” ‘Aha!’ ” she cried, in accents wild, as she waived her wooden leg!”
Ethel Anne Lawrence Helling was born at home in Stevens Point, Wis., on March 17, 1922, to Ethel Anne Klandrud Lawrence and George H. Lawrence, M.D. Mrs. Helling died at home at Lakeview Manor on July 26, 2012 – the same exact date as her husband, Lt. Col. Donald Clement Helling (U.S. Air Force), had died 47 years earlier.
Mrs. Helling’s children have selected Camp Okizu for memorial donations made in Mrs. Helling’s memory. The mission of Camp Okizu is “to provide peer support, respite, mentoring, and recreational programs to meet the needs of all members of families affected by childhood cancer.” Donations are welcomed at their website (www.okizu.org), or by calling or writing: 415-382-9083 or Okizu, 16 Digital Drive, Suite 130, Novato, CA 94949.
Mrs. Helling lived 90 years. She had a rich life and she counted her blessings. So many memories. Which to record? Mrs. Helling grew up in Stevens Point. Her mother was a homemaker who went trout fishing with her husband, and offered her children a wise and loving home; she later became an elementary school teacher and retired from the Stevens Point School District in 1959. Mrs. Helling’s father was an ear, nose, and throat specialist who loved fireworks on the Fourth of July, made house calls in winter via a horse-drawn sleigh, could jump out of a barrel standing up, and died when she was six. Their home was in town, on Main Street. It had an upstairs sleeping porch, a trunk room, two screened porches and, sometimes, bats. Mrs. Helling had fond memories of sharing the swing on the front porch with her best friend during heavy rains, entertained by watching unfortunate drivers stall their automobiles in the high-rising water.
“Ethel Anne” became “Eddie.” She later occasionally referred to herself “The Big E” (“The Big E has arrived!”). She learned to swim in the Plover River, with her three-years-older brother, George, and her three-years-younger sister, Marian. Her mother (who couldn’t swim but wanted her children to) kept a watchful eye on them from the banks, seated on a blanket beside the picnic lunch she’d packed. George, who shared her March 17 birthday, also shared Mrs. Helling’s love of swimming. The two of them would crawl across Lake Emily or the lakes of Waupaca’s Chain – one rowing a boat beside the swimmer heading one direction, and switching roles for the swim back. In later years, when her husband was stationed in Japan, Mrs. Helling dared to swim alone in the Sea of Japan. And when he was stationed at the Pentagon, someone who spotted her at the Army Navy Country Club pool asked if she were an Olympic swimmer.
Physical activity was as necessary to her as air to breathe. In the days when women’s basketball was half-court, three-steps-pass-or-shoot, she was “Lawrence, ace forward” to a reporter who covered a girls’ high school basketball game. She supported her siblings in their endeavors as well. She drove a car alongside brother George when he went running. She applauded sister Marian, who has been a performer all of her life. As a child and as an adult, Mrs. Helling swam. She played tennis. She bicycled. She skied the fjords of Norway. She encouraged and invited her children to join her. Ethel Anne Lawrence graduated from the University of Wisconsin (Madison-only in those days) in 1944 with a degree in journalism.
Although she met her future husband, Don, in Madison, after graduation he headed off to West Point and she returned to Stevens Point, where she was hired as Woman’s Editor for the Stevens Point Daily Journal. She covered weddings (“so many in the fall, after harvest!”), society events, meetings and lectures, and, with some self-consciousness, Christmas concerts led by her best friend’s father, Dr. Michelson.
She was working for the paper when World War II ended. In May 1946 she covered a lecture entitled, “The Social and Political Implications of Atomic Power” given by nuclear physicist Donald J. Hughes. Dr. Hughes, who was one of the signers of the Franck Report (June 1945) recommending that the U.S. not use the atomic bomb as a weapon, responded to the article with a letter to the editor: “I was very pleased to read the article and see what an accurate job had been done in reporting the talk. … I’m sure the explanation of atomic power in the story was at least as understandable as my talk, if not more so! It was a fine job.”
On June 3, 1947, Ethel Anne Lawrence and Donald Clement Helling married in West Point, N.Y. Lt. Helling, the son of Mr. and Mrs. Clement J. Helling of Wausau, Wis., was graduated from the U.S. Military Academy and commissioned in the U.S. Army just previous to the marriage. Lt. Helling and his bride were the first of 30 couples to pass under arches of swords as they left the Cadet Chapel following their marriage. Mrs. Helling relished her life’s adventures and savored good writing – her own and others’.
