Helen Lora Jenkins Welsh was delivered safely into the arms of our Lord on October 12, 2010. Helen was born March 14, 1912 in Cairo, West Virginia. She was the oldest of three children born to John Manchiel Jenkins and Maude Estella (Weaver) Jenkins.
Helen’s father, John, was a farmer’s son who went on to teach school. John became ill, and due to his health had to quit teaching. He became a rural mail carrier, where he met Maude. Later, the family moved to Parkersburg, West Virginia where John went into partnership in a furniture store. When Helen was four, her father contracted typhoid fever and died. Her brother Eugene was three and her brother John was one. Helen was old enough to recall much about her father and remembered him with great affection.
After John passed away, Helen’s mother decided she wanted to become a Methodist minister, and went to missionary school. Later her mother became an assistant minister and later became one of the first women to become ordained as a minister in the Methodist Church.
From both of her parents Helen learned about perseverance in the face of great adversity and the value of education. Her love of learning and her connection to the Methodist Church as well as her Christian faith were very important in her life.
Helen graduated from Fairfield High School in Lilly Chapel, Ohio where she was salutatorian in her class. After high school Helen wanted to work in the church, so she attended a 2 year course in the Cincinnati Missionary Training School, graduating at the top of her class.
Helen graduated during the Depression, so she took what jobs were available. She worked in a Christmas card factory, a food factory, and Goodwill Industries in Cincinnati. She had great memories of her life and friends in Cincinnati and the good times they had. However, her heart remained with the church so she sent a letter to the Methodist church looking for work and was offered two different positions. The one she decided to take found her spending 3 days and 3 nights on a bus from Ohio arriving in Helena, Montana, on July 4th, 1935.
She started working as house mother to the older boys at the Deaconess School (which is now the Intermountain Children’s Home) in their new building out on Sierra Road. Three months after Helen arrived the big earthquake of 1935 hit Helena and the four story building was severely damaged. Helen said “God took care of us.” The night of the earthquake the men of the community tossed out the mattresses and the staff and children spent the night on mattresses in the garage. The next day they moved to the Shanty Dance Hall. They slept there and local ranchers’ wives fed them. Eventually they rented out the hospital where the Lundy Center is now located. Throughout her life Helen remained friends with one of the boys for whom she was house mother. Ed and Doris Bowers and their family were lifelong friends of Helen and her family.
Helen met her husband, Karl, on her birthday at a dance at the Shanty. She told of how a ‘big blonde guy’ waded through the group of men surrounding her and her friends and asked her to dance. Three months later they were married. Together they enjoyed 63 years of marriage before Karl passed away. They had four children, Barbara (born in 1940), Karla (born in 1941), Judy (born in 1944), and Steve (born in 1953). All of the children were born with cystic fibrosis.
Helen spent most of her time at home being a stay at home mother to her sick children, but did occasionally work jobs outside of the home. One of her jobs was as a checker at Safeway which was located downtown. Helen was a great story teller and loved to share anecdotes with family and friends. In one of her family’s favorite stories she told of the time an elegantly dressed lady stepped up to her lane and began checking out a large number of beautiful steaks. Helen remarked to the woman, “My you certainly have a large family. What a nice dinner to have for them.” The lady smiled and nodded. Later one of the other checkers mentioned to Helen that the elegantly dressed lady was Dorothy Baker, aka “Big Dorothy”.
During the 1940s, Helen and Karl purchased a ranch between Helena and Missoula. Karl was working for the railroad and gone much of the time, so Helen managed the ranch. She loved ranch life and told many great stories including meeting a cougar on the porch. She ran one way and thankfully the cougar ran the other. She loved to cook for people and was a wonderful cook. One time she made several pies in anticipation of company at the ranch. She came back to the kitchen to find two of her best pies gone. She tracked down the culprits – her daughters Barbie and Karla were quite fond of Mama’s pie and each girl had packed off their favorite pie to the barn for a feast!
Helen loved new experiences and travel. She and Karl took a trip to Europe and visited the continent. She took her son Steve on many trips including visits to Canada and around the United States. She loved to camp outdoors and bird-watch and she truly enjoyed Montana with all it had to offer.
Helen belonged to many clubs through the years and wore many hats. She was the founding President of the Cystic Fibrosis Club, President of the Helena Women’s Club, and Worthy Matron of Eastern Star. She was also a member of Daughters of the Nile, and a charter member of Covenant Methodist Church. She belonged to the Red Hat Club, The Out to Lunch Bunch, and Helena Women’s Club.
Helena was preceded in death by her father, mother, her husband Karl, her daughters Barbara, Karla, and Judy, her brothers Eugene and John, and her sisters-in-law Agnes and Helen.
She is survived by her son Steve and his wife Connie of East Helena, her grandson Alain Burrese and his wife Yi-Saeng and great-granddaughter Cosette, her granddaughter Karla Thoegerson and her husband Paul along with great-grandsons Kyle and Kurtis, her grandson Matt Welsh, her granddaughter Sara Welsh, her niece Sharon Walker and husband Dave, her nephew David Jenkins, as well as numerous other family and friends.
Helen wanted us to be sure to thank the many wonderful people and staff at the Cooney Home where she resided for the past few years.
A viewing will be held at Retz Funeral Home Chapel on Wednesday, October 20, 2010 from 10:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. with family receiving friends from 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. A Funeral Service is scheduled for 11:00 a.m. Thursday, October 21, 2010 at the Covenant United Methodist Church, 2330 East Broadway, with a reception to follow the service at the church. Burial will be held at Forestvale Cemetery immediately following the reception. Memorials in Helen’s name are suggested to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, 6931 Arlington Road, 2nd Floor, Bethesda, MD 20814.
To offer a condolence to the family or to share a memory of Helen, please visit www.retzfuneralhome.com.