Strong Man

Monday September 17th would be my grandpa, Tillman Jurgens’ 91st birthday. He moved on to his next life Thursday night. It’s my own opinion but I think he had a great 90 years and 361 days. I got a call Thursday night from my dad and looking at the phone I just knew what he had to tell me. It wasn’t a surprise but that doesn’t make it any easier.

Even just hours afterward so many stories about him have been shared—one from his little sister Neola about him convincing her to wash her face in sour milk to get rid of her freckles…twice. Another about him promising candy to his niece in order to get her to walk down the isle as a flower girl. The stories are hilarious and heartwarming. He himself though revealed some over the last few years that top them all.

I’m a big believer that instead of mourning, we need to celebrate his incredible life.

Here’s just a few things I always want to remember. Essentially, there are always “two” Tillman’s to me:

1. My Playful Grandpa…

…Who built me my first “office” (in my closet) and lit my fire for creative home improvement projects.

1989 Closet Office (aka my first DIY project).

…Who taught us life’s lessons during family trips to Estes Park (including letting me ride a go kart on his lap and “drive” one for the first time). These trips are invaluable.

Bpa & my sis Jen, 1981. A few years later she'd draw a picture of him with Bozo hair. I'm sure that was humbling.

Bpa fishing with my sis, checking out tadpoles.

…Who was always “fun” grandpa (& grandma too) that our friends wanted to be around.

1991 In Estes Park

…Who was a skilled wood-worker, always making us things like Christmas reindeer, hand mirrors, table and chairs, custom shelves, toilet paper holders, and lots of personal Husker clocks (I even snagged a Hawkeye one from the house recently – he must have known I’d need it one day).

handmade reindeer

my little reindeer

Renee's coat rack

A coat rack he made for my cousin, Renee.

On a side note, I’ll always remember how carefully I would keep my head focused on the fridge when going into his basement wood shop to grab a pop so not to look at the, ah-hem, scantily-clad calendar of the month girl. Guess grandpas are guys too :)

…Who the strongest guy I know, my dad, thinks is the strongest guy.

…Who always drove the most bad-ass new family sedans with the windows tinted dark black and had heavy gas pedal.

…Who humored me by partaking in my new Bailey’s shot concoction at Thanksgiving a couple years ago.

…Who always had a playful personality and a great laugh…gave great hugs, and so much more that I can’t articulate.

He’s also…

2. The Guy Who Had a Life Way Before Me & Even My Dad (this is the guy I’ve learned about through stories over the years)… 

…Who was always sharply dressed and was a bit of a ladies man before grandma Lil (& 66 years of marriage).

Tillman Jurgens

Bpa & gma in 1947


1973 Polaroid (aka "Instagram" before phones got involved)

…Who tried to pass his style onto his kiddos and was successful 75% of the time (my dad and aunt Jetty).

Little Kurtie & Jetty

…Who fought for the U.S. in WII, experienced life-changing things, and came back with some great stories. (He eventually wrote some of his WWII story on paper which my dad typed up and I hesitantly shared on this blog).


…Who had to quickly find a place for he and his young wife to live because they were expecting a daughter and kids were not allowed to live in their apartment.

1949 with baby Aunt Jetty

…Who worked hard for the telephone company.

circa 1950

…Who carved out a great life for his family and left a great legacy.

Holding me in 1983 - one of my fav all time pictures :)

Holding my son, Rex in 2010

Holding my son, Rex in 2010. To date he has 5 great grandchildren.

…Who is so much more than can be included here.

Those are just a few of the things I’ll always remember. This doesn’t represent even a small blip of his life. He has so much to be proud of.

Back in the 90s when home video was becoming all the rage, my dad encouraged me to do grandparent interviews. At age 13 I felt way too shy to ask them questions about their lives from when they were younger. That’s so personal. Knowing that I could even broach topic of his time spent serving in WWII (something my dad couldn’t even get grandpa to talk about much) was frightening. It wasn’t until college or a little bit after that I finally started to see the people in my family and other “adults” as real people, all on this crazy path of life. At that point, I’d moved away and got busy starting my own adult life. I really wish I would have taken that opportunity.

