Life Story / Obituary
Fredericka “Freddi” Coppes was born at home on Patterson Street in Kalamazoo, on May 10, 1928. She was the daughter of Edward and Theresa (Holtman) Mastenbrook. Her mom was a housewife, and her father owned and operated a large timbering company (woodyard) that milled raw timber and dried it for a year to sell it. His business is noted for clearing all the timber on Marl Lake in Galesburg, Michigan. Freddi was the second of six children and was the only girl in the family. Her brothers were Ed (one year older), Bob (five years younger), twins Dale and Don (six years younger) and Jim (seven years younger).
Freddi was responsible at an early age for her younger brothers. She tended to the boys while her father was working the business. Her mother was at home but was often busy helping her father with the business. Their home had a telephone, the old heavy cradle style, with direct dial for the business. She became increasingly more responsible for the younger children that kept her from experiencing a lot of the things which make a young girl’s childhood happy. Her parents and grandparents were extremely strict.
Her Grandmother Mastenbrook was a stern Dutch woman. She lived on Westnedge Avenue near North Street. It was tradition that all family men went to Grandmother’s house to visit on Sundays. They would sit and visit then return home for dinner. The girls were not included in this visiting.
Freddi remembers her Grandma Holtman as a sweet woman with wavy, white hair. These grandparents lived on Douglass Avenue where Freddi and her mother would visit. Her Grandfather Holtman died when she was eight years old. They had been celery farmers, farming near what is known as Versluis Park. The Kalamazoo area was an international center of celery growing during this period.
Although she was kept busy with adult duties, Freddi had a sense of adventure. On a rainy day, when her parents were out, and she was about nine years old, she decided to take her brothers out to the cottage at the lake in the woodyard truck. She piled them all in the truck and started out. Things went well until the brakes locked up and she lost control, driving the truck into a ditch…down the street from her grandmother’s house. Ever determined to make things right, she somehow got the truck out of the ditch and home before it was discovered. It was never mentioned by any adult. How she managed to keep her brothers quiet isn’t known to this day.
Freddi attended Woodward Elementary School and Kalamazoo Central High School, graduating in 1946. She was a splendid athlete, especially proficient in softball, playing on varsity. She played for the North Park Christian Reformed Church and other church teams. In school she was a member of the Softball Club and an avid bike rider. Later she was manger of an independent female league in Kalamazoo. Her teammates were counted as her closest girlfriends growing up.
Also, a good student she was awarded special honors for earning the “Best Report Card” in the City of Kalamazoo. She had received all A+’s. The end of the year award ceremony was at Kindelberger Park in Kalamazoo. The entire family went to the park for the ceremony, but because her father had been working and did not come back to the house to get ready early enough, the ceremony was over and everyone had gone by the time they arrived. One man there cleaning up, felt very badly for Freddi and told her she could select a prize from any of the things that were left. She chose a pair of nice new roller skates. She said she never used them.
Freddi, after school, worked at the Cut-Rate Candy Store on the southeast corner of Burdick and Water Streets in downtown Kalamazoo. The store was owned and operated by a blind gentleman. He taught her how to make ice cream and candy as she worked. Unfortunately, her brothers and father would take advantage of the “insider” connection and ate as much as she earned which left her with little spending money of her own. She continued to live at home and work at the candy store until 1947.
In 1946, she and a few girlfriends, including Adelaide Knacken, skipped church and stopped at the Kalamazoo Recreation Bowling Alley, on the second floor of the Rec building. There was a group of boys there, one of whom was a fellow named Richard “Dick” Coppes. According to Dick, he was immediately smitten. He asked if he could take her home. On the ride he asked if she would go steady with him, and she said, “YES!”
Richard’s brother, Robert, had settled in California and Richard moved out there from Michigan. After a short time, Freddi decided it was time for a change and called Richard to say if she came out to California they could get married. Richard was elated!
They married on March 2, 1947 at the Chapel of the Flowers, near Berkley, California. Robert and Beatrice Coppes, Richard’s brother and sister-in-law witnessed the afternoon ceremony. They had no reception, but UCLA had a band that played at local places, so they went to the Hotel Clairmont to hear the band and celebrate.
