Last updated 10/14/2020 at 3:11pm | View PDF
Jean "Jeanie" (O'Donnell) Koplin, 97, a longtime resident of Hinsdale and Western Springs, passed away on Oct. 6, 2020.
Jean lived a truly extraordinary life. She was a child of the Great Depression and went on to become a hugely successful builder, designer, world-class traveler, philanthropist, and wife and soul mate to Al Koplin.
Jean grew up in a tiny basement apartment in Chicago. The daughter of a widowed, working mom, Jean was an original "latch-key kid" and tough West Side Irish. Often alone while her mother worked, Jean explored the world through library books. Unable to afford college, she educated herself through her voracious appetite for reading. Jean was determined to rise above her circumstances and worked multiple jobs to support herself and her mother (and ultimately buy her own car).
In her 30s, Jean met Al – her best friend, her partner and her soul mate. Together, they built a real estate development and property management company, still run by the family today. And they really built it together. Al often says that Jean was the brains behind the whole operation. Al kept building but wasn't really successful before she stepped in. She studied hard, learning architecture and design by reading books at the Chicago Public Library. She looked at Al's financials and started slashing costs. With her designs and her business acumen, together Jean and Al were able to build more than 300 homes and apartments, more than a dozen office buildings and shopping centers around the western suburbs of Chicago. Together with Al, she also ran one of the largest farming and cattle operations in Nebraska and an office tower in Louisville.
After Al and Jean had some success, they felt it was important to give back. Together, they were major donors to Amita Hinsdale Hospital and principal benefactors of the Mayo Clinic, as well as many other charitable organizations.
With all their accomplishments, Jean would probably say her greatest accomplishments were her marriage to Al and raising their daughter, Carrie, her best girlfriend.
The three of them traveled the world, and all because of Jean. She arranged trips to Cuba, China and Russia in the '70s by circuitous routes, because no Americans traveled to those places at that time. With an aversion to boredom, she loved adventure and was always trying to break the mold. She was truly a woman ahead of her time in every possible way. While practicing the frugality learned from the Great Depression, Jean always had class and style while on a shoestring budget.
Jean's brilliant mind showed through in her love and mastery of the game of bridge. At one time, she was a member of 10 bridge clubs, always coming in first or second place, and everyone wanted to be her partner.
The only love that compared to her love for Al and Carrie was Jean's love for her grandchildren, Bethie and Johnny. Jean was Beth and John's second mother and biggest fan. She was at every school lunch pickup and was a master with homework (because she was so smart). Jean found a kindred spirit in her son-in-law, Stu Palmer, and was thrilled when Beth brought home her now-husband, Kevin Garrahan, because the family needed a bit more Irish blood.
Recently confined to a wheelchair, Jean never complained and always made the best of her situation by reading the classics during the day and watching WTTW and PBS at night. In lieu of flowers, memorials may be made online to WTTW at https://secure.wttw.com/honor_memorial.
Services were held privately at Sullivan Funeral Home in Hinsdale.