Erich Walter Bruegmann, age 88 years, husband, father, grandfather, outdoorsman, and Master Cabinetmaker died peacefully on Wednesday, October 30, 2019 with his wife and children gathered around at Buchanan Meadows following an extended illness. His family is grateful for the compassionate and skilled care offered by the staff of Buchanan Meadows and Caring Circle Hospice at Home.
He was born on February 25, 1931 in Hannover, Germany to Eduard and Ottilie (Schneider) Bruegmann. His formal schooling was impacted by the war, including paper rationing that required 4 students to share each textbook. On August 4, 1944, fellow student, Margarete Kahle began sharing with him a textbook – and a relationship for the rest of his life. Erich apprenticed with the furniture and boatbuilding craft guild, eventually earning certification as a Master Cabinetmaker.
On June 6, 1953 in Hannover Erich was married to the aforementioned Miss Kahle, and on November 7, 1954 they arrived in Niles with their firstborn son, Friedrich. Erich was first employed at the former Niles Cabinet Shop, and then worked with Richard Kunzi and briefly at the former Williams’ Brothers Supply before opening his own cabinet business. The quality of his craftsmanship quickly earned a great reputation, and he was commissioned to many remarkable projects including a cabinet to protect the crystal chalice and silver plate, a twenty-fifth anniversary gift to the late Rev. Theodore Hesburgh, C.S.C.
Erich continued as a student of his craft, readily mixing traditional methods with new practices and media. When the Niles Community Library (now Niles District Library) gave him the project of building an operating display for the David Fields Memorial Train, he designed and created a platform in clear acrylic Plexiglas rather than wood, so that it could be elevated but still easily viewed. As environmental concerns required wood finishes with safer vapors, he learned to use water-based chemistry and still achieve a protective finish that enhanced the woodgrain. His business was the subject of a feature article in the CabinetMaker magazine.
The craftsman’s attention to detail was evident in Erich’s other interests. His proficiency as a classical guitarist led to his performances at the renowned Staatsoper Hannover (Hannover Opera House), and his skill with a camera, observant eye, and sense of composition created award-winning photographs. He was an avid outdoorsman, enjoying camping, kayaking, and sailing. He was a member of the post-war Wandervogel of West Germany, and in his teen years was certified as a lifeguard.
In Niles, he was a founding member of the Fernwood Botanical Garden and Nature Center, and a member of the board and past-president of the Fernwood Camera Club. He was also a member of the South Bend Camera Club.
He was preceded in death by his parents, and by his brother, Gustav Bruegmann.
Surviving family includes his wife, Margarete A. Bruegmann and their children, Friedrich Wilhelm (& Toni Kay Bodjack) Bruegmann of Niles, Douglas Erich Bruegmann of Niles, and Marie M. (& David Preston) Bruegmann of Dowagiac, Michigan; grandchildren Kyle Aaron Bruegmann and Logan Erich William Bruegmann; and a wonderful list of appreciative clients and fellow woodworkers.
The family of Erich Bruegmann will receive relatives and friends on Wednesday, November 6, 2019 from 5:00 p.m. until 7:00 p.m. at the Halbritter-Wickens Funeral Home, 615 East Main Street in Niles. Contributions in memory of Erich may be made to Fernwood Botanical Garden and Nature Center, 13988 Range Line Road, Niles, Michigan, 49120; /http://www.fernwoodbotanical.org/; or to the Niles District Library, 620 East Main Street, Niles, Michigan, 49120; http://www.nileslibrary.com/; or to Caring Circle Hospice at Home, 4025 Health Park Lane, Saint Joseph, Michigan, 49085; http://hospiceathomecares.org/. Online condolences may be left at:
Erich grew-up in wartime Germany, mastered an old-world craft, emigrated to the United States, and worked quietly in the sawdust and woodshavings of his shop to become a highly-respected and widely known cabinetmaker and friend.
To send flowers to Erich's family, please visit our floral section.
Fernwood Botanical Garden and Nature Preserve
13988 Range Line Road, Niles MI 49120
Niles District Library
620 East Main Street, Niles MI 49120
Caring Circle Hospice at Home
4025 Health Park Lane, Saint Joseph MI 49085