Editor’s note: Since this column ran in the Dec. 12, 2018 edition of the Methow Valley News, we have learned that Helen Louise Martin passed away in 2001 and not 2004. Thank you to Claudia Bradley for the correction; she sent an email with the additional information that Helen was born in Wyoming, and lived and worked in Okanogan.
Helen deserves a proper story, based on the recollections of her family and friends, so if you have any additional information please email firstname.lastname@example.org. Look for an updated history in the Lower Valley column coming soon.
By Joanna Bastian
Dear Readers Who Know Things:
Do you have any information on this Ghost of Christmas and/or Hanukkah Past? This headstone (see photo) for Helen Louise Martin, aka “God’s Polish Angel,” was recently discovered at a home in Twisp. Samantha Carlin and April Wertz recently began renovations on the home when they uncovered Helen’s headstone.
Neighbor Bonnie — the same Bonnie at the Methow Valley Farmers Market who makes the fabulous pickled asparagus — came to visit and mentioned that she had to step over a headstone propped up on the front porch whenever she brought over homemade jam for the previous owner.
Unfortunately, inquiries around the community have all come to a dead end, as no one we’ve asked remembers Helen. There is no record of an obituary in the Methow Valley News archives, and there is no death record in Okanogan County.
What we do know about Helen can be surmised from just 10 words and two dates engraved in stone. She was born a few days before Christmas. Next week would have been her 107th birthday. She left this earth two days before St. Valentine’s Day, at the age of 92. By the scant information on the headstone, we can possibly surmise that Helen was born in Poland and died in America.
Helen’s early life in Poland would have been quite dangerous. The Eastern Front of the First World War played out in the hills and fields of Poland while she was a preschooler learning to speak in sentences, identify shapes, and match her colors. From 1914 until 1918, several hundred thousand Polish civilians were forced into German labor camps. Eight hundred thousand were “deported” to Russia. Over a million people living in the Polish region were killed during the war. How did Helen’s family survive?
If our Polish Angel and her family stayed in Poland, Helen was to experience even more war tragedies. When Helen turned 7 years old, the Polish-Ukrainian war began. One year later, Poland fought with Czechoslovakia, followed by the beginning of war with Russia. Things settled down in 1920, and the country experienced an uneasy peace for almost 20 years, marked by small uprisings and a coup. In 1939 the Germans decided to occupy Poland once more — starting WWII. By this time, Helen would have been 28 years old. If she had already immigrated to America, Helen would have traveled by boat. Commercial airlines did not offer transatlantic flights until after 1939.
Depending on if and when Helen chose to become a U.S citizen, as a woman she was granted the right to vote in 1920, the right to apply for a line of credit when she was 63 years old, and the right to sit on a jury when she was 64 years old in 1975.
In Helen’s lifetime, man reached the South Pole for the first time, landed on the moon, and discovered Pluto. Helen witnessed the first cartoons, the introduction of telephones, television, computers, and the atom bomb. Insulin, vaccines, and penicillin saved billions of lives. She witnessed the end of racial segregation in the United States, and the Civil Rights movement. Helen saw 33,657 sunsets, and just one less sunrise.
Helen survived WWI, WWII, the Great Depression, and the flu pandemic in 1920 that killed 20 million people worldwide. She was a survivor.
If you know more about Helen, please email me at email@example.com.