George M. Kelbel

George Martin Kelbel, Jr., 90, passed away peacefully in his sleep Jan. 18, 2024. 

He was born June 1, 1933, at the height of the Great Depression and was baptized into the Catholic faith. Both events would profoundly shape his life. George’s childhood was spent in the Hillsboro area, moving from farm to farm as necessitated by his parents’ significant financial struggles. He spent his time helping his parents with farm duties, serving as an altar boy at St. Joseph Catholic Church in Mount Tabor, attending Burr School, reading Zane Grey, and listening to really old country and western music. He was very proud of his ability to recite the Baltimore Catechism and recounted fond memories of the classmates and education he received in the one-room Burr School. 

He continued his education at Hillsboro High School, where this “scrawny kid with a stutter” developed a wealth of self-confidence and extensive social connections through athletics. He described participation in football, boxing and baseball as “a turning point.” He graduated from high school in 1951, the first of his family to do so. Although presented with the option to go to college on an athletic scholarship, George declined in order to stay home and help his parents with their financial difficulties. Helping family became a lifelong theme. 

Involvement in both boxing and baseball continued into his adult life as well as becoming an avid fan of Badger football. He was a catcher on many baseball teams into his early 40s. He became a Golden Glove Boxer and received offers to go pro. He decided to forego this career option, as he did not feel it was “family friendly.’ He married Donna Schmidt on Oct. 2, 1954, an event he repeatedly referred to as “the best thing that ever happened to me.” 

George and Donna, with their six children, worked diligently to build their 193-acre Grade B dairy farm with 14 cows into a 150–200-cow, Grade A Registered-Holstein operation, working over 1,000 acres. At the same time, he worked “side jobs,” including work at Mount Tabor Feed Mill, salesman for Purina, manager of Kickapoo Fertilizer, vice president of the 4-mile stretch of Chicago-Northwestern Railroad between Hillsboro and Union Center, real estate agent buying, fixing up and reselling farms, township assessor, owner of Mount Tabor Feed Mill and Bar, and rural postal carrier. He also very proudly shared his extensive knowledge of taxes and finances to help whomever he could.

After retiring from the Postal Service, George continued to farm. He would retire four times from farming before finally calling it done, although he continued to raise livestock and rent out pasture and cropland. Through these endeavors, he developed many lifelong friends, whom he cherished dearly. As the farming culture changed and Amish neighbors moved in, he similarly valued these new friendships, as he saw them live their faith, put farmland to good use and embody a strong work ethic that echoed his own.

George’s life was characterized by his deep faith, unwavering commitment to family, strong valuing of friends, remarkable work ethic and extraordinary experience and knowledge of farm and real estate finances.

George was preceded in death by his sons, Bill and John; his parents, George Sr. and Clara (Kolowrat); his siblings and their spouses, Frank (Catherine), Adeline (Cliff) Vanderburg, Veronica (Charles) Obert, and Marlene (Donald) Breidenstein; his father- and mother-in-law, Leonard and Gladys (Schmidt); his brother-in-law, Ronald (Schmidt); a nephew Charles, Jr. (Obert); and his nieces, Karren (Obert) and Janay (Bunbury).

He is survived by his wife of 69 years, Donna (Schmidt); his children, Peggy, Amy (Tom) Biddick, Joe (Dawn) and Tony (Laurie); his grandchildren, Tasha (Nick) Monica, Brogan Boldon, Eason Kelbel, John Kelbel, Mark (Alaina) Ehlers, Ellen (Felipe) Gutierrez Ehlers, Dalton Koltermann, Lane Koltermann and Jaydon Shea; and five great-grandchildren, Ashton, Eason James Jr., Coy, Theo and Aiden.

A time of visitation will be from 4–7 p.m. Friday, Jan. 26, at the Picha Funeral Home in Hillsboro, and funeral services will be at 11 a.m. Saturday, Jan. 27, with a time of visitation from 10–11 a.m. at the St. Aloysius Catholic Church in Hillsboro, with Father Don Bauer officiating. Burial will be in the Mount Vernon Cemetery in Hillsboro.

The Picha Funeral Home in Hillsboro is assisting. For online information, go to www.pichafuneralhomes.com.

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