The Frau Erica Project
Muellers in America:
The first 155 years


Emanuel Lutheran Church, Freedom Township, Janesville, Minnesota, photographed June 7, 2007, by Joel Nickel

Helen Hedder: Oma bails them out

While there is no smoking gun in the archives, the suspicion builds that Wilhelm and Frau Erica tended toward the high-maintenance side — complaining, demanding, confident in their Fifth Commandment entitlements. Around the turn of the century, they cadged what would have been a $45,000 loan in today’s dollars from their new daughter-in-law Helen Hedder Mueller. Helen waited almost 30 years — a decade after Wilhelm and Frau Erica had died — for repayment.

At some point later in their adult lives, Wilhelm and Adelheid Mueller, Opa’s parents, found themselves in dire straits financially. Their new daughter-in-law Helen Hedder, right, helped them out with a substantial loan.

Nothing in the archives suggests why a loan was necessary or whether the elder Muellers or their son Ernst first broached the subject. The only artifact is a cover note for a payment dated June 17, 1930, sent by William Mueller of LaGrange, Illinois, on behalf of all his siblings. That would have been about the time the Mueller children received the first Erbschaft and long after Wilhelm and Adelheid were dead.

William’s cover note sets the amount of the loan at exactly $2,075.50. It does not mention when the loan was made, only that $2,075.50 is “the amount of the principal you loaned to our parents years ago when they were hard pressed.” The repayment idea may have originated with Helen’s husband Ernst, who, William wrote, had provided information about the loan.

Opa and Oma married in 1899. If the loan was made between 1900 and 1910, it would have been worth between $40,000 and $44,200 in 2004 dollars, according to CPI-based conversion tables from the University of Oregon. It is possible that the early 1900s were difficult for Wilhelm and Adelheid. They would have had at least three children living with them, aged 7, 14 and 16, with other children in school. Adelheid did have some health problems, including gall stones (“Wiederholt hat sie schwere Krankheiten durchmachen müßen, wiederholt mußte eine Operation [Gallensteinen] vorgenommen werden,” according to her obituary in Die Abendschule), although the archives do not have information about the timing of these problems.

Helen Hedder, while not significantly wealthy, did come from a family of merchants in Chicago. Her father, Hermann Hedder, owned his own fuel business (coal and wood); he died in 1897. Her mother, Louise Luecke Hedder, bought a house for herself near Humboldt Park in Chicago after Hermann’s death. She lived until January 1905. Helen had only one surviving sibling, her brother Paul. Helen and Paul would have received their inheritance from the Hedder estate in 1905 or 1906, which may have given the elder Muellers an opportunity to broach the idea of a loan.

William’s check in 1930 made no allowance for interest or inflation. It was worth $23,585 in today’s dollars — about 60 percent of the value of the original loan in constant dollars.