Bierwagen dead at 88
February 14, 2004
Ernie Bierwagen knew how important irrigation water was to Nevada County.
When his father helped form the Nevada Irrigation District in 1921, the water it brought to the family orchards in Chicago Park increased the yield from 1,000 to 6,000 boxes of pears per year.
So, it was fitting that Mr. Bierwagen later spent 26 years on the NID board of directors, finally stepping down a little more than one year ago as kidney illness and age took his vitality. He died Thursday at home.
Services for Ernst L. Bierwagen will be at 11 a.m. Wednesday at Grace Lutheran Church, 1979 Ridge Road in Grass Valley. A private family burial will follow at St. Paul’s Cemetery in Chicago Park.
“NID was one of the great things in his life,” said fellow board member Paul Williams, who served with Mr. Bierwagen for more than 20 years. “He was always there when you needed him.”
George Leipzig also served on the NID board with Mr. Bierwagen.
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“Ernie was a man of very high principle and as honest as the day was long,” Liepzig said. “I’ve met some fine people in my life, and Ernie Bierwagen was at the top echelon.”
Family friend and political ally Margaret Urke thought Mr. Bierwagen wanted her help for another project when she met him for lunch several weeks ago.
“He just said, ‘I want to thank you for all you’ve done for me,'” Urke said. “He was such a cool guy.”
Mr. Bierwagen’s family immigrated from Russia in 1881 and settled in South Dakota. His grandparents and their children, including his father, moved to Chicago Park in 1902. Family members said he got his strong sense of personal rights guaranteed by the U.S.
Constitution from his parents, who had suffered under the tyranny of Russian rulers.
Mr. Bierwagen was born in Chicago Park on Feb. 24, 1915, to Christian and Bertha Sternitzky Bierwagen. He went to Chicago Park Elementary School and later served on that school’s board for 20 years. He graduated from Grass Valley High School.
He never went to college but was an expert in horticulture, family members said. He did not like seeing his children idle on the farm and was referred to by family members as “the recruiting sergeant.”
He married his wife, Marianne Bierwagen, in Whittier on Feb. 3, 1951. He was a self-employed orchardist, a member of the Nevada County Farm Bureau, the California Farm Bureau Federation and Grace Lutheran Church. He was also a board member of the Colfax Fruit Growers Association. He was a conservative political activist and a private property rights activist.
Family members said Bierwagen often praised God and talked about how the scriptures said King Herod was struck down by the Lord and eaten by worms because Herod did not acknowledge the almighty. At an NID dinner in his honor, given shortly after he left the board, Bierwagen said his praise of the Lord “was worm insurance,” Urke recalled.
“He was very firm in his convictions,” said his son, Jim Bierwagen, who survives his father and lives in Chicago Park with wife, Debbie Bierwagen. Other survivors include Ernie’s wife, Marianne, in Chicago Park; son, Chris Bierwagen of Chicago Park; daughters and sons-in-law Kirk and Mary Pharis of Grass Valley, Ron and Anna Neilsen and David and Teresa Goodwin, all of Chicago Park; sister, Dorothea Tangren of Gig Harbor, Wash., and grandchildren Kevin Pharis, Katie Pharis, Christian Goodwin, Ben Goodwin, Katherine Goodwin, Danny Bierwagen and Rosanne Bierwagen; and numerous nieces and nephews.
He was preceded in death by his parents and an infant daughter in 1958.
Memorial contributions may be made to the Heifer Project through Grace Lutheran Church.
Arrangements are being handled by Hooper and Weaver Mortuary.