They were happy but had no money, so they went to find jobs. Freddi found work at Bell Telephone Company. In 1957, they returned to Michigan to care for aging family. They needed a truck to bring everything back from California. A friend, Robert “Bob” Joy, bought a used truck from Bell Systems and converted it to a flatbed 7’ wide and 10’ long. Loading it up and attaching a trailer they headed east in a caravan traveling at 35 mph with Freddi driving a new 1953 Mercury convertible, for which they paid $3200 making payments of $200 a month. Not a single mechanical problem was reported all the way back.
They settled in at 1224 West Patterson Street, in Kalamazoo, with Freddi’s family, for a short stay until they found work. Freddi was able to work at Michigan Bell Telephone Company in Kalamazoo.
They then moved to Egleston Avenue for a while. They moved to Woodlawn Avenue at Austin Lake which was an old barracks building moved from Fort Custer in Battle Creek. There was nothing much more than walls and a roof on the building. It had to be built from the inside out. Freddi oversaw the exterior painting and painted it pink.
Freddi retired from Michigan Bell around 1966 to become a farmer. In 1966, she and Dick bought an 80-90 acre farm in Vicksburg from Bob Morren’s father, to raise cattle. They bought bull calves at the auction in Battle Creek. Freddi worked with Dick buying the calves, naming them, and keeping a book on each one, buying 50 new calves per year. She learned how to work with livestock, being a city girl, and raised the bulls for one year to be sold when they reached 1200 pounds.
After that came the Red Durrocks, pigs. They bought all female pigs raised to be bred by a neighbor’s boar. She tells a story of the neighbor bringing the boar to their farm. When the sows detected his presence, the “girls” rushed to the door, ready to go. The boar, however, was not quite ready. The sows were kept under control, with some effort, in the corner until the boar was “in the mood.” It must have taken well as all the sows had big litters. To keep the small piglets safe after birth, each sow and piglet were kept in separate pens.
They also wandered into horse owning for a while, with a Tennessee Walking horse named, Gerry, and a pony, Buddy, which were gifts from Bill deBeck, a co-worker of Dick’s at Consumer’s Power. The feisty horses dampened the idea of having a very large herd.
During the time there was cattle in the barnyard, they purchased various parcels totaling 400 acres around the house. Shortly after Dick’s retirement they had a farm sale, selling off much of the farm land.
Freddi has been involved in many activities in the Vicksburg area. She was a founding member of the Ladies Stock Club studying stocks and investing successfully. As the wife of a Rotarian, she was involved in many Rotary projects. For years she designed and created special costumes for the featured performers of the “Rotary Showboat”, the annual musical fundraiser for the organization, and helped organize and cook the Thursday night pre-show dinner for performers and the public. She was awarded the distinguished “Red Rose Award” for outstanding support by a non-member Rotarian, of Rotary projects.
She was also an outstanding artist known for her landscape paintings. She designed the quilt square, representing love of land and country, hanging on the old red barn at the farm. She greatly enjoyed sewing, oil painting, bowling and being an active volunteer for the Vicksburg Ambulance Service for many years. She was also a strong supporter of FFA and 4H programs for youngster for a long time while farming.
Sadly, dementia continued to steal much of the “real” Freddi for the past 5 years. Her bright smile and hearty laugh still continued to shine through when friends visited her at her Amber Way home. Freddie is well known in the Vicksburg area through her endless contributions to projects in the community. Her laugh, quick smile and perpetual good humor has made many people in the community consider Freddi Coppes a member of their own family.
Fredericka “Freddi” Coppes of Vicksburg, MI passed away on September 3, 2018 at the age of 90. Freddi is preceded in death by her husband: Richard “Dick” Coppes. A funeral service will be held on Monday September 10 at 11:00AM with a visitation one-hour prior at the McCowen & Secord Family Funeral Homes, Rupert-Durham Chapel, 409 S. Main St., Vicksburg, MI 49097, 269-649-1697. A burial will follow at Ft. Custer National Cemetery at 1:30PM. Please visit Freddi’s page at www.mccowensecord.com where you can read her life story, share a memory, and sign the guest book. For those who wish, contributions may be made to the Vicksburg Cultural Arts Center (c/o Vicksburg DDA/VCAC) or the South County Community Services.