The impact of the Koenig-Baurs, Elmhurst’s largest legacy family, is hard to miss on campus. Dedicated trees bloom in their honor and paver bricks bear their name, celebrating a 130-year association with the College.
Last summer, more than 75 members of the Koenig-Baur clan came together on the College campus for a week-long family reunion. Featuring everything from a talent show to guided campus tours, the reunion culminated in a July 25 dinner to raise funds for the John Koenig-Wilhelm Baur Memorial Scholarship, an endowed fund established by the family in 2007.
The family’s Elmhurst story dates back to 1879, when John Koenig enrolled in the German Evangelical Proseminary at Elmhurst. The son of German immigrants from Indiana, John thrived in the tight-knit community of pretheological students, graduating in 1882 to become a parochial schoolteacher.
That same year, Wilhelm Baur arrived at Elmhurst from his native Germany, funded by a scholarship from the Basel Missionary Society. He graduated in 1886 and enrolled in Eden Theological Seminary in St. Louis, where he would later serve as a professor of church history.
The two families crossed paths at Eden, where John Koenig’s sons, Elmhurst alumni John and Hermann, studied under Wilhelm Baur. Impressed with the boys’ dedication to scholarship and their strong moral character, Wilhelm invited both Koenigs to Sunday dinner with his family, which included six daughters. “ It was Wilhelm’s way of ensuring that his daughters had proper suitors,” explained Robert Koenig, the grandson of John and Wilhelm and an Elmhurst faculty member from 1946 to 1954. The strategy worked, and both Koenig brothers eventually married Baur daughters: John married Rose, and Hermann married Martha.
The family that ensued continued John and Wilhelm’s commitment to service, with many pursuing careers in education, the ministry or both. They also maintained their forefathers’ strong connection to the College.
“We’ve always thought of Elmhurst as being ‘our college,’” said Elsa Weber ’70, Robert’s daughter and the great-granddaughter of John and Wilhelm. Born while her family lived on campus at Irion Hall, Elsa is married to Elmhurst College Professor Emeritus John Weber.
At the dinner, several generations of Koenig- Baurs shared memories of their time on campus. Barbara Englehart ’40, granddaughter of John and Wilhelm, said she still misses the sound of the organ in Irion Hall. And Jim Helm ’59, grandson of Wilhelm, will always remember meeting a young freshman on campus named Anne, who later became his wife.
Robert recalls teaching Old and New Testament classes and living at the College right after World War ii. “It was most exciting. I started in the fall of 1946 when the first wave of vets on the G.I. Bill came to Elmhurst, and they meant business, really demanding you put forth the work.”
One of his fondest memories is of returning to campus with his newborn daughter, Elsa. As he approached Irion Hall, he saw a big group of the hall’s student residents holding up a sign that read “ECK.” It didn’t take him long to figure out that the acronym stood for “Elmhurst College Kid.”
Elsa returned to campus for undergraduate studies at the height of the Civil Rights and antiwar movements. “It was a time of dramatic social change,” she said, recalling her work to promote social justice on campus with the activist group Students for a Democratic Society.
A Legacy of Service
At the reunion dinner, family members had the chance to get to know some of the many students who have benefited from Koenig-Baur Memorial Scholarships over the years. Five current and past scholarship recipients attended the event to meet the family and express their gratitude.
“The award helped me both financially and personally,” explained Genesis Jelkes ’11. “It gave me the freedom to make my own choices, and it lit a fire under me to give back.” Inspired by the family’s generosity, Jelkes now works with City Year Chicago, an AmeriCorps program that helps at-risk students stay in school.
The scholarship fund began with an ambitious goal. “We thought if we could raise $50,000, we could make a real difference to Elmhurst students,” explained Robert. Within three years after sending out letters of explanation, the scholarship task force had collected $50,000 in pledges from 42 family members.
Today, the family is making plans to secure the fund’s future with an additional $50,000 in contributions. “We are grateful that we can give back some of what we received at Elmhurst in the form of the scholarship and at the same time honor some of our forebears,” said Jim Helm.
Despite their long and distinguished legacy at Elmhurst, the Koenig-Baurs remain humble. “We don’t consider ourselves a ‘legacy family,’” explained Robert Koenig. “We just consider ourselves a family.”