Kenneth Roy Helle
As told by his oldest son,
Don Charles Helle
January 25, 2000
I've wondered privately for along time just "What" I'd tell my children
about their grandfather. Those that knew him understood that there were
many sides to this man. Not only did I have the opportunity to view Kenneth
Roy Helle as a father but also the depth of his personality as a friend.
Of course nobody ever considers, "What folks will say about him or her after
they're gone". Dad most likely wouldn't have written many words in his
behalf if he were here today. He would want me to tell my children that he
was a proud man, honest and hard working. "Who could just so happen, shoot
a coyote at 300 yards on the dead run and hit'em every time". Then he'd
crack a smile and his piercing blue eyes would sparkle and confess, "Well
maybe not every time".
A large part of Dad's personality was his emphasis on first impressions. I
can remember being in the third grade when Dad and Grandpa Gene (Still)
taught Jeff & I how to shake hands. First you look him in the eye, extend
your hand and give him a good "firm" handshake. Looking a person in the eye
was the point, he figured if you couldn't look a person in the eye, you must
be scared or hiding something. He didn't believe in either. He basically
felt that he could probably take most any man "except for maybe Muhammad
Ali" and besides he never had anything to hide.
Jeff & I would roll our eyes at hearing Dad's endless stream of "Old
Sayings" but they were a part of his character. (Call a spade a spade)
basically meant to speak the truth regardless of popularity points. (The
Boss may not be right but, he's the Boss) translates into sometimes you're
going to have to do things you don't want to do however, you'll do them
until you become the boss. Then my two all time favorites: #1. As long as
you live under my roof, you'll abide by my rules. #2. Don't do as I do, do
as I say. You see these two "Golden Oldies" show a difficult side to
express. Dad loved us kids with all of his heart; he just wasn't an
effective communicator. Dad was strict and very disciplined he had
standards for everything. You did things to meet his standards and if it
wasn't good enough, you did it again.
Now as a bullheaded boys go, I had double of most any kid you've ever met.
I did what I was told however; I liked to know "why?" I was doing it. This
is where we had our difficult times; his standard answers were one of the
two favorites listed above. To which this bullheaded son couldn't
understand, this was one of Dad's only faults in my view. Please take this
message to heart; I'll assume that you're bullheaded also; fact is that if
you're a Helle you've likely got more bullheadedness in you than most.
Communication would solve many problems within and outside of immediate
family, if you've got a bullheaded Helle in your house simply explain the
logic behind your wisdom. Enough said.
Life was good for us kids; I have a younger brother Jeff and sister Amy. We
grew up in Putnam, IL on a 60-acre farm just south of Tiskilwa. Dad's
careers were always timber or heavy machinery related however, he couldn't
teach us (his) lessons there so he tinkered with farming a little. We grew
some corn & beans plus had a few chickens nothing large though. I believe
this is how he wanted to teach us his "Work Ethics". We'd walk behind the
tractor and disc picking up sticks, or gathering ears of corn the combine
would miss. Everything had a purpose, the sticks were so we could extend
the edge of the fields and the corn was free chicken feed. Dad's standards
were met in everything; he'd walk the fields and if he could find five ears
of corn that we missed, we'd have to walk the field over again. It's
amazing how out of a field more than a few acres large he could get out of
his truck and nearly walk right to six or seven ears. (Old Saying) "If the
jobs worth doing, then it's worth doing right the first time". We learned
to be more thorough and pay attention to detail.
Combined with work ethic is "Vigor". Dad would wake us up more than I'd
care to remember to the sound of a chainsaw. We knew what was in store for
us; we had a word burning stove, which was replaced by a wood-burning
furnace, we went through allot of firewood. Each piece had to be cut to a
certain length, which Dad did with the saw. When the wood needed to be
split and you've got two strapping teenage boys there, out come the
splitting mauls. This is one of my favorite stories, Dad had bought Jeff &
I each a splitting maul (8lbs.) with hickory handles. The first time we
broke a handle it was quite by accident, then we figured out that when the
handles were broken work stopped. So in the next few weeks we went through
some handles, Dad got wise fast and ordered a remedy. A few phone calls
later and Dad said he had the cure for broken handles, The Zott's Monster
Maul (18lbs.) solid steel from head to handle with a reinforced neck.
"Break this" he smiled when it arrived, he liked it so much he bought
another one the "Ladies Maul" (12lbs.). We never broke another handle and
we've split wood for years, I believe Jeff still uses them today. Splitting
wood with vigor is different than "just" splitting wood. Dad wanted to be
impressed; he wanted to see us split wood (Old Saying) "Like you're beating
When you're swinging an 18lbs maul like you're beating snakes you become
strong. "Strength" was always a measuring stick in our house. As kids we
could use two hands to arm-wrestle Dad, as we got older we graduated to only
one. We'd arm-wrestled weekly it seems; I can remember the different levels
of intensity and as the years passed he had to put forth more effort to win.
