the great mystery beyond the seas. In common with thousands of his compatriots, however, he made the adventurous journey, knowing that the prizes of honesatity, industry and perseverence were found in the new world as they could not possibly be under the conditions of his nativity. He was eight weeks and four days on the water and landed at New Orleans, but did not tarry in the southern metropolis any length of time, preferring rather to travel directly to the little village of Freeport, of which he had heard and near which he already had friends. At that time there were but three stores in the town and it gave little indication of its future importance. He immediately entered upon his trade and found considerable demand for the kind of work that he was trained to do so thoroughly. He built his present home in 1850, and it is still standing as one of the oldest and most interesting landmarks of the city.
Mr. Huenkemeier and Miss Fredericka Lambrecht were married in Freeport in 1850 and she has proved in every way a faithful and loving wife and mother. A native of the same German village as Mr. Huenkemeier, she was born July 25, 1822, and her parents, William and Sophia Lambrecht, both of German origin, came to this country, settling in Freeport where they lived until their death. Mrs. Huenkemeier was a woman of unusual graces of character and was much respected and beloved for her womanly qualities. She died October 5, 1898, and was the mother of eight children, five of whom are still living. Minnie, the oldest member of this interesting family circle, married J. B. Koehler, and with her husband has her home in Madison, South Dakota; August is now dead; Bernard, Jr., was born in Freeport, September 3, 1855, and has already attained such prominence in business circles of Freeport that liberal space should be devoted to his very successful career. He spent his childhood and youth in the new and growing city and had an education much beyond that offered to the greater number of his companions. He passed through the German school of Freeport and completed its curriculum with credit. He was also an attendant upon the instruction of Professor Loomis, who conducted a higher educational establishment of much repute in early days. He was graduated from both these institutions with much credit and was an approved student in both German and English branches. When his school days were ended he sought entrance into active life and secured a position as a clerk in his uncle’s store, where he remained for a year and a half, which he left to enter his father’s employment in his Chicago lime business. He was with him for some two years. He then received appointment as delivery clerk in the Freeport post office, which he held for a year or more. He left Uncle Sam and went to Jasper county, Iowa, where he was clerk in a general store at Newton for the next three years. Failing health compelled a change of location, and he went into Nebraska for a more helpful climate. He clerked in a general store at Seward, in that state, for four years after which he returned to Freeport for a brief visit. He opened a general store at Dorchester, Nebraska and was in business-for himself for some two years, when his brother joined him, and they carried on an extensive trade during the year 1887. There were opportunities that attracted them to the new and growing town of Madison, South Dakota, and to that point they transferred their stock the following year. Business conditions were satisfactory enough, but the confinement of the store proved too oppressive for Bernard, Jr., and he was compelled to dispose of his interests in it and seek outdoor employment. He accordingly spent several years as a representative of the Freeport German Insurance Company, with his headquarters at Madison. In the spring of 1892 his health was so seriously impaired that he devoted much time and thought to its improvement. Residence in Freeport, Iowa and Nebraska did not afford the needed stimulus, and he went to Louisiana, where he spent some ten months in Calcaciu Parish, near the town of Jennings. The sunny Southland proved genial and helpful and with his health much improved he came back to this city to spend six months in a clothing store. The confinement was still impossible, and he went into the employment of the German Insurance Company, where he remained until the beginning of the year 1899. At the present time ill health compels abstinence from any kind of active labor, and his many friends would hail with joy of evidence of his return to normal health conditions. He was married July 16, 1879, to Miss Ida Maywald, a resident of Newton, Iowa, and a daughter of Ernest and Maria Maywald, both deceased. The father was engaged in milling at Newton. She is the mother of two children, Bernard, Jr., was born January 28, 1885, and is now a student in the Freeport city schools, as also is his brother Paul, who was born February 17, 1887.
Willie, the fourth child, of our subject, is now dead, and Matilda, the next, a leading young lady in Freeport society, is at home with her parent. Gustave A., the youngest son of Mr. Huenkemeier, married Mary Kochsmeier, and has built up a very extensive business as a leading groceryman in Freeport. He is recognized as a public-spirited citizen, and at the present time is serving as an alderman from the second ward. Louisa died at the age of ten years. Bertha is the wife of Henry Tempel, who lives in Freeport and is in the employment of the German Insurance Company.
Mr. Huenkemeier followed the mason’s trade quite steadily all his life, with the exception of the two years in which he was engaged in the lime business in Chicago, and has had much to do with many of the public buildings of the city and vicinity. He built the county poor house, did the mason work on the court house, and in fact, has had much to do with the erection of the most prominent business blocks and churches of the city and neighboring towns. While a brick layer by training and preference, he has done good work in kindred trades, such as carpentering, stone mason work, and plastering. He was an active and busy man, and accumulated a competence so that he could retire as early as 1873 from daily labor. Yet he has never felt himself released from a keen and constant interest in the life going on around him. He has been always a student of the world, and from his advent in this country, a sympathizer with the party of progress and education. His first vote was cast for General Fremont, and from that time he has been an ardent supporter of the republican party. He is a charter member of the St. John’s Evangelical church of Freeport with which he has been associated more than fifty years. For over thirty years he served as a school director; also served as supervisor, alderman several terms, and street commissioner three terms.
The subject of this review is widely known as one of the representative citizens of Freeport, and his extensive financial and real estate investments abundantly justify that reputation. He owns a fine residence and family home at Number 162 Broadway, and also a valuable addition on North Galena Avenue. He has the title deeds of an island, fifty acres of fine timber near the city, and altogether about two hundred and thirty acres of land, near enough to his home for personal supervision; he also owns a store building at 159 Stephenson street. In the city his personal investments are numerous and valuable, the most important of them being one hundred and ten shares of stock of the German Insurance Company, of which he is a director and one of its largest stockholders. He is a stockholder in the State Bank of Freeport, and largely interested in the Freeport Building and Loan Association. He is also heavily interested in the Western Underwriters’ Association of Chicago.
The historian lingers lovingly over this story of honesty, perseverance and large success in life, and is reluctant to stay his pen. He feels that such a career should be held up before the youth of the coming century as a tonic to ambition, which many young men greatly need. Here is a man, who coming into a strange land and contending against the difficulties of a different tongue and foreign customs, has yet so assimilated himself to this new world, and so conquered its active forces of business and society, that he is to-day reckoned among its most solid and influential citizens. He has achieved a rich reward of honest toil and his career should be an inspiration to the young and ambitious of the new century.