Welcome to the memorial page for

Portia Pauline Brown Coppes

April 7, 1922 ~ March 17, 2017 (age 94)

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Memorial Service
April 22, 2017

11:00 AM
First United Methodist Church
421 Washington
Burlington, Iowa 52601

Portia Pauline Brown Coppes, 94, of West Burlington died peacefully on Friday, March 17, 2017 at Great River Klein Center. She lived most of her life in Burlington.

Born in 1922 on a farm in Pulaski, Iowa, the family moved to Burlington when she was 3 years old. She was the oldest of 2 children of Pauline Jeffrey Brown and William Dawson Brown. She graduated from Burlington High School in 1940.

On March 10, 1943, she married Earl L. Coppes of Yarmouth, and they had 3 children. Survivors include 2 daughters: Carol Forest (Tony Press) of Brisbane, CA and Tamara Knak (Chris Knak) of Des Moines; 3 grandchildren: David Mohr (Bettina Weckermann) of Mountain View, CA, Allyson Knak (Weha Seniwongsi) of Downers Grove, IL, and Robin Bay (Ron Kurtz) of Higbee, CO; 2 great grandchildren: Hanik and Jens Mohr; and many nieces and nephews. She was preceded in death by her husband, Earl Coppes, a son, Timothy Coppes, a grandson, Erik Gaddis, and brother, Bill “Brownie” Brown.

In 1961 she began working for the First Methodist Church as Parish Assistant, contacting members, visiting nursing homes, hospitals, the housebound, and newcomers. She loved this work of being of service to people. She was known as the “banana lady” for bringing bananas to the elderly. She worked there for 26 1/2 years under 7 different pastors.

When she left the job, she didn’t stop doing the work of helping people — whether it was being a caring friend or neighbor, sewing or altering clothes for people, and also looking after her loved ones, including grandkids. When she moved into Rosebush Gardens she felt it was her job to “table hop” as she called it. Despite her walker she checked in with people, keeping an eye and ear out for what they needed, and she wasn’t shy about talking to the staff to alert them when someone was hurting or in need of more attention. She did the same at Klein, in a more limited fashion, as by then she was wheelchair bound, but she never stopped caring and being concerned about the welfare of others.

In 1964 she joined Eastern Star where she held many offices, including Worthy Matron twice and she was appointed Grand Ruth for the State of Iowa Grand Chapter.

Always civic minded and active in the community, she was a docent at the Historical Society’s Apple Trees Museum; served as ambassador for Burlington Chamber of Commerce; was a member of the Soroptimist Club and RSVP; and was active in the Democratic Party.

Sewing, crocheting and knitting had always been a favorite hobby. In her retirement she started Portia’s Alteration Service in the early 1980s, having worked in this field previously. She also made many quilts and afghans for her children and grandchildren.

Her life has been full and rich and she had a positive influence on family, friends, community and all who met her.

Continuing her commitment to education and civic duty, Portia deeded her body to the University of Iowa Medical School, as did Earl 7 years ago.

A Memorial Service will be held at 11:00 AM on Saturday, April 22, 2017 at First United Methodist Church in Burlington.

Memorials have been established for First United Methodist Church and the Burlington Public Library.



1.   Portia Pauline Brown was born on a farm in Pulaski.

2.   The family moved to Burlington when she was 3 years old.

3.   Her brother, Bill - also known as Brownie - was 3 years younger.

4.   She lived in Burlington all through her school years and graduated from BHS in1940.

5.   Her family struggled through the depression, that’s when she learned how to be frugal.

6.   When she was about ten her mother had tuberculosis, so she took responsibility for the family cooking and cleaning.

7.   She worked at the telephone company after high school, barely making the height requirement by wearing high heels.

8.   She met Earl when he was a short order cook at Dinty's Snappy Service on Jefferson at 6th and she worked at the bakery down the street.  He kept coming over to the bakery for pies, and kept gazing at her, until he finally asked her out.

9.   They married in 1943 at Fort Snelling, MN.

10. For a short while they lived in Olympia, Washington, where he was stationed in the army.

11. She came back to Burlington when she was pregnant and lived with her parents on Agency Street.

12. Carol was born in 1944.  Mom and baby continued to live with her parents until Earl came back from service in ‘46.

13. She worked in alterations at Penney's in the 40's and later in business for herself as a seamstress and an alterations specialist until just a few years ago.

14. They moved to Macomb in 1950 for a year and she and Earl ran a sewing machine shop there.

15. Tim was born in 1951 and Tam in 1953, both in Burlington.

16. In 1954 the family moved to Garner for 4 years when Earl started working for the Des Moines Register and Tribune.

17. In 1958 he was transferred and the family moved to Memphis, MO, which seemed like a different country to the kids.

18. They came back to Burlington to stay by the next fall.

19. She worked for 26 1/2 years as Parish Assistant at First Methodist Church in Burlington from1961, hired by Dr. Hunt.

20. Her first assignment was to contact members who hadn't been in church for years.

21. She was known as the “banana lady” because she brought bananas to the elderly and the housebound.

22. Her grandchildren, Erik and Ally, sometimes went calling with her because many of the people didn’t have family close by.

