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Helen’s Holiday Memories

Anneliese Peterson | Dec 15, 2014

From time to time we are reminded of the diverse paths that have lead us to where we are now, and that have lead our residents to Walker Methodist communities. While we often associate the holidays with the happiest of times, there are moments when we are reminded – sometimes by residents, sometimes by staff, sometimes by friends and family – how truly fortunate we are to celebrate such seasons.

Meet Helen Bowers. Helen is one of our Hazel Ridge residents, and has been part of the Walker Methodist community for 7 years. Helen is a writer, and in this story she shares a glimpse into her past and some holiday memories with us, and why she now enjoys Christmas so very much…

Helen’s Story

HelenA dish of cheerios and a fresh orange. Maybe it doesn’t sound like much to the average child these days, but back then – when all you had been eating was raw potatoes, trust me – it looked like a feast. In fact, the orange was so special to me, I never even ate it – I would just smell the fruit and touch it with my hands.

There were five of us children, ranging from ages 3 to 9. My four brothers and I were living in the basement of an abandoned house, where our parents had left us. The year was 1930, and I was 8 years old. When the authorities found us, we were turned over to the orphanage in Owatonna, Minnesota. It was called the Minnesota State School for Dependent and Neglected Children. In the almost sixty years it was open (from 1886 to 1945) it was home to nearly 10,650 different children. Fifty six percent of those children were like my brothers and I; they had parents living. Thirty nine percent had one parent alive, and only five percent had both of their parents deceased.

It was really a blessing for that first week; I had a bed to sleep in and three meals a day. But after that first week, the discipline started, and that was no fun. As their website puts it, "The Minnesota State Public School Orphanage was a circle of hell for some, and others – a safe haven." To learn more about the orphanage, click here.

At the school we never had a Christmas celebration. There were no presents, no turkey dinner, and no church service. Some of the children would get presents from their parents, but nobody would share their gifts. I would sit in the corner and cry. Soon after that, I was told “We don’t allow tears here. Nobody else wants you, so we get you.”

My next surprise came when I was 14 years old. I had been placed in a Jewish home to work. The family I stayed with was so good to me. On Christmas morning, I woke to a lighted tree with packages under it – and some for me! I was also allowed to go to church. It was then that I realized there was a God, and that he loved me and would take care of me. It took a Jewish family to teach a Presbyterian girl that everyone is entitled to Christ, because without Christ – there would simply be no Christmas.

I am 92 years old now, and love celebrating each and every wonderful Christmas with my children, grandchildren, and great granddaughter.


A Simple Reminder

We’re very grateful to Helen – and all our residents – who continue to share their stories with us. May this be a simple reminder this holiday season to be thankful for family, friends, fun, and festivities this time of year brings.


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