Gloria Kuchler, Longtime Tosa Resident and Activist-Volunteer, Started Community Rummage sales
Gloria Mary Kuchler, a volunteer and social activist who organized what became an annual community rummage sale in Wauwatosa’s East Towne area, was a woman who saw endless possibilities in people and politics.
Whether she was feeding central city children, corresponding with the late Wisconsin Senator William Proxmire or demonstrating against domestic violence or the Gulf War, Kuchler reached beyond her suburban home to make a difference in the broader world around her.
An early advocate of recycling and ecological responsibility, she was pleased with her family’s suggestion that she turn her death into a positive environmental statement, too. And so, when Kuchler, 85, is laid to rest Saturday, July 11, at St. Mary’s Cemetery in Elm Grove, she will be in a simple pine coffin that was lovingly crafted and decorated by her husband, Roland, and her children, grandchildren and great grandchildren.
Sixteen family members gathered last Sunday, July 5, to create the coffin at the home of one of her daughters, Susan Couchman, in the Town of Erin. Couchman’s husband, Rob, a carpenter/contractor, downloaded coffin plans from the Internet and purchased the lumber for $100 at a Home Depot store.
Family members sanded the wood, screwed it together with power tools and used acrylic paints and a wood-burning tool to decorate the underside of the coffin lid. That included her namesake and great granddaughter, 16-month-old Gloria Pabon, of West Allis, leaving her handprints on the wood.
The volunteer effort was a fitting tribute for a woman who gave of herself tirelessly.
“She just was such a force for giving,” said Susan Couchman. “She just really wanted to give to people, and she got such a thrill out of it herself. As my cousin, John Zacher put it, ‘It wasn’t just that she gave. She made you feel special when she gave to you.’ ”
Kuchler died July 1 of complications of age at Wisconsin Lutheran Care Center, 6800 N. 76th St., where she lived after suffering a stroke about four years ago. Visitation will be Friday, July 10, from 2:30 until the 4:30 p.m. start of a funeral Mass at St. Bernard Catholic Church, 7474 Harwood Ave., Wauwatosa.
Many years ago, Kuchler got the idea of holding a rummage sale with neighbors in the 2500 block of N. 66th Street in Wauwatosa. She organized it and collected $1 from each participating neighbor to pay for advertising. That grew block by block over the years into an annual area event that involves dozens of homes, Susan Couchman said.
Keenly interested in political issues, Kuchler wrote many letters that were published in the Milwaukee Journal. She also sent letters to Proxmire about a range of topics, to which he responded with personal replies, family members said.
“She cared about the underdog,” Susan Couchman said. “Children’s issues and women’s issues, those were very big to her. And peace. She demonstrated for peace during the first war in Iraq. She was very vocal about how she felt about things.”
Kuchler managed the hot lunch program at the former St. Thomas Aquinas School on Milwaukee’s north side for about 25 years, building it into a successful and financially stable operation, family members said. When she learned that many children were going without breakfasts, she expanded the program to include free breakfasts supplementing the menu with day-old bakery and other food she solicited from the community..
After retiring from the school in 1985, she did a wide variety of volunteering, sometimes at the requests of her daughters. She comforted babies as a volunteer at the Penfield Children’s Center in Milwaukee, tutored adults in reading and mathematics at the former St. Gall Catholic Church on Milwaukee’s north side, volunteered as a cook in Waukesha for a free meal program run by the Cooperating Congregations of Waukesha County and tutored for an English-as-a-second-language program at a church in downtown Waukesha.
Active into her late 70s, Kuchler loved to bake. She made dozens of Christmas cookies each year – often creating 20 or more varieties -- which she and her children then gave away packed in shirt boxes to family, friends, neighbors and parishioners.
In addition to her husband, Roland, of Wauwatosa, and her daughter, Susan Couchman, she is survived by a son, Tim, of Wauwatosa; and a daughter, Judy Boland, of the Town of Brookfield.
In lieu of flowers, the family suggests donations to the Hope Unit at the Wisconsin Lutheran Care Center.
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