About 15 years ago or so, Til got around to tracking down our family history from both his mother’s (Schlicting) and father’s side. I have two printed copies of all the information he found. There is family lineage traced back all the way to Germany including a picture of the family home I hope to visit someday (if it still exists, who knows). There’s also a bit of narrative that makes these dates and names come to life, making the people on the tree so much more than just a branch. I’m really glad he took the time to pull that together and I know someday it will be useful to next generations too.

I think one of the best things a person can ask for is to live to be old. And now I know just how much your body can start to weigh you down if you are that fortunate. The last few months have made a big impression on my life. Part of me that wishes that all of us (my grandparents, my aunts and uncles, my cousins, my parents, my kids, my nieces and nephew) could have one night to all be equally 22 years old, enjoying a few beers together on a night out. I know it would be a wild and ridiculously fun night with this crew.

For about a month or so he’s been living in an assistant living community and I did get to go see him in his new digs. And all of the sudden I realize the quick weekends back home are never quite enough. Monday night I got the chance to talk to him on the phone. It was a hard call to make. My aunt Jetty and grandma Lil were in his room. I told him he sounded good and he piped up with a playful response that he’s not doing too bad. I told him I’m proud to be his granddaughter.

I really am. What an incredible pair of shoes to follow in.


Updated: Here is the obituary from Dugan. Keeping it here so we always have it.


Services will be Monday, September 17, at 11:00 A.M. at First Lutheran Church. Rev. Charles Axness officiating. Memorials have been established to First Lutheran Church and Fremont Low Income Ministry. Condolences may be left at

Graveside services will be held at Memorial Cemetery Monday at 10:00 A.M. with graveside rites by the Fremont Honor Guard.

Tillman Adolf Jurgens, 90


Died at Shalimar Gardens in Fremont Thursday September 13, 2012. He was born September 17, 1921, near Cedar Bluffs, Nebraska to Adolf and Mary (Schlichting) Jurgens. He grew up on the Schlichting homestead in the District 61 area southwest of Cedar Bluffs and went to high school in Cedar Bluffs, graduating in 1939. Till was inducted into the Army Air Corp. at Fort Crook Army Base (now Offut Air Force Base). He attended B-24 airplane mechanic training at Gulfport, Mississippi. His unit first flew B-17s and later B-24s. He spent three years in the southwest Pacific during World War II. Till’s unit later received the Presidential Unit Citation from the Navy for a job well done, and by the war’s end he was a Crew Chief in charge of maintenance of a B-24. After completing his service obligations, Till went to work for Northwestern Bell Telephone Company, retiring in February 1981 with 35 years of service.

Tillman married Lilllian Mae Swanson of Wahoo on November 15, 1946 at Bethlehem Lutheran Church in Wahoo.

Till was a member of First Lutheran Church, Telephone Pioneer’s of American, American Legion, VFW #854, Fraternal Order of Eagles #200, and Masonic Lodge AF & AM #15. He was a lifetime member and past president of the 11th Bombardment Group Association now headquartered at Bolling Air Force Base in Washington, D.C.

Survivors include his wife Lillian, daughter Jetty Rabeler (husband Russell) of Fremont, son Kurt Jurgens (wife Mary) of Omaha, sister Neola Thorsen of Holliston, Massachusetts, five grandchildren, Renee Schneringer (husband Mitch) of Fremont, Brandon Rabeler of St. Louis, Missouri, Rochelle Rabeler of Denver, Colorado, Jennifer Hottovy (husband Toby) of Lincoln, Nebraska, and Kati Davis (husband Shawn) of Hiawatha, Iowa, and five great grandchildren.

Services will be Monday, September 17, at 11:00 A.M. at First Lutheran Church. Rev. Charles Axness officiating. Memorials have been established to First Lutheran Church and Fremont Low Income Ministry. Condolences may be left at

Graveside services will be held at Memorial Cemetery Monday at 10:00 A.M. with graveside rites by the Fremont Honor Guard.

Dugan Funeral Chapel