Eleanor Pepke passed away peacefully on Thursday, June 20, 2019 at age 93. It is said that the trick to life is not living long, but living enough. Eleanor did both. She enjoyed a long life, and it was a full life well lived. It was enough.
Eleanor was born to Martha (Bick) and Frank White on August 20, 1925 in Wausau, Wisconsin. She had three brothers, Ervin, Francis and Roger White. Like many young women of the times, Eleanor married her high school sweetheart Donald Pepke on May 18, 1946, shortly after he returned from the war where he served as a Marine in the Pacific. Together they had four children, Mary, David (who preceded Eleanor in death on April 7,2015), Michael (Kate) and Melissa (Missy Kolbeck) (Jeff). Donald passed away April 25, 1988. In addition to her children, Eleanor dearly loved and greatly enjoyed 8 grandchildren: Maria Pepke Garrett, Emily and Lydia Kolbeck, Lauren and Ben Pepke (David and Brenda’s family), and Michael, Connor and Clare Pepke (Michael and Kate’s family). Eleanor had a very special relationship with her granddaughters Emily and Lydia, having lived with Missy and Jeff and the girls throughout their adolescent and teenage years.
Eleanor’s life centered primarily on two things: her deep and uncompromising faith and her love for and devotion to her family. In many ways Eleanor lived her life through the eyes, emotions and experiences of her children and grandchildren. Very few of their experiences were complete until they were shared with mom/grandma. Eleanor was an empathetic listener and she was always there for her family, no matter the time, place or circumstance. When they laughed she’d smile from ear to ear and when they cried she match them tear for tear. Eleanor’s interest in her children and grandchildren was as genuine as it was enthusiastic. She provided steadfast encouragement and support for them and their endeavors and adventures. Her advice and guidance were invaluable life lessons, and her comforting embrace was irreplaceable. More than anything she accepted and loved her family unconditionally, and she always subordinated her interests to theirs.
Eleanor had many interests over the years, but her passions were Dixieland Jazz, playing the piano (she played enthusiastically, but only “by ear”), reading (she had an eclectic interest in literature and she studied the Bible daily), watching Jeopardy (intently), gardening (she particularly loved the scent of lilacs) and playing bridge. Over the years she played in countless bridge groups, making lifelong friends along the way. And she always got a kick out of having her son tell her bridge ladies a “naughty” joke.
In 1957, Eleanor and Don bought the Dairy Queen on Thomas Street in Wausau, where for years Eleanor worked every summer morning. They sold the Dairy Queen in 1987, but for decades thereafter, her children frequently heard people recall Pepke’s Dairy Queen, fondly remembering Eleanor for her warm smile, her friendly greeting and the twinkle in her eyes as she teased them. She had a gift for making people feel comfortable and welcome, and she was gentle and kind. She was also known lovingly as Mrs. Clean, coining the phrase “cleanliness is next to Godliness” which all those who worked for her quickly learned and lived.
It has been noted that “life is pleasant, death is peaceful, but it’s the transition that is painful”. And so it is with Eleanor’s life and passing. While 93 years seems like a long time, for those who knew and loved Eleanor, it wasn’t enough. And while there is comfort in knowing she has found peace and God’s grace, she will be terribly missed. Her family has spent every day loving her, and now they will spend every day missing her. The consensus among Eleanor’s children and grandchildren is that she was the best and most wonderful mom and grandma anyone could possibly hope for. And therein lies her legacy.
Eleanor’s family will be forever grateful for the sensitive and attentive care she received from the many care givers attending to her these past years. They are the unsung heroes of the elderly and their families. The family also wants to express heartfelt gratitude to Fran Gazda who for many years faithfully did Eleanor’s hair every weekend. Eleanor loved getting her hair done and that time with Fran.
Private family services will be held at a later date in celebration of Eleanor’s life. Peterson/Kraemer Funeral Home is in charge of the arrangements.
Rather than sending cards or flowers, the family hopes people send thoughts and prayers the way of all the elderly, and when they pass by an older person – don’t just pass by, stop, smile and say hello.