Sunday, May 02, 2010

In Memoriam: Helen Tri

Today, a woman who touched many lives in my hometown area will be remembered at a memorial service, ironically in my new hometown of Thief River Falls. Her name was Helen Tri.

Helen was many things in life, including a teacher. She taught many people through the years, including my two older sisters. She also taught Mike Rustad, who has not only been a friend to this blog but encouraged me to start it in the first place. Mike wrote this to say about Helen's passing...
About ten years ago Dotty Boatz, a former Humboldt resident recommended that I place a call to Helen. I have known Helen all of my life. In my early childhood, she was our neighbor and I spent countless hours in the Tri yard along with many other Humboldt kids. Everyone was welcome at the Tri house and there was nothing that pleased Helen more than to have a pack of kids playing in the yard or large sand box. When we lived in town, Helen was right across the alley from us, a next door neighbor. Our other neighbors were the Dockens, the Diamonds, and the Turner/Hatherlies. Dotty thought that Helen might enjoy a call from me and I was reluctant to call after not being in touch for decades. I finally did make that call to Helen and kept in touch with her via email for a number of years on a weekly basis. Helen rarely emailed me but she seemed to enjoy hearing about all of the news I could muster from Humboldt. I learned a great deal from Helen as she had a unique perspective on Humboldt from the late 1930s. She taught both my Dad and Uncle Einar and has memories of my Dad as being a good student.

Helen had a deep affinity and interest in Sweden as her father was from Malmo which is a major city in Southern Sweden close to my Lund University, where I've taught in the summers for many years. Each summer when I visited Lund she would remind me to send her a post card from Malmo. She would enjoy hearing about Sweden and its very strong family structure and government. Helen was a voracious reader well into her late 80s and was well informed and very opinionated. I enjoyed her opinions because they were well reasoned and backed by data though sometimes we disagreed. She was a good listener and enjoyed debate and discussion. Helen experienced great adversity during periods of her life. She lost her Mother and was raised by Gottfrid, her father. I think this experience of being so responsible led her to have an independent personality and character.

Helen was born in 1915. She was a young girl at the infancy of aviation. In May of 1927, Charles Lindbergh made his famous solo flight across the ocean in May of 1927. We all remember film clips of Lindbergh's parade in New York where he was greeted by millions. Helen reminded me that Lindbergh toured the U.S. that summer. Here's the story Helen told me and I find it emblematic of her personality marked by great determination. She was only twelve years old and decided she wanted to see Lindbergh. She went to the local library and found addresses for hotels, book, and paid for a hotel in San Francisco. She traveled alone to San Francisco by railroad. When she arrived at the hotel, the clerk was reluctant to admit her--a twelve year old. Helen did not back down and said a contract was a contract. She told the clerk that she paid for the room and was entitled to it. She was able to see Lindbergh pass by in the parade. I asked Helen many details about the trip and they every detail fit. I do not doubt Helen but the image of a twelve year old taking a trip alone from Minneapolis to San Francisco and back is daunting.

As her obituary indicates, she was a graduate of one of the finest universities in the United States, Gustavus Adolphus College. As in Helen's day, this college was rigorous and drew good Lutherans from a Scandinavian background. Helen graduated from college thanks again to her determination. She worked at a large number of jobs. She told me about her academic success while working at a number of jobs. She remembered courses in sociology as being formative for her. I think Helen also studied political science and philosophy judging from her sophisticated understanding of the American polity. Helen gave me a window onto the world of my hometown of Humboldt Minnesota that stretches from the 1930s to the 1960s.

Throughout her life she had a deep love of Humboldt and its residents. She had plans to travel to Humboldt in the summer of 2007 but was to ill to travel. I am sorry that she did not make the trip because she would have so enjoyed it and seeing Humboldt in its glory. She loved hearing any news of the Baldwins, Boatzes, and my family, the Rustads. I learned that she was great friends with Marion Brown. Helen and Marion came to Humboldt around the same time as young teachers. She and Quint (as she called him) would double date with Don and Marion Brown. She loved Humboldt right from the beginning even though it was certainly less settled than the Twin Cities of Minnesota. She mentioned to me how much she enjoyed Grandma Bockwitz and was great friends with the Virgil Bockwitz family.

Humboldt was a close knit community in the late thirties and early forties. Baseball was important to the town. She remembers my Dad and Uncle Burton Turner playing for the Humboldt team and other area teams. She remembered when Herb Diamond and his brothers were still active in baseball.

Helen had a memory that was legendary and it was not just a past memory. Helen and I would talk about present day events as much as the past and her comments on present day events were just as sharpened. Helen and Quint started a bee business and began mailing specialty honeys all over the world. She was very proud that she sent honey back to Sweden and Germany. Quint's family was German and thus the new country was replenishing the old. Helen was one of those rare persons who continued to grow and develop throughout her life. She overcome a great deal of adversity losing her husband at such a young age, but she truly was Mother Courage!

I have so many memories of Helen and prefer to think of her tending her garden. Helen was a great gardener and my Mother was not. I remember her helping my Mother plan her garden. So, that is how I will remember Helen tending her garden. I feel very privileged to have known Helen Marie Tri.
Mike told me many times I should talk with Helen about her memories. I always meant to, but now I will never have the chance. Let that be a lesson to anyone reading this - don't put off talking to your older relatives and friends while you still have the chance!