“He who is not courageous enough to take risks will accomplish nothing in life”.

While the above quote was made by the famous fighter, Mohammad Ali, one could say this was also the philosophy adopted by our 86 year old friend and Meals-on-Wheels client, Helen.

From an early age Helen was an explorer and risk taker. Helen’s parents and sister emigrated from Poland at a time of great political strife and arrived in the U.S. in search of a new beginning.  Soon after settling into life in a very impoverished area  of Chicago, Illinois, Helen was born.

Life became even harder when Helen’s father passed away when she was an infant, leaving her mother, who spoke very little English and had no formal education, to raise her and her older sister alone.

A fiercely independent woman with a “can-do” attitude, Helen’s mother worked very hard to put a roof over their heads and food on the table. In the Polish borough where they had settled, weddings were celebrated with much grandeur. Helen’s mother taught herself how to cook delicacies for large crowds and began her own small catering business.

Helen certainly inherited her mother’s perseverance and unstoppable qualities. At a very tender age, Helen worked various jobs such as cooking, cleaning and babysitting to earn a little spending money. During high school, she joined the work force like thousands of other women that grew up during WWII. She would hop onto a streetcar to travel a good distance across town and work an 8 hour shift in a converted appliance factory. The factory produced items which supported the war effort and Helen managed to work her way up to a precision inspector. However, Helen knew she didn’t want to stop there. Further influenced by the war, both Helen and her sister decided to enter nursing school with the goal of serving their country and entering the Navy afterwards, which is exactly what they both did!

Helen advanced rapidly in her Naval career, always being the first to sign up for a new tour to experience different surroundings, meet new people and witness a variety of lifestyles and cultures.  Her desire to understand different perspectives, coupled with her thirst for knowledge and new experiences, helped her move up the ranks in her career as well. Any time Helen’s interest was piqued in even the slightest way, she would proceed with gusto. Her 22 years of service culminated in her achievement of one of the highest ranking female positions at the time, that of Naval Commander.

Helen purchased a home in San Diego after she moved here to take on the position of Naval Commander at Balboa Hospital. After her retirement, the lovely weather and her lack of interest in packing up and moving again solidified her decision to stay.

A few years ago, Helen’s sister and only remaining family member, passed away. Recently Helen’s health diminished to the extent that driving was no longer an option. Calling on her unabashed spirit to try something new, she reached out to Meals-on-Wheels who is very proud to serve her, as she graciously served others for so many years.


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