Thursday, April 4, 2013

Helen Hannah Campbell

It's been an odd afternoon. Just got back from attending Helen Campbell's memorial service. It was different than the kind of service I'm familiar with - and  absolutely fascinating! I retired in 1992 and bought a small  awards and engraving shop in Fountain Valley, California. I soon found the store was too small, and the location not so good.  So the employees and I moved the business to larger quarters. It was 1994. That's about when Helen walked in the door. She asked if I was a good engraver and I told her I was. Then she asked if I knew how to spell, and I told her I was pretty good. Then  she laid out some wallet size etched brass cards on the counter top and asked if I could engrave names and numbers on each one without making ANY mistakes. It looked like a straight forward job so I said sure.  Up to this point  Helen hadn't  cracked a smile. I wrote-up her order, and Helen left the store,  and I put the paperwork in the jobs-to-do tray. 

Helen returned a few days later and asked if I was done engraving her cards.  I was and I handed them to her. She pulled out a magnifying glass and a typed list of the names and numbers she wanted on the cards. She checked those damn cards every way but sunday and finally looked up with a grin and said, (and I'll never forget her words): "You spelled them right and made no mistakes so you are now the "Official Engraver for the Women Marines Association." And so began a friendship that lasted until she died.

Helen had a fabulous life. Different and full of good times. Her father (Truck) was a professional baseball player in both minor and major organizations. When the first female baseball league was thought of, he got her a baseball job. She was a little older than the girls they were trying to recruit. She  became the chaperone and was assigned to convince the parents of younger girls (15 or so years old) that their little girl had an outstanding opportunity with the new league -  and she would be safe and carefully chaperoned - if the parents would just sign the contract

Women's baseball (the movie was named: "A League of Their Own") grew into a big thing  at the time, and Helen was there from the start. Along the way she rode horses, took airline trips, met the prominent baseball players of the day including Jimmy Reese, owners Mr. Wrigley, managers Casey Stengal, and etc. Hundreds of them. In the mid 1930's Helen joined the Marines. She travelled a lot, had a great career, and retired as a top gunnery sergeant. After the Marines Helen and one other girl started the Women's Marine Association. Every member was assigned a number. Helen was number 2.  The organization is spred across the nation and is now several hundred members strong. Some 50 years ago Helen's father (Truck) bought her a new trailer home in Fountain Valley and she began a long 2nd career  as a volunteer. She worked as a docent at the Richard Nixon Library (earlier Helen attended grammar school with Mr. Nixon). She also became an early supporter of the Angels baseball team, a key member of their Booster Club, a good friend of Gene Autry, and many of the outstanding players. Helen joined the Fountain Valley Police Department and was a senior volunteer for many years. Wearing her Marine dress uniform, Helen  visited hospitals, service clubs, and schools and gave short talks about her many experiences as a United States Marine.

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