Women of Warrenville: Emma Hensel Burgess
As we continue to feature women of Warrenville as part of Women’s History Month, this week’s post is a script from the 2017 Warrenville Cemetery Walk. That year’s walk presented some of the stories featured in the Well-Dressed Women of Warrenville column from local artist Mildred Baldwin's popular column in the Warrenville Digest. This script of Emma Burgess was wonderfully told by Denise Farrugia.
“Good evening, my name is Emma Eva Hensel Burgess. I was born on February 24, 1910, in Anamoose, North Dakota. My parents, Emanuel Hensel and Katherine Kling, were German speakers from eastern Europe. They immigrated to the United Sates arriving November 11, 1907 and moved to a farm in North Dakota. My father managed the farm with the help of me and my 9 siblings.
“In 1921, my parents moved our family east, first to New York and then to Connecticut. In July 1926 we moved to Naperville, Illinois. We lived on West Street, and the Burgess family lived just around the corner, one block over on Benton. Amelia and her sons had arrived in Naperville in 1917. We were neighbors and her youngest son, Earl, and I took a likening to each other and got married. We married on August 3, 1928, just a few days after Earl’s 20th birthday. I was only 18 and a half. Well, being so young and newlyweds we needed to get our feet solidly on the ground and save money. The best way for us to do that was to live with my parents and my eight siblings in our house on West Street. It was cozy. And then the great depression hit. Black Thursday, October 24, 1939, was horrible. It was hard on everyone. Everything changed. Everyone was struggling; we struggled as well. But somehow, we managed to save enough money, and with our two sons, Earl and I moved to Warrenville. It was the mid-1930s. We first lived just down the road on Aurora (today’s Warrenville Road), and then we rented a house over on Batavia Road, that big brick house that I think is now a massage therapy place, Touched By Jules. My fifth child, our son, was born in the back bedroom of that house. With 5 kids, Earl and I decided that we really needed a house of our own, so we bought some property over on Rockwell. Earl, who worked as a carpenter, began building our home. We lived in the basement a couple of years as the house was rising above us. When the house was done, our family had grown to six children.
“Warrenville was a great place for our children to grow up and offered us a lot of opportunities to get involved in the community. Our children were Ray, Art, Ken, Ardell, Ron and Sandy. The boys were all involved in baseball. Ray, Art and Ken and their dad played for the Warrenville Cyclones, the adult baseball “team in town. Earl even helped manage and coach the team for a few seasons. He also helped start little league in Warrenville. Unfortunately, our son Ron was already involved with another team…a little league team in Wheaton. He played for the Wheaton Wildcats and as you would guess, he played against his dad’s team and won! The newspapers wrote up that game.
“My family flourished in Warrenville. Each married and started their families in Warrenville. Ray on Warren; A”rt and Ardell built homes on Rockwell, one on either side of the big family house; Ken, he was over on Forest View; Ron on Townline, and Sandy over on Virginia. It wasn’t long before there were 21 grandchildren.
“As a carpenter, Earl did a lot of building, including Good Shepard Lutheran Church. Warrenville was home for us and we wanted to see the best for our town. We found ourselves being supporters of Warrenville’s incorporation. Now the long-time families and the newcomers, as we were called despite our many years here, all had their opinions and expressed them whenever they could. It was extremely controversial, but as you know, Warrenville did incorporate in 1967. Earl was very proud to say he was one of the volunteers and donors who helped to rehab the old Chicago, Aurora & Elgin railroad station into the first city hall.
“Well raising kids and keeping up with housework and working at the furniture store, I was busy, but I still found for my handiwork. I sewed, embroidered, crocheted, and quilted. Ladies from the church came over and we quilted in the living room, the only room large enough to accommodate a full-size quilt rack. I often gave a lot of the things I made to the Good Shepard Christmas Bazaar. I was part of the group that started it and ran it for a few years. My crocheted ornaments of angels and snowflakes were very popular. My work on behalf of the church was a labor of love, as was working with the Warrenville Sesquicentennial Committee. As part of the celebration in 1983, they asked me to help quilt all of the beautiful squares that the local organizations, schools and churches had made. We hand quilted the Sesquicentennial Quilt; you can still see it today as it hangs at the Warrenville Museum.
“I passed away in 1996, 13 years after Earl. We are both buried here in the Warrenville Cemetery, and are happy to be so close to our family. This wonderful community is still home to some of our grandchildren who live and work here.”