The Hitzeman family is very proud of our history serving the community for over one hundred years. We invite you to read about our business and family history as written by Laura (Hitzeman) Tomecko when she was in eighth grade, in February 1997. Much has happened in the years since Laura completed her assignment; we are pleased to share our more recent milestones with you.
The Hitzeman Story by Laura (Hitzeman) Tomecko, written in February 1997
“According to the National Family Business Council, less than one-third of family businesses survive to the second generation and 70 percent are liquidated or sold when the founder retires or dies. Fourth-generation firms are a rarity– less than 1 percent of family businesses achieve this distinction.” I, Laura Hitzeman, being the daughter of the fourth generation of a family run business, take deep pride in researching and writing about THE HITZEMAN FUNERAL HOME: FOUR GENERATIONS OF DIGNIFIED SERVICE.
The earliest documentation of the Hitzeman Family goes back to Germany. The parents of Frederick H. Hitzeman, founder of Hitzeman Funeral Home, were Carl Hitzeman (October 31, 1847 to March 15, 1920) and Augusta Straseman Bremer (August 21, 1850 to April 28, 1913). They owned property and a tailor shop in Stadthagen, Germany.
Frederick H. Hitzeman was born March 9, 1873, in Stadthagen Schaumburg Lippe, Germany. Frederick had one brother, Charles, and two sisters, Marie and Frieda. In the year 1880, Carl had been convinced by Mr. Everding, a friend who lived in Chicago, that life was better in America. Carl left his family and was employed by George Koller who owned a tailor shop on Alport Street north of 18th Street in Chicago. In 1881, he bought the tailor shop and requested his family to come to America from Germany. They all arrived in Spring of 1882.
After coming to America to join his father, Frederick joined the Immanuel Church, was active in choir, joined a young man’s society, and became acquainted with a young lady named Pauline Peckat, whom he married in 1894. The Peckat Family originally owned Peckat Buick which was located in Forest Park. Over a span of 23 years, from 1895-1918, fifteen children were born to Frederick and Pauline. On September 28, 1898, Charles R. Hitzeman, (third child), was born. Charles was to be the second generation of Funeral Directors of the Hitzeman Funeral Home Business.
In March of 1904, Frederick Hitzeman started the Undertaking Business at Keeler and 26th Street in Chicago. There is no reference as to why Frederick switched from owning a tailor shop to undertaking. He used his home as his chapel. It was a frame house with the first floor being used for parlors and the upstairs as living quarters. Stables for horses were located behind the building. In those early years horses and carriages were used for funerals, and wakes were usually three nights. A funeral would last all day because of horse transportation. Charles, at the age of 16, was a carriage driver. In 1916, when they began using automobiles, Charles drove the hearse. Frederick began to expand his business in 1922 by building a brick, two story funeral parlor with the living arrangements upstairs.
May 1922, Charles R. Hitzeman married Erma Clausius. Erma was an important public relations person for the business because her parents also owned a business in Chicago. She managed to maintain the building in the highest decor which began the high standards of dignified service. The 3rd generation of funeral directors, Norbert F. Hitzeman, was born on October 4, 1923. Pauline, wife of Frederick, died November, 1924, after a six year struggle with breast cancer. In 1925, Frederick found it necessary to marry again. He married Ella Voss, and Elvira, their daughter, was born in 1926. Ella is presently still living.
Charles became a partner in the business in 1928. He moved above the chapels while Frederick moved to Oak Park, Illinois. In the early years of the funeral business, people had wakes in their own homes. “Windows had to be removed and scaffolding erected in order to raise the casket and put it through the window because doors and hallways were not wide enough,” said Norbert of what he remembers as a child. Using a funeral parlor started to become more popular because of all the work involved in having a wake in someone’s home.
Norbert states, “I remember my house always being busy. The phone rang a lot.” In 1942, Norbert joined the Air Force during W.W.II. While still in the service, he married Dorothy Koeritz in November of 1944.
