It is with great sadness and heavy hearts that we announce the death of Pauline (Paula) W. Koerner (nee Feuerer) on December 1, 2019. She was the loving wife of Robert M. Koerner, and mother of three children.
Paula was born in Tegernsee, Bavaria, in the southern part of Germany on May 29, 1932 to her parents Paula and Georg Feuerer. She was trained as a tailor and as a young adult she moved to Munich and worked as a cutter in a factory. She lived in a small studio apartment, with a one-burner hot plate, eating vegetable soup every night for dinner, and dreamed of having a 1-bedroom apartment. Planning ahead, with the currency exchange rate in her favor, she decided to work in the United States for two years and live with her aunt and uncle, Barbara and George Korber, and then go back to Germany when an apartment would be available. While in the US, through friends of her aunt and uncle in the German-American club, she met a German couple who had a handsome son who was an engineer named Robert M. Koerner. They met in the summer of 1959, Bob proposed to her over the Labor Day weekend, and were married on November 14, 1959. In less than 10 weeks, Paula worked a full-time job, planned her wedding, made her own dress and two bridesmaids’ dresses, learned to drive a car and got her driver’s license, took classes to learn English, and studied for her US citizenship. (If you’re wondering about the driver’s license, Bob used to fall asleep while driving, so everyone told her she would have to be able to drive him places when he was too tired to stay awake!) Their honeymoon was to Germany so Bob could meet her family. Paula and Bob just celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary, surrounded by their family.
Since Bob worked for a construction firm, the couple lived in houses on various job sites until they moved on to the next project. Paula and Bob’s son Michael was born in 1960. The couple was overjoyed and named him after Bob’s father. Bob had given Paula a dog she named Rea to keep her company while she lived in these houses with few neighbors. Rea was truly a nanny to little Mike, who would be found cuddled up with this big German Shepherd. (Rea had puppies that they named Harold, Henrietta, and Rhinehilda, who were re-homed quickly – too many mouths to feed.) Their second son George was born in 1962, named for Paula’s father, and they moved again. Bob was in an accident working on a job site (his third), which shook Paula. She told him she didn’t want to raise their kids alone, so as Bob recovered, he switched jobs and joined a consulting firm. Pauline was born in 1964, named for Paula’s mother, and they moved again. Bob was traveling so much that he was gone for weeks at a time. They had a hard discussion about how to proceed forward and raise a family. Bob had part-time teaching position at Pennsylvania Military College (which became Widener University) that he loved. But in order to become a tenured faculty member at any accredited university, he needed a PhD. So, they packed up the family and moved to Durham, NC. Paula made their home off-campus in a small house in the neighborhood. Bob finished graduate school at Duke University and became a faculty member at Drexel University in Philadelphia. Finally, Paula could put down roots. They had moved 11 times in 9 years with three small kids (and a dog).
“Roots” is a great word to describe Paula. She was an avid gardener and enjoyed collecting seeds from wherever she went, potted them, watered them, and everything sprouted. Successful gardeners are said to have a green thumb, and Paula had two! The house on Springfield Road, bought in 1970, had beautiful gardens on the side and a large vegetable garden in the back. Whenever she was outside Paula was “scratching in the dirt”. Inside the house Paula made all the clothes for the family: suits, overcoats, shirts and pants, hats and costumes. When the family took up jogging and running, she turned out the first matching jogging outfits for all five family members. No one knew they were crafted by her very skilled hands. Clothes that didn’t fit were taken apart and made into something else. If there were only small pieces left, they were cut into squares and assembled into patchwork quilts. (We all have one.) Paula was also a legendary cook. She had a knack with sauces and gravies, so everything tasted great. And with three active men in the house, she was constantly feeding people. She made breakfast, packed lunches, and made great dinners, rarely dining out. When they bought this house, there was only $50 left in their bank account, so Paula was on a mission to save as much of Bob’s paycheck as possible. Her thrift was legendary. She composted, recycled, reused, and repurposed to the extent that the amount of money coming into the household far exceeded their spending. They could afford to go on weekend trips in the winter to ski and to the beach in the summer to enjoy the sand and the surf. Paula and Bob lived in the Springfield Road house for twenty years and hosted Drexel faculty, students, runners, international guests, family, and friends. Everyone was welcomed.
When the kids were grown and out of college, Paula and Bob downsized to the house on Wood Road. Paula had even more space to garden and she found rare varieties of plants and perennials to propagate. She also returned to work as the office administrator for GRI and then GSI, the Geosynthetic Institute. She traveled extensively with Bob, ran the administration and registration for many of his conferences, handled distribution of his books and papers, and was affectionately known as “the mother of geosynthetics”. She was Bob’s sounding-board and was instrumental in most of his business decisions, including the conception and formation of the Koerner Family Foundation for the advanced education of engineering students in the United States.
Paula was a devoted wife and fabulous mother, but what perhaps brought her the most joy was loving her six grandchildren who were all born within 6 years of each other. She supported them, cooked for them, gave them treats and gifts, and made sure there was a college fund for each of them. Plus, she purposed to make sure we would remain a family unit by orchestrating wonderful vacations. She started us all skiing, and we all continue to enjoy the snow in the winter. She took us to gorgeous beaches in Jamaica, Mexico, and Aruba, where we built sandcastles, engaged in engineering conversations, answered Bob’s survey questions, and crowded around the dinner table to share a meal. Paula taught us how to live with each other in practical ways and love each other in personal ways that stitched us together into a beautiful fabric called “family”. She was our soil, our backbone, and always our greatest supporter.
Paula is survived in Germany by her brother Georg (and wife Irma) Feuerer, sister Winnifred (and husband Helmut) Fitzki. In the US she is survived by Michael R. Koerner (and wife Mary), George R. Koerner (and wife Jamie), and Pauline Koerner Limberg (and husband Douglas), and her six grandchildren, David & Paula Limberg, Addie & Robert F. Koerner, Maxwell & Helena Koerner, whom she absolutely adored.