June 19, 2010

Celebrating a Life Lived Well

My Great Aunt passed away this week.  She had been in a nursing home for 4.5 years, suffering the effects of Alzheimer's disease.  For the past two years, at least, she had no idea who any of us were, and lived in a world of her own thoughts that she could not communicate to the outside world.  As you will read in the following remembrance that I would like to share with you, this disease seemed even more tragic and unfair when it struck Aunt Helen because she was a woman with a quick wit, a sharp mind, and a passion for life and service to God and humankind.  She was the first woman in our family to attend college, obtained a Masters degree in Education (in the 30's when it was still rare for a woman to even go to college!), and spent a long life dedicated to the education of children, support of the arts and animals, and charity to those in need.  Aunt Helen was a teacher for 39 years.  Several of her former students came to her visitation this weekend to pay their respects and I was amazed at the way this woman touched lives.  She inspired countless numbers of her students to become teachers themselves, and two of her former students have become Judges.  As the minister said during her eulogy today, "Aunt Helen is still teaching children through the children she inspired to become teachers". 

There is no better testament to the legacy this woman left behind than to serve as she served, love as she loved, live as she lived.  And do it well.

Now I'd like to share with you a memorial my Grandmother wrote, in remembrance of her sister.   

Celebrating a Life Lived Well 

In remembrance of

Helen Margaret (Athey) Scheller

November 20, 1920 - June 16, 2010

Helen Athey was born with the “gift of gab”. She was always much more outspoken and daring than other members of her large family. Born November 20, 1920, she was the fifth of eight siblings: Jessie, Wilson (who tragically died of complications following measles), Bertha, Raymond and Roy (“the twins”), Edward and Ruth. Her father and mother, Charles and Carrie, were hard working and strict but the children understood the meaning of family and the siblings remained close and pulled together in times of both sadness and joy. 

A teacher by nature, she had a natural curiosity that couldn't be curbed. Once, as the adults sat at the dining table, she snuck up behind her grandfather with a ruler to measure his somewhat large ears! Her mother chastised the young lady, but she couldn't resist. She was thrilled by the alphabet and how it could be used to improve verbal discourse, and truth be told Mother and family sometimes tired of the constant practice! Yes, Helen was vocal, at a time when children were to be seen and not heard. She wasn't disobedient, she was...enthusiastic. 

When she was old enough to attend school (at the worldly age of six) she was adamant about her goal: she was going to be a teacher! She was an excellent student, and had a love affair with learning from the first day. Helen graduated from Pond Grade School, as valedictorian. 

In addition to learning, Helen had a deep love a music that would last her whole life. She had already stretched her musical ability to include church choir, but the highlight of our adolescent lives was the $25 piano our Mom managed to purchase! 

She entered Eureka High School, where she considered applying and expanding her skills an adventure. As the years progressed her commitment to learning grew and her ambitions were fired with the encouragement from a special friend, Miss Salfronk, a teacher who lived in our neighborhood. Her enthusiasm was rewarded and in 1939's graduating exercised at Eureka High School she was presented with the title of Valedictorian. 

The next hurdle would be college, where she would move to an entirely different environment and meet a variety of new people. Would she fit in? She entered Harris Teacher's College in the fall of 1939. Determined, she secured more confidence by joining the dramatic club. She pledged to Theta-Sigma Upsilon sorority in 1940 and remained actively involved with the friends she made there for most of her life. 

In 1943, her dream came true. She began a 39 year career as an elementary school teacher with the St. Louis School District at Mullanphy School. She became an active member of the Board of Education, and joined and served the PTA, which recognized her commitment with a lifetime membership in 1969. While working she attended the University of Missouri (1946-1949) where she earned her Masters degree. Her devotion to the education of our youth did not go unnoticed and she received the Reader's Digest Certificate of Scholastic Achievement Award, as well as being recognized as the Outstanding Leader in Elementary and Secondary Education in 1976. 

Though immersed in teaching, her love of music remained. She belonged to the St. Louis Bach Society from 1945-1947, The Philharmonic Chorus from 1948-1949, and was the director of the Mullanphy Elementary School Choir. At a choir rehearsal at Powell Symphony Hall, she met the love of her life, Carl Scheller. They shared music, and a deep awareness of the needs of others, especially young children. They married January 26, 1952. Helen and Carl joined the Webster Groves Presbyterian Church, where they immediately joined the choir. Carl was active with the Shriners, and they both volunteered their time and talents to events and parades. They shared a love of travel as well, and made trips that included France, Scotland and Ireland.

Helen always looked for ways to help others. She was a volunteer at the St. Louis State Mental Hospital from 1958-1967, and after she retired from teaching, she spent many years donating her time at the Mary Queen Mother Center. She supported the Muny Opera in St. Louis, as well as the St. Louis Zoo. In her “free time” she tutored children that lived on her block and gave many children piano lessons. 

She employed the same determination that motivated her scholastic and professional achievements to draw her into friendships as a child and an adult. Her love and deep sense of family was unwavering and ever apparent to her siblings, nieces, nephews, great-nieces and nephews, and all who knew her.

 Helen was an essential part of our lives for three generations. 

We will all miss her friendship, humor, love and generosity.

(Written by my grandmother, Ruth Ekstrom, reminiscing of her sister)


  1. Oh Rebecca, so sorry for your loss, I know it was expected but still.. you are in my thoughts. Fran

  2. I'm sorry too. Your great-aunt sounded like a wonderful woman. I was just watching a story on CBS Sunday Morning about a woman with Alzheimers (who turned out to be the reporter's wife). Such an awful disease. :(

  3. I am so sorry for your loss. Sounds like she was a remarkable woman.

  4. Your great-aunt sounds like quite a woman who gave so much to her family and the community.

    Happy ICLW
    ~Jem (#56)

  5. I'm so sorry for your loss...

    What a special woman, who obviously touched so many lives.


  6. So sorry for you and your family. She sounds like a remarkable woman, indeed!


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