Community celebrates rich cabinet history

NAPPANEE — Once known as the “Kitchen Cabinet Capital of the World,” Nappanee celebrated that rich heritage, Oct. 13, as part of “National Hoosier Cabinet Day.”
On that day cabinet makers throughout the state were recognized nationwide. The event was held in honor of all current Nappanee area cabinet builders — Yoder Kitchen Corporation, Kountry Wood Products, Timberdoodle Cabinet and Counter, S&H Cabinets, R&R Custom Woodworking, and Coppes Nappanee Cabinets — and former cabinet factories like the Coppes, Zook & Mutschler Company.
One feature of the day was the attendance of three generations of the Frank Coppes family. Frank Coppes, joined by John Coppes and Dan Zook, were founding members of Coppes & Zook Company which built world renowned cabinets. Among those family members in attendance was Barb McDaniel, great-great granddaughter of Frank Coppes; her daughter, Janet Schieber; and grandson, Ethan Groves.
The former kitchen cabinet production site, now known as Coppes Commons, is located at 401 E. Market St., Nappanee. The historic building has been renovated and filled with a variety of businesses. It houses countryside shops, a bookstore, bakery, market and deli, an ice cream shop, a tea room, a banquet room upstairs and the new Nappanee Kitchen Cabinet Hall of Fame. Traditional Coppes cabinets are still being made in a facility adjacent to Coppes Commons. The company name has become Coppes Nappanee Cabinets.
McDaniel was pleased to represent her family’s strong history as pillars of the community, and a strong business base which contributed to Nappanee being discovered around the world.
“I only have a few good memories of all this,” said Barb McDaniel. “I was so young when my family was still doing this but I loved coming here.”
Still McDaniel says she was fully aware the cabinets were very popular beyond Nappanee. Her family was widely respected for the quality products that were built there. Started in 1890, Coppes kitchen cabinets became well known as one of the finest quality, sturdiest, and longest lasting products available on the market. By 1920, two million Coppes cabinets had been sold. The business has remained successful. In an effort to remain up-to-date with the needs of today’s buyers, the company has expanded from the traditional one-style-fits-all to instead offering custom made products to fit the needs of buyers. Each is still based on original designs but also refined with details requested by those who purchase the cabinets.
The wood cabinets have a history of being recognized both nationwide and worldwide. The strong, quality-built cabinets have even caught the eye of presidents, and other well known public icons and stars, who made purchases for their own homes.
Production of Coppes kitchen cabinets has not ceased since the company first opened. The business welcomed in the 20th Century employing 200 workers, and even survived the Great Depression. Among the most well-known Coppes creations is the Dutch Kitchenette which combined the needs for storage of both recipe staples and items used to make and bake them in. The single cabinet which developed saved time in preparation, and space in the kitchen.
The popular “Lazy Susan” turntable device was also invented by the Coppes cabinetry team. President John F. Kennedy is just one of the historic figures impressed by the local cabinets enough to invest in them for his own home.
Former 20-year employee, Wilma Weldy, said she worked almost every department inside the Coppes operation.
“We all started on the wiper line,” said Weldy. “Then most of us went to sanding, then wherever they needed us.”
Weldy remembers each individual department feeling like a loving and bonded family.
“We all got along you know,” said Weldy whose husband, Steven Weldy, also worked at Coppes. “We laughed together, we had fun, and we got done what needed done.”
Pat Egoef has worked for the company for 45 years alongside her brother Mike Egoef. The pair began under the leadership of Coppes Incorporated — known as the Second Generation Coppes team. Both have continued making the historic cabinets through five transitions of leadership, and decades of product development.
“I started here with raw lumber, and then we used the kiln to finish it,” said Steve Weldy reflecting on how he prepared the wood before it was ever cut and used to construct the cabinets.
Long before Weldy readied the wood thru the kiln, vintage Coppes products were made to meet the needs of American families, and be affordable to them. While no full cost estimates were given, Coppes Historian Bill Warner, did note that in the early 1900s Coppes cabinets could be purchased for $2 down and $1 a week.
Former employees agree that the basic styles remain true to the original products. The only differences are small details in how each piece is made.
“The only changes have been simple stuff like going from a flat door to a raised panel door,” said Mike Egoef, a 48-year Coppes employee.
It was also noted that side panels have gone from hardwood to plywood. Different tints of stain are also offered according to the taste of buyers.
The local “National Hoosier Cabinet Day,” featured fliers claiming The Tradition of Nappanee craftsmanship continues. That theme will continue to promote the entire wood crafted business base throughout the Nappanee area. Those wishing to visit the new Nappanee Kitchen Cabinet Hall of Fame, or many businesses inside the historic building, are encouraged to visit
Space is currently still available to lease inside the fast growing melting pot for today’s successful businesses. Call 574-773-0002, or visit the website to learn more.