My former next-door neighbor Jan Hawkins delivered a neatly typed one-page letter to my front door recently. The subject was her close friend Helen Preiss who died Oct. 13. Jan wanted me to help make sure that Helen and her boundless energy was remembered in Pacific.
We already named the Tri-County Senior Center building for her and her name is printed on the awning to remind everyone of her efforts to build it, but Jan thought one more salute was in order. Here’s what she wrote.
“Helen Preiss, July 23, 1931-Oct. 13, 2012
“Long before she was honored by Hardee’s Restaurants as a “Hardee’s Hometown Hero,” Helen was a hometown hero to many. Through her hard work, determination and dedication, Helen showed — in her 20 years that I knew her — more compassion toward others than many people show in a lifetime.
“I met her about 1993, not too long after her husband, Norm, had passed away. I was told that in his last years he was in ill health and that Helen had retired from her job to lovingly care for him.
“After Norm’s death, Helen never sat back in her rocking chair, feeling sorry for herself — even though she was left alone with no parents, no siblings, no children and no husband. Instead she kept her days filled with any and every worthwhile cause that came along. She was happiest when she felt that she could help.
“She was a tireless worker at her church. Over the years, she taught Sunday school, organized Vacation Bible School, headed the Women’s Missionary Union group and served over and over again on any and every committee where she thought she could be useful.
“For several years she organized the church’s participation in the community Adopt-A-Family program, doing a lot of the shopping and wrapping of the gifts herself.
“When she heard about a St. Louis ladies quilting group that was working on a project for the highway patrol, she immediately knew that she wanted to be part of the project. She enlisted the help of several of her friends and started making child-sized quilts for the patrol officers to pass out. The officers would give the quilts as security blankets to small children who were involved in car accidents or other traumatic events.
“She had a special place in her heart for the Pacific Care Center Nursing Home. She organized a group of ladies from church to visit the residents regularly, have parties for them, play bingo with them, and make bibs for them. She even raised money at Christmastime to give to the care center to make sure every resident had a Christmas present.
“She also made sure that Bristol Manor assisted living center wasn’t forgotten. For several years, she and a friend or two led a weekly Bible study for the residents and provided various fun-filled holiday parties for them. If any of the residents were hesitant about participating, it didn’t take long for Helen to have everyone joining in the singing and game playing.
“Anyone could count on Helen for a ride to the grocery store and it would be impossible to count the number of times that she took people to doctors’ appointments.
“If she felt that she was needed there was no stopping her. Diabetes, congestive heart failure, difficulty breathing and difficulty walking — all of these and more — sometimes slowed her down, but never stopped her.
“When people began to talk to her about the need for a local senior center, she listened. She listened when older people told her that they’d like to go to a senior center for companionship and a meal, but they just couldn’t drive to Eureka anymore. Many said they weren’t in good enough health for the long ride on the OATS bus. The ride could be very long when seniors from all over the area had to be picked up in the morning and dropped off in the afternoon.
“Again, her compassion, determination and dedication took hold. Her hard work to get a senior center in Pacific took her on a journey that lasted many years. It’s true that she didn’t do it single-handedly, but she was a true driving force behind it. Very few people would have kept going as long as she did and kept working as hard as she did.
“How proud she was when her vision of a senior center came to reality and how proud we all were of her.
“I don’t know about you, but I am still proud of her. Helen, you will always be my hero and my dear friend.” — Jan Hawkins.