Van Buren County state Rep. Aric Nesbitt reads a legislative tribut to Helen Avery. (Leader photo/JOHN EBY)

Archived Story

Helen Avery celebrates 100th

Published 3:56pm Monday, December 10, 2012

 

Not only was Helen Avery, 100, a charter member of Sister Lakes Community Church on M-152, current Pastor Doug Cuthbert was born that year, 1954.

Seventeen tables of people attended a luncheon Sunday afternoon at which state Rep. Aric Nesbitt, R-Lawton, read a legislative tribute signed by himself, state Sen. John Proos, Gov. Rick Snyder and U.S. Rep. Fred Upton; singing duo Demi and Kathy serenaded her with a customized version of “Hello Dolly” and “Anything You Can Do, I Can Do Better” from “Annie Get Your Gun;” and Betty Ross read a poem originally composed for Helen’s 95th birthday.

Born to Dick and Helen Bouma in Altoona, Iowa, on Dec. 8, 1912, she came to Sister Lakes in 1947, when her late husband of 37 years, Irwin Floyd Avery, built the house she still lives in. They married in South Bend, Ind., in 1932. Her parents were immigrants from the Netherlands.

In the 1940s and ’50s, she waited tables at Ramona ballroom. She also cared for children and the elderly. She has 14 grandchildren and numerous great- and great-great-grandchildren.

Helen belonged to Benton Harbor Foreign Wars Post 1137 Ladies Auxiliary and is a lifetime member of Decatur VFW 6248 ladies auxiliary. She led Campfire Girls in the 1950s, was active in the Tri-County Women’s Ministry and enjoyed crocheting.

Her family attributes her longevity to Helen’s lack of smoking, drinking and use of computers and “being confident in her Christian faith.”

“Part of living a good life is being able to live in each moment and seeing that God seeks to use our lives in ways we cannot even imagine. Whether you know someone who had a very short life or, in Helen’s case, a very long life, it isn’t the length that matters. It’s the quality of the person you are,” Cuthbert said.

When he and Dave Pilot raked her leaves this fall, she joined Cuthbert for two of his three hours.

“I was exhausted,” he admitted. “Her spirit is ‘I can do my part,’ not entitlement.”

Speakers attested to her frugality, whether plucking sticks from leaf piles to burn this winter, darning socks, washing foil for re-use or stopping her daughter-in-law from pitching a Thanksgiving turkey carcass until soup could be made.

Almost 20 years ago, she welcomed Cuthberts with a mat made of bread wrappers.

Marilyn Cuthbert read Dowagiac’s proclamation by Mayor Don Lyons, which said, “During a long and productive lifetime, she has demonstrated in countless ways her dedication to the welfare of others,” earning her “respect and affection of people from all walks of life and all ages. She has lived during the most eventful century of this world’s history and, in her quiet way been a force for good throughout her life.”

School board member Claudia Zebell said, “Helen is patriotic, strong and loves beauty. When we were newly here and I wanted to start a garden, Helen, who had to be 88, went out with her shovel and dug up rose of Sharon. She wouldn’t let me. Every spring, she’d come to me in church and say, ‘Have you seen the crocuses yet?’”

“When I first met Helen,” Al Anthony said, “she took laundry in. My mom worked on the farm with my dad and didn’t have time, so we came to pick it up at Helen’s house, neatly folded in bushel baskets. There’s a reward in heaven for you that the Lord is waiting to give. One day, he’ll say, ‘Well done.’ After Linda and I married, we moved into a little house kitty-corner from Helen and Irv. She was the first person in the neighborhood to welcome us. She was the Sunday school nursery worker. If you grew up in this church during that time, Helen changed your diaper at least once. Little things count in life. There’s a scorekeeper in heaven. Your faithfulness is one of the biggest blessings you’ve left. This life is brief, but, one day, we’ll meet again in the Lord’s kingdom for eternity. Helen has been blessed to live 100 years, but I’m not going to make it. I’m not made of the same stuff you are.”

 

 

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