WILMINGTON, Ill. — Mrs. Helen Bittermann Francis Boggan was born Nov. 11, 1919, the first anniversary of the end of World War I, in her parents’ home in Wilmington, Ill., to Lawrence A. and Leona B. Bittermann. Except for an eight-year absence in the 1940s, Helen spent her entire 93 years in Wilmington.
Helen was baptized, confirmed, served, attended, married two fine men, and buried both of those husbands, in the First United Methodist Church of Wilmington, where her visitation was be held on Sunday, April 14, and her funeral service was on Monday, April 15.
After graduating from Wilmington High School as a member of the Class of 1937, she attended the University of Illinois in Champaign and lived at 4-H House. The year after her graduation, in 1941, she married Fred C. Francis, who was on the faculty at Illinois.
In 1950, the two of them and their first two sons moved to a farm south of Wilmington, where they lived until Fred’s death in 1995.
Helen was married again in 1999 to Edgar W. Boggan, from Mississippi and Maryland. Ed preceded Helen in death in 2007.
Helen ran a government-sponsored nursery school to provide daycare to the young mothers who worked at the ammunition plant at Elwood. She also taught a cooking school at Joliet Township High School, where young brides could go to learn to cook for their GI husbands after the war. She also worked for the National Livestock and Meat Board as a Test Kitchen Home Economist.
In Wilmington, her favorite extracurricular was helping her husband lead the Wesley 4-H Hustlers 4-H Club. Helen thought that many of the world’s problems could be solved if kids were in 4-H. She was also a Cub Scout den mother.
Helen was a substitute teacher before teaching English and P.E. at Wilmington High School, where she became the school district’s librarian. Professionally, she served as president of the U of I Home Economics Alumni Association and was also president of the Illinois Home Economics Association.
She loved the Chicago Cubs, having gone to the very first Major League All-Star game with her dad. She was a devoted hospice volunteer with the Joliet Area Community Hospice and loved the Fighting Illini sports teams. She was not happy about the decision to banish Chief Illiniwek to the history books. She was a staunch supporter of Wilmington High School, including their academics, their fine arts programs, and their sports teams.
Family was important to Helen. In addition to four sons, she had a daughter, Anita, and collected 13 grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.
Her first-born was Phil, who lives in Paradise Valley, Ariz., with his wife, Nita. Their children include Sarah (Matt) Walsh, who lives in Evanston, Ill., with their boys, Charlie and Henry. Laura (Jeff) Jacobs, who lives in Rockwall, Texas, with Joshua, Lily, Lucy and Laney. Phil’s son, Robert, lives in San Francisco, Calif., and Catie is in graduate school in Chicago.
Anita (Jackson) Nichols and her husband, Dave, live in Manhattan, Kan. Their children are Drew, who is a student in Emporia, Kan., and Amy, who lives in Wichita, Kan.
Bill and his wife, Rita, live near the family farm in Wilmington. Their son, Andy, lives in San Francisco and their daughter, Rachel, lives in Chicago.
John and Jane Francis reside in Boise, ID, which is also the home of their younger two children, Michael and Sheila. Their older son, Matt (Amy), lives in Chicago with their children, Clare and Matthew John Steve and his wife, Judy, live on the family farm in Wilmington where they raised their daughter, Carrie, who is a graduate student at Wisconsin-Madison, and son, Christopher (Katherine Ann), both of whom are graduate students at the University of Illinois.
Helen had one brother, Larry, who lives with his wife, Pat, in Wheaton, Ill. She also had a special cousin, Donna McKinley, from Forsythe, Ill., who was raised like a sister.
Special thanks to Ruth Chew, her dear friend, and her caregivers, Tita and Lydia, without whom Helen would not have been able to continue to reside in her own home.
The family entertained friends at the First United Methodist Church of Wilmington, 401 E. Kahler Road, Wilmington, from 2 to 8 p.m. Sunday, April 14.
Funeral services to celebrate Helen’s life were at the church at 11 a.m. Monday, April 15, with the Rev. Mi-Sook Yoo and Rev. Dr. Charles W. Boggan officiating. The family received friends from 10:00 a.m. until the time of the funeral.
Burial was at the Oakwood Cemetery, Wilmington.
In lieu of flowers, the family suggests memorials to one of the following groups that were important parts of Helen’s life: Illinois 4-H Foundation, Wilmington School District 209-U Foundation for Excellence, Joliet Area Community Hospice, or the First United Methodist Church of Wilmington.
Friends may sign the online guestbook or send private condolences to the family by logging onto www.FRBfuneral.com
Funeral services and arrangements have been made under the direction and care of Matthew R. Baskerville, CFSP / Freitag-Reeves & Baskerville Funeral Home in Wilmington. For information, call (815) 476-2181.