In 1945, Frederick had given a loan to a real estate agent who lived in La Grange Park, Illinois. As collateral, this man in turn gave Frederick a deed to a piece of property in Brookfield, Illinois. This piece of property now currently houses the present Hitzeman Funeral Home Building. Back in 1945 there was a small frame real estate building on this property which had already been zoned for business. It so happened that the man never paid back his loan to Frederick. Frederick, thinking that his property was worthless because it was far from Chicago and most people never heard of Brookfield, threw the deed in the garbage. Charles, noticing this, retrieved the deed from the garbage and paid the back taxes, resulting in the property now belonging to Charles R. Hitzeman.
Norbert was discharged from the service and decided to move to Brookfield in 1947. For five years he worked for Western Electric, and at the same time began attending Wright Junior College. Norbert spent two years at Wright and then went on to Worsham College of Mortuary Science, beginning his schooling to obtain a degree for Funeral Directing and Embalming. Worsham College is a private, single purpose institution dedicated to educating men and women for funeral service profession. In 1951, Norbert received his license to be a Funeral Director/Embalmer. Norbert spent the first five years of his career as an embalmer, as did Frederick and Charles.
During the following years, Norbert worked for his father and started to rent funeral homes in the Brookfield area for funeral directing. He became involved in the Brookfield Chamber of Commerce and Brookfield Lions Club. Todd N. Hitzeman, the fourth generation of the Hitzeman Funeral Directors, was born on March 20 1955. Jan D. Hitzeman, his sister, was born in January of 1958.
On September 18, 1960, Frederick and Norbert Hitzeman helped mark the end of one era of history and the beginning of another era for Illinois Bell Telephone Company. Frederick Hitzeman, of the Lawndale area of Chicago, helped retire Chicago’s last 26,000 manually operated phones by making the last operator-assisted call to Charles F. Lohrentz. This opened up Illinois Bell Telephone Company’s new 5 million dollar Lawndale exchange building which now allowed for Direct Distance Dialing. Minutes later, Norbert Hitzeman, then President of the Lawndale Lions Club, made the first Direct Dial call to Lorrin Dolim, President of the Lions Club in Honolulu, Hawaii. During his conversation with Lorrin Dolim, Norbert congratulated Hawaii on its entry into the union as our 50th State.
While exciting events were occurring at the “26th Street Funeral Home,” Norbert was trying to expand the business in Brookfield, Illinois. Starting in 1955, Norbert began applying for a permit to begin building. The petition was denied. He again applied in 1957, 1960, and February of 1961. During the various board meetings, there were numerous protests against building the Funeral Home. Protestors argued that the building of the Funeral Home would depreciate the value of the residential property, would cause a traffic hazard, and would give encouragement to others to open businesses in the area. The present address of 9439 to 9447 W. 31st Street previously contained a real estate office which burned down. In April, 1962, President Philip J. Hollinger, Jr. gave Norbert Hitzeman, a permit to begin building the Funeral Home. Irv Hitzeman, (brother of Charles Hitzeman) of Hitzeman Builders began construction immediately. Irv told Norbert that he would build the Funeral Home as fast as he could because once the roof was on the building, it would be very difficult to retract the permit. While the construction was continuing, home owners in the neighborhood were seeking a permanent injunction to halt further building of the Funeral Home.
On Friday, December 14, 1962, Judge Abraham Lincoln Marovitz, of the Superior Court of Cook County, ruled that the village ordinance granting Norbert Hitzeman a zoning variation for a funeral home at 9439-47 31st Street was valid. According to Norbert, Judge Marovitz visited the construction site and saw that the building would be an asset to the neighborhood because of its ranch, homelike appearance. He also granted the ordinance because the building was near completion. The Grand Opening of the Hitzeman Funeral Home was held on Sunday, March 24, 1963.
The next thirteen years involved maintaining two buildings. The Hitzemans of Brookfield were not only involved with running their business but being active members of the community. They were involved with their church, St. Paul Lutheran, in Brookfield. Norbert was an active member of the Brookfield Chamber of Commerce, serving on various committees such as the Chamber Carnival, Cadillac Raffle, and Golf Outings. He also served as Chamber President. After becoming established in Brookfield, Norbert transferred from the Lawndale Lions Club into the Brookfield-La Grange Park Lions Club. Within this club, he served on various committees, was President, and also received the Melvin Jones Award which is the highest recognition given to a Lions Member.
