Neighbors Again: Local woman honors husband and best friend in Rainbow's Memorial Garden

Kenyon Kemnitz
August 21, 2023 / 5 mins read


Pictured are Lou Klein, Peg Messer, and Kelly Cole.

by Kenyon Kemnitz

Whenever there was a holiday, a birthday, a wedding, or a graduation to celebrate, you could almost always find the Bruns and Messer families together. Even when there wasn’t a special occasion, the two families became accustomed to having each other around.

Within a few months of each other in 1976, Harry and Peg Messer, and Marilyn and Don Bruns, had purchased farms less than two miles apart on the outskirts of Johnson Creek. They quickly became more than just neighbors. The Bruns’ raised seven daughters and four out of the five Messer children were girls. Their kids grew up and attended school together and would also have sleepovers at each other’s houses. Naturally, their parents’ friendship strengthened as well.

When a large fire destroyed the Bruns’ barn in 1983, the Messers didn’t hesitate to help.

“That was a big catastrophe but knowing that you always had someone you could turn to when you needed them, that was quite a relationship,” said Peg Messer.

When Marilyn had open heart surgery, the Messers knew they had to go to Milwaukee to visit her.

“I said ‘I got to go see Marilyn.’ Don was coming down the hall and he said, ‘Well here come the Messers,’” Messer laughed.

There are lots of happy memories to look back on and Peg can’t help but smile when she thinks of them. Like Marilyn and her busy in the kitchen cooking a bunch of food or baking desserts for a special dinner or gathering. They seemed almost inseparable at times as they walked through life together as friends.

“One time, Marilyn and I were doing dishes over at her house and soon we are giggling like crazy,” Messer said. “We had lots of laughs.”


Peg Messer is seated with Marilyn and Don Bruns.

Don died in June 2017. Years later, Harry battled Parkinson’s disease and both he and Marilyn struggled with dementia. But even when Marilyn’s dementia progressed, she still remembered who Peg was.

“Marilyn always introduced me as her ‘bestest’ friend,” Messer said.

Lou and Kelly became a support system for their parents and each other as they played the role of caregivers to Marilyn and Harry.

Harry passed away in June 2022 after being a Rainbow Hospice Care patient.

“You always knew that if there was anything you needed, you could call the Bruns’ and when dad died even though Marilyn couldn’t be there, Lou’s sister Clarissa gave mom something so special,” said Peg’s daughter, Kelly Cole.

“Clarissa told Peg ‘If mom (Marilyn) could be here she would want to dry your tears, but in her place, I can offer you one of her hankies,’” recalled Marilyn’s daughter, Lou Klein.

Two months later, Marilyn died after also being under the care of Rainbow Hospice. Peg is thankful she had the chance to visit her one last time, a few days before her passing.

“She was just beaming sitting there,” Messer said. “I felt good after I left because she looked just like Marilyn had always looked.”


Peg Messer pictured with her best friend, Marilyn Bruns.

There is a noticeable void in their lives now without Marilyn, the family matriarch, and Harry, the towering father figure.

But all of them are doing their best to grieve in their own way. Attending Monday Morning Joe, a bereavement support group led by Rainbow Bereavement Coordinator/Chaplain Laura Wessels at Rainbow’s inpatient center in Johnson Creek, has helped them cope. While attending this group, they can listen to stories about others going through the loss of a loved one and share their own experiences.

Lou was a little reluctant to attend at first, but when she found out that Kelly and Peg had been going, it made it an easier decision.

“It’s a little intimidating to come in and talk with a large group of people,” Klein said. “But then I’m like ‘Peg’s here, I can do this.’ It’s just a blessing to have Morning Joe.”

“To be able to express yourself and have that togetherness with other people in the group, that’s been great,” Messer said. “There’s lots of people who are struggling, and you don’t think about it until you get together with a group like this, and you think back how this could have helped others to talk about their grief.”

Now Peg, Kelly, and Lou value their friendship more than ever and understand what a special, and rare gift that is in this world. When Peg heard about Rainbow Hospice Care’s new brick memorial garden, which had its first dedication ceremony last August, she decided to purchase a brick for her husband Harry. But Peg didn’t stop with one brick. She thought it would only be fitting to honor her best friend, Marilyn, with a brick as well.

“I thought it was appropriate, and it seems like a permanent thing,” Messer said. “You take that brick and put it down in the dirt and soon it’s a part of the ground. I love that.”

Now Harry and Marilyn will be neighbors again. Their bricks have been placed side-by-side and both will have an everlasting footprint in Rainbow’s memorial garden outside the inpatient center. Their families can come and visit their bricks any time they want and reflect on how much joy they brought into their lives.

“I know that when I go up to see Dad’s (Harry’s) brick, I’ll stop and see Marilyn’s brick too,” Cole said. “These bricks symbolize friendship between our families, a foundation that started right on the ground and built up over time. And it’s going to be there in the summertime, the wintertime, and good times and bad.”

That friendship has withstood the test of time. The Bruns-Messer bond hasn’t broken one bit, even though three of the founding members are no longer with them.

“Flowers wilt, but this will stand for a long time,” Klein said. “Peg said it’s a little overwhelming to be the last one left, and she feels this huge responsibility. Now she just doesn’t have five kids and her grandkids, but she says she has these seven girls. But I tell her ‘We’re here to take care of you now.’”

“The connection between the Messer and Bruns families is proof of how love outlasts death,” said Wessels. “These memorial bricks will continue this family legacy of neighboring close together in the brick garden.”


The families are still determined to keep that connection going for future generations. There is little doubt their parents’ strong friendship inspired their children in how they live their lives and to focus on what is most important.

“Mom, Dad, Peg, and Harry showed me that you don’t need a lot of friends,” Klein said. “You just need a couple of people that got your back, who love you and help you out and call you out if you’re doing something you shouldn’t be doing. They showed us how you take care of one another and what love looks like in a relationship.”

Now Marilyn’s grandson, Jake, is dating Peg’s granddaughter, Rachel. So maybe there will be another celebration in the future for the next generation of the Bruns and Messer families to attend.

“No matter what happens, we will always be connected,” Klein said.

Nothing can tear down the pillars of this friendship that has been standing for almost five decades.