Veterans Day will always be special for Chelsey Koopman of Alexandria. Her husband, Joe, was in the military for almost 20 years and did two tours overseas – one in Kuwait and one in Iraq.
This year’s Veterans Day, however, will always hold an even more special place in her heart – albeit bittersweet. Koopman’s Habitat for Humanity house was dedicated on Monday and although her husband should have been standing by her side as she cut the ribbon, he wasn’t.
On May 17, Joe Koopman died from injuries sustained in a car crash. Two days prior to the crash, the couple was part of the Habitat for Humanity’s annual Hard Hat breakfast. Chelsey was a keynote speaker for that event.
The couple had been together for 11 years and would have celebrated nine years of marriage in September. They have three children: Abby, 13 (Chelsey’s stepdaughter); Mya, 3; and Mataya, 2.
Chelsey Koopman is a preschool teacher but is currently on a leave of absence due to Mataya’s health issues. A 2018 Echo Press story details the extent of her health conditions.
When the Koopmans realized their two-bedroom apartment wasn’t enough for the growing family, Chelsey said they tried finding a house, but couldn’t find one they could afford.
Due to Chelsey staying at home, the couple’s income had been drastically reduced. In November 2017, they applied for a Habitat for Humanity home, but were denied.They applied again in September 2018, and two months later were told their application had been accepted.
“We both cried,” said Chelsey. “Joe and I were so excited to finally have a home for our girls, a healthy home with no lingering cigarette smoke in the hallways and a yard for them to play in.”
The two started making plans for their four-bedroom, two-bath home and couldn’t wait to start making memories with their family.
But all that changed after Joe died.
Chelsey worried what would happen with their house.
“He was our sole income,” she said. “I was worried I couldn’t afford it.”
After working with representatives of Habitat for Humanity and also having a trust set up where all donated funds go toward housing expenses, Chelsey is less worried. The trust is at Glenwood State Bank, 2221 S. Broadway St., Alexandria, MN 56308. Donations can be directed to the Koopman Family Trust.
Being a Habitat for Humanity family has allowed Koopman to actually help in the building of her home, and she has been afforded the opportunity to attend classes for budgeting, learning about credit scores and more.
“It’s been really good,” she said. “They (Habitat) walk you through everything. They are by your side through all of it. I would be so lost without them.”
Even though she didn’t have any experience with building a home, Chelsey said she was part of every one of the 22 build days.
“It was important for me to be there, to hammer the nails, to put up the sheetrock,” she said. “It was unique and special. I was involved in every aspect that I could be involved in.”
The Koopman house was one of Habitat’s Women Build projects, where the house is mostly built by women. Chelsey is thankful for the relationships that were formed from the build. She said it is really neat when someone recognizes her in public and asks how she is doing or how the house is.
“These women from Habitat have been there for me in more ways than one,” she said.
Chelsey will sign the final papers for her house on Dec. 11. Her daughter Mya turns 4 on Dec. 16.
“My goal is to be able to have my family all moved in and for Mya to be able to wake up on her birthday in our new house,” she said. “We are all very excited about this.”
Chelsey said knowing the house was being built has been the one constant in her life since Joe died. It’s the one thing that will provide stability for her family, she said.
“I’ve been searching for the right words,” said Chelsey about how she is feeling about the house. “It’s not a new start and we’re not moving on. It’s more of a fresh start. Building the house without Joe has been hard, but knowing that I will have a place to raise our family, that’s a good thing. It can be our forever home.”
At the ribbon cutting and dedication, there was a hard hat with Joe’s name on it. And although she never told anyone that she thought the perfect day for the dedication was Veterans Day, she was beyond thankful and honored that Randy Hansen, the crew leader, chose that date, as it was a great way to honor her husband.
The support from not only Habitat for Humanity and the building crews but everyone in the community has been almost overwhelming, Chelsey said.
“Truly, it has been amazing,” she said. “The support through all of this has been huge. The celebration is for us, but it is really for everyone that has been involved.”
Once Chelsey and her girls are settled in their house, she will be making plans for their next adventure. She just has to wait until the two younger girls are a little bit older.
“I want to make Joe’s dream of bringing the girls to Disney World a reality,” she said. “He would love it and so will I.”