23. She had 4 grandchildren:  David lives in CA, Erik is deceased, Ally lives in Chicago, and Robin lives in Denver.

24. Two great grandchildren live in CA:  Hanik is 9 and Jens will be 7 next week.

25. She is a true and loyal friend.

26. She tells it like it is, no excuses.

27. She is an excellent cook.

28. She loves people.

29. She is a staunch Democrat.

30. She worked on the campaigns of John Kerry and Barack Obama.

31. She has always been feisty.

32. She says growing old is not for sissies and Dr. Taeger says that's why she's going to be OK.

33. She is known in some circles as the "oh shit" lady.

34. She doesn’t know a stranger.

35. She will always stop and talk to someone wherever she is, especially babies and children.

36. She is a crusader for not smoking – tells every smoker she sees that it will kill them.

37. She compliments people on the street or in restaurants - wherever she is - if she likes what she sees.

38. Conversely she lets people know when she doesn’t like something – like hairdos for example, especially if they look like they were “styled with an egg beater".

39. In her defense, a few years ago she said that she hadn’t known that “shit” was a swear word.   Of course, that hasn’t stopped her.

40. She feels her life is most meaningful when she is helping someone in some way and she continues to strive to do that.

41. Once she brought a coffee pot in to the church office where where she was working to teach the pastor how to make coffee.

42. She was a docent at Apple Trees for the Historical Society.

43. She served as an ambassador for Burlington Chamber of Commerce, meeting the Mississippi Queen and taking passengers on tours of Burlington. In the fall they went to Aspen Grove and Crapo Park to see the leaves.

44. She was a member of the Soroptimist Club.

45. She was a very active member of Eastern Star since the early 60s and held many offices including Worthy Matron twice.  She is still a member.

46. She was appointed Grand Ruth for the state of Iowa Grand Chapter.

47. She was a very active member of First Methodist Church, serving as circle leader, helped with dinners, and anything that needed to be done, in addition to her job as parish assistant.

48. She worked for 7 Pastors before retiring in 1987.

49. Portia is a member of the Sarah Circle of United Methodist Women of First United Methodist Church.

50. She and Earl made two trips to England with the Methodist Youth Fellowship.

51. They made a cross-country bus trip to see Methodist historical sites.

52. It is easy and pleasant for short people to hug Portia.

53. She drove the sag wagon on Ragbrai for the Bike Burlington Club.

54. An excellent seamstress, she made many of her own clothes as well as her children's.

55. She has style and an outgoing personality.

56. She's not afraid to say what she thinks.

57. She taught her children and grandchildren how to sew and cook.

58. She also knits and crochets and has made several beautiful quilts and afghans.

59. She loves marshmallows and her kitchen always had a  glass canister filled with them

60. Her favorite saying in physical therapy is "Shit, fart, and heifer dust!" to all things difficult. However, she still goes ahead and gives everything a try!

61. Her second favorite during physical therapy is "Oh, hon-neeeee....", when discussing government and politics.

62. She is very proud that she and Earl had their picture taken with Barack Obama during the 2008 campaign.

63. She is a lady that loves her church, and her fellow man, and lends a hand whenever she can.

64. One time she had to be taken to Davenport by helicopter and asked the pilot if she could ride on the outside like they do in MASH.

65. That trip to Davenport is when she fell in love with Dr. Alwadhani, who saved her life.

66. She loves to watch the old MASH reruns.

67. People remember staying in their wonderful old house on Baumberger.

68. Portia frequently served her guests home-made scones with currants for breakfast. They are the best.

69. She is an avid reader, especially loves Nora Roberts and Susan Wiggs.

70. She is fiercely protective of her family and loved ones.

71. Her grandchildren stayed with her often.  Her favored way to wake them was to yell up the stairs “Come-a Come-a What the Hella”, repeating until they finally got out of bed.

72. She is very creative; she gave her granddaughters wooden ice cream spoons, fabric scraps, yarn, and markers so they could make their own dolls.

73. She always worked the county fair food booth for Eastern Star.

74. She crocheted blankets for all of her grandchildren.

75. She has a fabulous sense of humor.

76. She isn't afraid to tell dirty jokes

77. Earl used to say that when they got married he could touch his fingers around her waist.

78. She has said that she has suffered from CRS (Can't Remember Sh*t) for at least 35 years.

79. She and Earl made many cross-country road and train trips to see her family in NM and CA.

80. She used to be a very proper lady, never cussed or swore, in public anyway.  What happened?

81. She called one of the pastors she worked for “The Pope”.

82. She knew how to pick a good husband and father for her children.

83. She was always and is devoted to Earl and talks to him everyday.

84. Her great-grandchildren in California say, “she lives in Iowa, she loves us, and she is fun to eat ice cream with”.

85. She used to drive a Chinook.

86. She and Earl sold concessions out of the Chinook for Bill Conkel’s auctions.

87. She knitted many treasured stuffed animals for her grandchildren,

including chickens and rabbits.

88. She always has said that she is going to wear out, not rust out.

89. She has a collection of cute socks, a whole drawer full, and people frequently ask to see what socks she has on today.

90. Her sons-in-law will tell you that she is a wonderful mother-in-law.

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