Then one day while I was 16yrs old it happened I won!! I beat'em. That day
will last forever in my memory, not for the win but rather how Dad changed.
He didn't appreciate getting beat by his son; it was an acknowledgment that
he was getting old, we never arm-wrestled again.
"Pride" is another word you must use when describing him. He was proud of
his appearance and his possessions; he liked to look neat and professional
because that's how he felt about himself. He loved his parents, brothers
and sisters and often told us the (When I was a kid) story, which usually
ended by walking uphill both ways to school, in the dead of winter with a
six-cell flashlight. He grew up hard, as I believe every previous generation
can claim but he was proud of where he came from and at what level he stood.
He believed in standing tall with your head held high, anything less would
Dad was one top-notched shooter; we frequently had shooting contest to see
who was the better shot. We'd start off with dots drawn on a paper plate,
then move to driving nails and finally hitting 22.cal casing sitting on a
board. Dad took great pride in being a great shot, not many men ever
matched Dad's shooting skills and nobody ever beat him. He was also a
dedicated hunter of all season and preached "safety" with every step. Dad
did everything with "Focus & Passion " he seemed to be able to walk silently
through the woods and hear stuff not audible to us kids. He taught us many
lessons hunting and I will forever have great memories there.
Around this time in our lives Jeff & I were both working after school and on
weekends. Mom and Amy were out and Dad was going through some changes. His
stubborn pride and lack of communication skills lead to very sad time in our
life. He wasn't happy anymore and Mom and he divorced. This was the
"mother" of all shocks, nobody expected it, saw it coming etc our parents
never even argued. Too frequently divorces become nasty; ours was no
exception, there are many feeling hurt and sour memories there. I won't go
into detail other than to say (Nobody "Wins" in divorce especially kids,
occasionally adults remarry but children's scars last forever).
I joined the Navy out of High School and had my first dealings with the
world. I laid in bed that first night at Great Lakes and wondered just what
I had gotten myself into. Mom & Dad never set academic standards too high
on us, he often said that he wasn't a "genius" and didn't expect us to be
however; nothing would be tolerated below a "C" average grade. But now
things have changed; I'm on my own with nobody to "please" but myself. I
ended a nine-year Navy career graduating in the top 3% of every class I'd
ever taken. Always first promoted in the fleet why? Because nobody had the
same work ethic, vigor and attention to detail as I had. I came home on
leave after completing a school and went to see Dad and his fiancée Ms. Toni
Pairen. There was a whole new glow about him now. I thanked him for
raising me in the method that he did; I finally understood "why?" he was so
hard to please. His wisdom looks me in the mirror every morning as I shave.
Before the divorce Dad was a big Country Western music fan, the sad type.
Dad enjoyed listening to the lyrics of songs and the stories they told.
Some of his old favorites were "Footsteps in the sand" and "Cat's in the
Cradle" he would always say," Shhhh listen to the words". When I met Dad &
Toni and spent the night in their place, the following morning he woke me up
to the "Top Gun" Soundtrack. I asked him, what happened and whose music was
this? He said that (he) bought it, "Life is too short to go through being
sad, upbeat music makes me smile". He then asked me to sit down and listen
to his "new" favorite song, (Bob Seger - Like a rock). He enjoyed music
although we never saw Dad dance, "it wasn't his nature". We didn't know for
years that he kept two violins hidden under his bed. He said that as a
child his father (insisted) that he learn to play the violin, Dad hated to
be forced into anything. (This trait we strongly share) He did enjoy
picking up the guitar though, and taught himself to play many tunes. I will
always recall the hours spent in the kitchen learning to play "Ghost Rider's
in the Sky". He was so proud when he finally mastered it.
As adults Dad opened up to me unlike he ever had before. Maybe it was
because of his age? They say that when you get older you can reflect on life
with more clarity, things done & mistakes made. Dad told me things about
his past, present and future, deep thoughts with allot of emotions. Dad was
from the (Old School) "Men don't cry it's a sign of weakness". He told me
many stories and for one of the first times in my life he said that he loved
me. To hear sentimental words coming from a man made of stone was moving
for both of us. We became great friends, with more of a bond than just
father & son.
In summery I'd suggest looking at the italicized words I used: Work Ethic,
Vigor, Strength, Pride, Focus and Passion. These words describe him well
both personally and professionally. I believe he'd agree with the words I'
ve chosen here and feel proud that his messages didn't fall upon deaf ears.
Dad stunned all of us when he wrote a poem for the Helle Book; I read that
poem now with great pride (Quote from the last sentence of his poem) "If my
kids are as proud of me as I was Dad, the good Lord knows I won't be sad".
That is a great line, which I'll happily pass along to my children. I'm
very proud of my Dad for the father he was, which influences the man I've
It doesn't matter who my father was; it matters who I remember he was.
Anne Sexton (1928 1974)
Don Charles Helle