SHELBY – Members of the Friebel family traveled to Shelby from cities across the United States and beyond Saturday, one coming from as far as Medellín, Colombia.
Michael Cooper flew five and a half hours from South America, joining family members on what would be the 100th wedding anniversary of his grandparents, Walter and Otillia Friebel.
Love for family knows no distance
Married Sept. 16, 1923, Walter and Otillia (Tillie) together raised 10 children in Shelby, who produced 42 grandchildren among them.
Walter owned Friebel and Hartman Construction Company and Tillie was the steady force at home.
“This is a once-in-a-lifetime event,” Cooper said. “Really, you can’t look past it.”
Cooper, who’s resided in Medellín since 1982, said lately he’s been making it a priority to attend any family events he can.
“Our family has always been very close,” he said. “When this was organized by my cousin she said, ‘You have to be there.’
“I said ‘You know I’ll be there.’ ”
Summers were spent at the family pond
Cooper’s cousin, Denise (Friebel) Carriere organized the reunion, which centered around the recreation of a treasured family photo.
The photo, taken during the summer of 1962 at Walter and Tillie’s pond, was brought to Carriere by her cousin Dan Cooper last year.
“What I thought of last year was it would’ve been 60 years since the photo (was taken),” Carriere said. “But it was already in the fall and we knew we couldn’t pull it together.”
Carriere began inquiring when the family could meet this year, Saturday was the only window where cousin Tom Cooper could attend.
“He (Tom) works in Yellowstone all summer,” she said. “This is as soon as he could be here.”
While the planning process was quite the undertaking, Carriere said everything fell into place to reunite on such a significant day and reminisce on a fond family past time.
Friebel family photo gallery
After notifying family around the globe of her idea, Carriere said she began receiving responses immediately which read, “I’m in.”
Five years old when the photo was snapped, Carriere said she has no recollection of the specific moment captured in time, but has several memories of time spent at her grandparents’ pond.
“We used to go swimming in their pond all the time,” she said. “Any given Sunday, we were in their pond.”
Cooper (Michael) also spoke fondly of days spent swimming with his cousins.
“It was important to be part of this picture,” he said. “Every summer, that’s where we spent the summer, everyday.”
Sixteen of the 18 family members, pictured in the original photo, were present Saturday including; Jodi Gumbert (Shelby) held in chair on the far left.
Standing back row left to right: Tom Cooper (NC), Greg Friebel (Shelby), Jennifer Bowman (Ontario).
Middle row left to right: Tim Friebel (Cleveland), Shelly Gwirtz (CA), Becky Morris (Shelby), Fr. Rick Friebel (Ottawa), Gary Cooper (TN), Michael Cooper (South America) in front of Gary.
Front row left to right: Mark Friebel (Shelby), Denise Carriere (Shelby), Shannon Friebel (Shelby), Vickie McCoy (Columbus), Dan Cooper (Shelby), Steve Friebel (NV).
Smiling from above
Those no longer with the Friebel family include Jill Friebel (deceased) and Christina Friebel Cooper, who passed away in March 2023. She was represented by her sister, Theresa Lake.
Carriere said the family felt compelled for Cooper (Christina) to be represented in the photo’s recreation.
“She (Christina) was very excited about this photo,” she said. “She always was the one in the sun with us all.”
Saturday’s gathering took place at the pond of Walter and Tillie’s grandson, Ed Friebel, as the original body of water is rather full of sludge, Carriere said.
“We just thought it’d be fun to recreate it (photo),” she said. “It was amazing, because this really may be the last time we’re all here together.”
Once the memory had been brought back to life, Carriere sat in a chair overlooking the water, blanketed by the shade provided from trees above, a smile on her face.
“Grandma was the sweetest lady on the planet,” she said. “She’s smiling down today.”
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