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A brief history of St Patricks




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It is with much sadness that we report the passing of Nancy Collins Henke on September 11, 2014.   It could easily be said that Nancy was the Queen of all things historical in the Town of Erin and the surrounding communities with the help of her husband, Evarist.  For those of us who have visited Nancy and Ev over the years, you could spend weeks paging through 250 binders full of information on Erin, Hartford, Richfield, Ashippun, and Polk to name a few and from churches and cemeteries to dance halls and taverns.  Their collection of historical information have often been on display at special events, and some of these treasures have been donated to the History Room at the Jack Russell Memorial Library in Hartford.


Nancy and Evarist’s 54th wedding anniversary (along with Ev’s 80th birthday) was September 10, and her last wish was that her cancer would not take her before then—the good Lord granted her request, and she passed away peacefully at Kathy’s Hospice in West Bend the following morning with Evarist by her side.


Nancy was born on March 6, 1936, one of nine children of James and Erna Collins.  In 1938, the family moved to a 160 acre farm in the Town of Erin overlooking Druid Lake.  Nancy’s parents were actively involved in St. Patrick’s Church of Erin holding many positions and Nancy’s mom, Erna, played the organ for almost 30 years.  Nancy would reminisce years later that “a lot of Sunday’s the parishioners visited longer outside the church than the actual Mass lasted.”  This love of St. Patrick’s and the church community lasted Nancy’s whole life.  In 1955, she volunteered to type the St. Patrick’s Ladies Altar Society Cookbook over her lunch hour at work and was given a Rosary for her work.  The cookbook was reprinted in 2005 for the 150th Anniversary of St. Patrick’s Church.


Upon graduation from Hartford High School, Nancy was employed as a secretary.  She worked as an Executive Secretary at West Bend Aluminum for Hartford resident, Paul Quick, who would say years later that she was one of the most conscientious and hard-working secretaries he had ever had.  She also was an Executive Secretary at Wacker Industries.  After her children were grown, she put her gardening expertise to work and was employed as a “transplanter” at Black’s Nursery.


On September 10, 1960, Nancy Collins married Evarist Henke at St. Patrick’s Church of Erin.  Daughter, Mary, was born in 1961 and son, Michael, was born in 1965.  In 1969, Nancy and Evarist built a home on Highway 83 in Erin (also referred to as Thompson), a short distance from St. Patrick’s Church.  Nancy followed in her parents’ footsteps--volunteering her time and talent at St. Patrick’s as Treasurer, Vice President and President of the St. Patrick’s Ladies Altar Society beginning in 1979.   She also held positions on the Parish Council in 1972 and 1973 and from 1979 through 1981, and served as the Secretary-Trustee of the Parish Council from 1982 through the church’s closing in 1999.  She received a crucial liver transplant in the spring of 1999, which saved her life.  Shortly thereafter she was called by then Archbishop Weakland to a mandatory meeting regarding the closing of St. Patrick’s Church along with Trustee Frank Weber. There were concerns as to whether Nancy was well enough to attend the meeting.  No concern was needed as Archbishop Weakland discovered what parishioners knew—Nancy’s strength, courage and wit was unmatched when it came to her beloved St. Patrick’s Church.  Some of us still laugh when we recall Nancy’s response to the Archbishop’s request to turn over the bank account of the St. Patrick’s Ladies Altar Society to the Milwaukee Archdiocese . . . in the end, Nancy prevailed.


In 1996, the Town of Erin celebrated their 150th year of existence.  An almost 300 page historical account of Erin Township was printed and much of the information was compiled by Nancy.   After the closing of St. Patrick Parish in 1999, a group of parishioners formed a 501©3, the St. Patrick Preservation Fund in 2000--its mission was the historic preservation of the church, cemetery and grounds.  Nancy served on the Board of Directors and the Secretary from 2000 until her retirement in 2005.


In 2005, St. Patrick Church of Erin (although defunct as a parish but still allowed to celebrate special occasion Masses) celebrated their 150th Anniversary of existence.  Nancy and daughter, Mary Hasslinger, worked for two years on a beautiful history book of St. Patrick’s from its founding in 1855 until its closure as a parish in 1999.  Nancy was also instrumental in planning the 150th St. Patrick Church Celebration, which included a Mass at St. Patrick’s and dinner at the Erin Town Hall, with almost 200 people in attendance (because that is all the town hall could hold!) In 2008, she was instrumental in planning the 150th Anniversary of the St. Patrick’s Ladies Altar Society with a dinner at the Hartford Golf Club.  Even as her health deteriorated Nancy, with the help of her husband, Evarist and daughter, Mary, continued her pursuit of gathering historical information on Erin Township.  In November of 2005, she became a founding member of the Erin Historical Society.


The St. Patrick Preservation Group will be forever indebted to Nancy for without her passion, perseverance and hard-work the history of our beautiful Erin community, historic St. Patrick Church and surrounding areas would not have been documented for future generations.  What a blessing and gift she was and what a legacy she leaves to all of us . .  .  Godspeed Nancy Collins Henke . . .