Dorothy, Norbert’s wife, was also an integral part of the family business operation from 1951. Not only being involved with the building of the New Funeral Home, she was also active in the Brookfield Newcomer’s Club, Lioness Club, Chamber of Commerce, St. Paul’s Ladies Aid, and the Brookfield Women’s Club. While raising two children, she was the secretary of the business.
Frederick Hitzeman, the founder of Hitzeman Funeral Home, passed away on March 28, 1966. In 1970, Norbert purchased the property adjacent to the Funeral Home from Brookfield Federal who held the title due to unpaid back taxes. This property was paved in order to be used as a larger parking lot. Due to the changing business trends in Chicago, the “26th Street Funeral Home” was sold in 1976.
Like his father and grandfather, Todd completed Worsham Mortuary School and received his Funeral Director/Embalmer’s License in June of 1976. In 1977, Todd married Susan Marie Smuda. The possible fifth generation of Funeral Directors, Charles Todd Hitzeman was born on December 22, 1978. Jan Hitzeman joined the business in 1979. Jan remained a part-time Funeral Director (she was living in Wisconsin with her husband and three children) for 16 years. Like the other Hitzemans, Jan was involved with the Brookfield Chamber of Commerce and assisted with various Lions Club functions. Todd and Susan had two daughters, Kristine Susan, born November 8, 1981 and Laura Susan, born February 13, 1983.
Todd and Susan, with their children, have become active members of both the Brookfield and La Grange Park Communities. Parishioners of St. Louise de Marillac and St. Paul Lutheran Church, they have been involved with school and scouting activities. Todd has served on various committees with the Brookfield Chamber of Commerce, and at the young age of 25 was elected President for two years. He also is involved with the Brookfield-La Grange Park Lions Club, having served as President at the age of 24. Like his father, Todd was also awarded the Melvin Jones Award. The family is involved with the town Carnival, Oktoberfest, Lions Candy Day, Christmas Walk, Summerfest, and many other smaller activities the clubs sponsor.
Further construction occurred in the Fall of 1982, creating the four car garage built by Pierson Contractors. Norbert Hitzeman purchased Hitzeman Funeral Home, P.C., from his father in October of 1984. Charles Hitzeman was now living in La Grange Park and still participating in assisting with funerals until early 1991. Erma Hitzeman, wife of Charles, had a stroke in 1983. Both Charles and Erma’s health was failing which required them to have full time nursing care. Erma passed away February 28, 1992.
The name of the funeral home was again changed on October 5, 1992 to Hitzeman Funeral Home, Ltd. The business was now a Limited Corporation. The second generation Funeral Director, Charles R. Hitzeman, died on April 25, 1994. Over the next year, Norbert’s health, too, began to deteriorate. Todd bought the business from his father on September 18, 1995, allowing Norbert to retire at the age of 72. My parents, Todd and Susan, presently run the business and maintain the Hitzeman traditions that have provided dignified service for 97 years.
From 1997 to the Present
Susan Hitzeman received several honors when both the Brookfield Chamber of Commerce and the State of Illinois recognized Sue as “Brookfield Woman of the Year” in 1997. Sue later served as President of the Catholic Women’s Club during 2000, 2001, and 2002, founded Oktoberfest at St. Louise de Marillac Church and ran the festival for several years. In the business, Sue manages the office and helps families pre-plan their funerals.
The year 1998 brought two losses to our family. Ella Hitzeman, wife of Frederick, founder of Hitzeman Funeral Home, passed away April 5, 1998, at the age of 99. Norbert F. Hitzeman, third generation funeral director and founder of the Brookfield Funeral Home, passed away suddenly on July 15, 1998 at the age of 74 in Elkhorn, WI.
