Each spring, on a little rise overlooking the new canoe launch in Kiwanis Park just behind the Brookfield Village Hall, you’ll see a Purple Prince crabapple bursting with rosy pink blossoms. Each fall the tree’s leaves will turn purple and its red fruit will help sustain wildlife through every winter.
The tree eventually will grow to about 20 feet and its dazzling floral display each spring will be a permanent reminder of Kendra Kuehlem, who was Brookfield’s village planner when she was fatally struck by a Metra train while trying to cross the BNSF tracks at Prairie Avenue on Feb. 4. She was 27 years old.
Kuehlem’s presence remains in Brookfield in more than just spirit. During a ceremony witnessed by about 35 people, including Kuehlem’s mom, Amee, during a chilly but sunny afternoon on April 19, Kuehlem’s ashes were buried with the tree, which was planted by Village Forester Victor Janusz after remarks by Emily Egan, who was Kuehlem’s immediate supervisor and friend.
“Today we’re really gathering not to mourn, but to celebrate, our co-worker, our friend, our granddaughter, our cousin, our niece, our daughter, Kendra Christine Kuehlem,” said Egan in her remarks prior to the tree planting.
“Her family will never forget the caring, charismatic, sensitive, artistic, creative and imaginative child that Kendra was. As an adult, Kendra was altruistic, inspiring, intelligent, motivated, genuine, unique, kind, adventurous and brave.”
Kuehlem joined the village as its staff planner in April 2021 after having served briefly as an intern in the Brookfield Community Development Department during the summer of 2017 after graduating with a degree in urban and regional planning from the University of Illinois.
In a Facebook post shared on the Brookfield Connections community page about two weeks after her daughter’s death, Amee Kuehlem called her “every parent’s dream.” Being hired as village planner in Brookfield, she said, was Kendra’s “dream job.”
A single mom, Amee Kuehlem said she was determined Kendra would be “someone big. Someone that made a difference.”
Amee Kuehlem also acknowledged community members, who stepped up to provide both emotional and financial support in the wake of her daughter’s death. An online fundraiser organized to help pay for the cost of Kuehlem’s funeral expenses collected almost $25,000.
“Kendra was taken away from me too soon, but I take comfort in knowing she touched so many lives in her short time here on earth,” Amee Kuehlem wrote.
In her short time in Brookfield, Kuehlem garnered praise not only from Egan and Village Manager Timothy Wiberg, but from members of the Brookfield Planning and Zoning Commission whose members depended on the analysis and review provided by the village planner.
“You can’t measure it in years,” said Patrick Benjamin, a Planning and Zoning Commission member who spoke at April 19 memorial planting. “She did a lot of great stuff for the village, and her memory is going to live on.”