Couple leaves strong legacies

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October 4, 2010
— The elderly couple whose bodies were found in Whitewater Lake on Saturday had made their marks on the world.

Birger Juell, 93, was a Norwegian immigrant who founded a company that makes high-end, handcrafted wood floors.

Anne Juell, 77, was the first woman inducted into the Island Goats Sailing Society, where entry requires having sailed in at least 25 of the annual Chicago-Mackinac Island yacht races.

Anne’s son Mark Norris said Sunday that the couple were found wearing bathing suits, so the family believes they were in the water, one got into trouble and the other tried to help.

It probably happened on Friday, which was a warm day, Norris said.

That jibes with the observations of next-door neighbor Veda Fearn, who said the Juells’ lights were not on Friday night.

“Anne swam quite often. She loved the water,” Norris said. “Birger would get in every so often. … It appears it was just an accident.”

Fishermen found the bodies floating in the water Saturday afternoon.

A news release from the Walworth County Sheriff’s Office on Sunday indicated the investigation was not complete and that the cause of the deaths was still not known. Autopsies were scheduled.

Anne had five children and Birger one, both from previous marriages. Both loved to sail, but they had not taken their boats out on Whitewater Lake this year, Norris said.

The couple celebrated their 38th anniversary in August, Norris said. They had purchased the house on the lake at N7378 Chapel Drive in 1982, after it was damaged in a fire.

They spent most of their time at the lake but were frequently in Chicago, where Birger remained active in the company he founded, Norris said.

They lived long, full lives, but losing them both in one stroke, and so unexpectedly, was a shock to the family, Norris said.

Fearn said she had last seen Anne on Wednesday.

Anne had borrowed a skillet to make pancakes for guests who were visiting from Norway. She brought it back Wednesday.

“I said to her, ‘and how is Birger doing?’ because he was not out a lot this summer, and she says, ‘not too good,’ and she gave me two thumbs down, and of course I suspected he wasn’t doing too well. …

“‘Well, we’ll have to get over to see Birger, and she said, ‘Oh, yeah, come and see him,’” Fearn said.

Birger was the son of a ship captain and spent much of his early years at sea. Norris estimated he had sailed around the globe several times.

Birger crewed on a sailing ship that came to the World’s Fair in Chicago in 1933. He jumped ship and ended up installing floors.

“His boss handed the young apprentice some knee pads, a box of scrapers and an assignment. Birger spent the next several years on his hands and knees learning the art of hand scraping wood from a master,” according to the company’s website. “In 1946 he founded his own flooring company.”

Anne’s first Chicago-to-Mackinac Island race was with her father in 1955.

Most recently, she sailed in the race’s 100th running, with Norris in 2008.

Quoted on the Island Goats website, she said: “Friendship is the most important part of the racing.”

Birger loved to tell stories of his travels and to recite poetry. Robert Service was his favorite poet, Norris said.

Fearn said the Juells were good neighbors.

“He was always very upbeat,” Fearn said. “And Anne was the same way. They were a very loving couple. We enjoyed them in the neighborhood.”

The couple often welcomed guests, including their grandchildren, at their lake house, Norris said.

“They loved the area, loved the neighbors, enjoyed the lake,” Norris said.

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