Charles T. “Chuck” Hitzeman graduated from the University of Wisconsin – Madison in December, 2000 with a Bachelor of Science degree in Economics. He then attended Worsham School of Mortuary Science in Wheeling, Illinois and graduated in 2002, becoming the fifth generation of Hitzeman family funeral directors. Chuck was also the fifth generation of Hitzemans to hold the position of Vice President of the Brookfield/La Grange Lions club. The same year, Chuck tied the knot with his college sweetheart, Danielle A. Healy, of Waunakee, WI. For several years, Danielle taught preschool at the same grade school from which Chuck, Kristine, Laura and their mother, Sue, graduated.
Kristine S. Hitzeman, daughter of Todd and Sue Hitzeman, received her Nursing degree from the University of Iowa in December of 2003. Kristine married Matthew Humphrey of Pleasant Hill, Iowa on June 12, 2004. She is a nurse in a staffing resource center in a local hospital. Matt is a Certified Public Accountant for a large bank in Chicago.
On Saturday, June 26, 2004, exactly one hundred years to the day from when founder Frederick Hitzeman assisted the first family with their funeral, the Hitzeman Funeral Home celebrated its 100th Anniversary with an Open House. Over five hundred people attended the Open House, learned more about the funeral home’s history, viewed displays including an antique hearse, and visited our senior fair. You are welcome to view pictures of the event at http://www.hitzemanfuneral.com/openhouse.html
In June of 2004, Chuck Hitzeman was elected as President of the Brookfield/La Grange Lions Club and was awarded the Melvin Jones Fellowship Award by the Lions International. The internationally recognized award is the highest award that a Lion can receive. It is a rare honor to receive the highest award in the Lions Club at the young age of 25. Charles R. Hitzeman, Chuck’s great grandfather, knew Melvin Jones and helped found the Lions Club in 1917 in Chicago. Norbert and Todd Hitzeman have also received this award.
In 2004, the Illinois Centennial Award was presented to Hitzeman Funeral Home, recognizing its one hundred years of contributions to the civic and economic heritage of the State of Illinois. The Hitzemans also participated in the La Grange Pet Parade and Brookfield’s Fourth of July Parade. At both parades, the entire family attended and displayed a traditional horse drawn hearse and carriage similar to what was used in the founding days of the funeral home.
Laura S. Hitzeman, youngest daughter and author of the family history, graduated from the University of Iowa in May of 2005 with a Degree in Nursing. She married Nicholas Tomeczko of Riverside on May 20, 2006. Laura is a nurse in an orthopedic medical surgical unit in a local hospital. Nick is a fireman and paramedic.
Chuck Hitzeman was elected Zone Chairman of the District 1A Lions Club for 2005 – 2006 and Vice President of Brookfield Chamber of Commerce for 2005 – 2006. Chuck is on the LaGrange Park Business Association board and the Brookfield Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors.
Todd Hitzeman broke his leg in January 2006, on Friday the 13th. He was completely incapacitated for 3 months, not knowing if he would ever walk normally again. Todd is back at work and doing quite well. Todd continues to serve on the Board of Directors of the Lions Club. Dorothy Hitzeman, Todd’s mother, is living in a condominium in Fontana, Wisconsin and has a caregiver helping her during the day.
During 2006, the Hitzeman family began planning the expansion of the funeral home. Plans include a new wing, renovation of the current space, and additional parking. Sue and Todd were very excited to welcome their first grandchild when Danielle and Chuck became the very proud parents of daughter Rachel. Danielle now assists Chuck in the business part-time.
The American Legion Robert E. Coulter, Jr. Post #1941 presented Todd Hitzeman with a “Certificate of Appreciation” in 2006. The plaque stated “This Certificate of appreciation is gratefully presented to Hitzeman Funeral Home, Ltd. in recognition and sincere appreciation of outstanding service and assistance which contributed to the advancement of The American Legion programs and activities dedicated to God and Country.” The family takes pride in honoring the veterans of our country.
We are proud to be in our 103rd year serving the community. We want you to know that the Hitzemans will be there for you in your time of need. We have triumphed in maintaining tradition, dignity, and quality service, which is what the five-generation, family-owned Hitzeman Funeral Home is all about!