She penned “So This is Japan,” an account of her life when Lt. Helling was stationed there from 1952-1954, as well as articles about a major flood in Japan that were published at home by the paper that had once employed her. She became fluent in Norwegian when Maj. Helling was stationed there from 1961-1965, and later translated two Norwegian plays into English. She was an avid reader and had many favorite authors, including Margaret Ashmun (a friend of her brother’s best friend’s family), whose books for young people she especially enjoyed.
She kept journals of favorite quotations, and drew from literature to offer guidance to her children. Emerson was a favorite: “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds … .” But she wasn’t averse to citing advice in the public domain. “Don’t cut off your nose to spite your face” was, after all, useful. “Patience is a virtue” was passed on from her own mother – who also was the source of the strange quotation at the beginning of this record. We laughed whenever she said it.
Mrs. Helling loved to laugh. She was playful and could be very funny, and was an especially adept punster – not surprising given her love of language, literature and writing. She could juggle. She could recite the alphabet forward and backward with equal ease. Mrs. Helling loved learning. Her widowed mother made certain all three of her children went to college, as she had after her husband died – and Mrs. Helling did the same for her three.
In addition to a degree in journalism in the 1940s, Mrs. Helling earned a degree in education in the 1950s – and in 1961 was the substitute teacher for her daughter’s first two weeks of 7th grade at the Oslo-American School in Norway. She was her son Donald’s first Cub Scout leader, and, along with the virtues of scouting, taught the troop to lip sync Elvis’ “Hound Dog” for an annual talent show. She was her son Steve’s first Sunday School teacher.
Above all, Mrs. Helling loved her family and counted family as her greatest blessing. From west to east, they are: [Nevada] A son, Donald Lawrence Helling and his wife, Jocelyn; and their children Maxwell and Katherine, whose spirit lives on in all whose lives she touched. [Arizona] A brother, the late Dr. George H. Lawrence and his wife, Hope. [Colorado] A sister, Marian Rowan, whose husband Tom passed away earlier this year. A son, Steven Ross Helling and his wife, Kathy; and their children Kristi Helling Swenson and her husband, Scott Swenson, and their children Dusty Swenson and Chase Swenson; Scott Helling; Brian Helling and his wife, Vicki McMurry Helling, now living in Wyoming with their children Jaylon Helling, Kaiden Helling, Madysen Helling, and foster-daughter Shyanne Garcia; and Kevin Helling, now living in California with his fiancee, Cori Bodley. [Wisconsin] A daughter, Sandra Anne Helling Robinson and her husband, David; and their children Olivia Robinson and fiance Jesse Stiles, who live in Maryland.; and Rachel Anne Robinson Stinemates and her husband, Daniel, who live in Iowa, with their son, Calvin Robinson Stinemates. In addition, Mrs. Helling’s half-sister Hazel Rose Lawrence preceded her in death, as did her sister-in-law Virginia Helling Brown and Gina’s husband, Blaine.
This record closes with a quotation from Ethel Anne Lawrence Helling. She traveled to Japan in 1952 to reunite with her husband, with their two young children in tow. The three spent 13 days on a troop ship making one of its “diaper runs” (as the transport of military families was known) across the Pacific. The passage included inoculations, a schedule with the earliest breakfast and latest dinner, fire drills, and surprise porthole openings. Upon arrival in Japan and reunion with her husband, they embarked on an overnight train trip that offered – to a family of two adults, two children and eight suitcases – four small bunks in a narrow booth of a compartment. This was followed by a taxi ride through the busy, midnight streets of Fukuoka. And finally, they arrived at their new home, only to find the front door locked. Two adults, two children and eight suitcases were passed through a serendipitously open window. Inside they were welcomed by beautiful flowers that a thoughtful worker had left. How did Mrs. Helling characterize the trip? She summed it up as “some experience!” Ethel Anne Lawrence Helling counted her blessings through thick and thin. She was an extraordinary woman, beloved. We miss her.
The family is thankful for the kindness of Lakeview Manor for the welcoming home they offered, and to Heartland Hospice for the care and support they provided. On August 3 family members attended a graveside service at Restlawn Memorial Park in Wausau, where Mrs. Helling is buried next to her husband. The family appreciated the assistance of Maple Crest Funeral Home, Waupaca, and the lovely service of thanksgiving and celebration led by Jess Wakefield, pastor of Covenant Community Presbyterian Church in Schofield.