I met Helga three years ago when I started volunteering for Reading to Kids at Esperanza Elementary. I took notice of her right away. Not only her angelic face, but also the radiant smile that always seemed to grace it. She was a lovely person inside and out.
Over time I got to know her better. I learned that she and I had a shared interest in art and in exploring the LA area. So she was my compatriot in touring Disney Hall, seeing the King Tut exhibit, watching Shakespeare in the Huntington Gardens and exploring the Norton Simon. Whenever I saw something new and interesting that was coming to town, I immediately thought of Helga. In fact, I just got tickets for the new Getty Villa with her in mind.
It really hurts to know that she is gone. Helga was a bright shining light wherever she went and I valued her friendship tremendously. But it has helped me these past few days to reminisce about the time we spent together and what I learned about this wonderful woman. Among the things that I will remember are:
- The fact that I could always without fail plan on Helga being 15 minutes late for any appointment we had. I found it more amusing than annoying. I used to tease her about it and we would laugh.
- She was coming back from the reading clubs with her kids one time wearing a crown that she (or one of the kids) had made. I asked if she was the Queen of the Classroom. She pseudo-indignantly informed me that she was in fact a Princess, not a Queen. Didn't I know that there was a difference? Queens are haughty and prim while princesses are dainty and nice.
- Helga planned a hike at Switzer Falls at the end of December and expected it to be as warm as in Pasadena. Imagine her surprise to discover how cool it was up there. In fact it was darn chilly. Did she back off from her plans? No, she pulled a dirty sheet out from the back of her car, wrapped it around herself and off she went.
- Helga was curious as she passed a booth on the street supporting the presidential candidacy of Lyndon Larouche. She innocently spoke with the people there and signed their sheet. She was slightly disconcerted when they continued to practically harass her afterward to recruit her to canvas for the candidate.
- Helga had so much energy as a young girl that she and her sisters used to get up at the crack of dawn and go to school early on school days so that they had extra time to play on the monkey bars and jungle gym. The teachers had to tell her not to come to school so early! She loved telling me how much fun she, Judy and Fannie had growing up.
- Helga was so excited to show off her birthday present one year -- a video game with a camera that allowed the player (Helga) to stand in front of the tv and swat at aliens and other bad things as they appeared on the screen.
- I had lunch with her just two weeks ago and she laughed and laughed at her vain attempt to cook oysters and find a roasting pan for a prime rib on Christmas.
Helga was adventurous enough to live overseas and to backpack through Europe. She was tough enough to manage a classroom of 30+ fourth graders or sixth graders. She was smart and well read. She had a generous spirit and gave hundred if not thousands of hours to Reading to Kids and LA Works. Among all her qualities though the one I will remember the most is this - every day I saw Helga was a good day. She just made people feel good to be around her.
Requiescat in pace, my friend. - Mark May