Helen Louise Byers (née Morton), born April 14, 1927, died March 10, 2019, at age 91, in Wentzville, Missouri, of cancer. The sixth of eight children, Helen was born to Sarah (née Lovett) and Frank Morton in Caruthersville in the Missouri Bootheel. Her father died in 1934 and her mother died 54 years later in 1988 at age 92. At the time of Frank Morton's death in the depths of the Depression, Sarah Morton, then 38, vowed to her eight children that, above all else, she would do everything in her power to keep her family together. A will to purpose is a character trait that Helen inherited from her sturdy and proud mother.
Helen graduated from Cape Girardeau High School in 1946. As a young woman in her teens, Helen worked as an usher at the Broadway Theatre in Cape Girardeau and travelled in southwest Illinois, selling individual photo packages for Olan Mills. She used her earnings to purchase fabulous clothes and accessories, establishing her lifelong style of always looking like a million bucks! In those early years, she did not shy away from motorcycle rides and airplane jaunts with her gentleman friends.
At age 20, Helen met the one and only true love of her life, Thurlo Vermont Byers, at a fair in Gideon, Missouri, where they took a ride on the Lupo Plane and Thurlo asked Helen for a kiss. Head over heels in love, they married a few months later on November 28, 1947. In 1997,they celebrated 50 years of marriage four months before Thurlo's untimely death from cancer at age 74.
They began married life as farmers for Pevely Dairy in Gideon. With the promise of a better life, Thurlo took a job in St. Louis while Helen, with two kids in tow and before joining Thurlo, harvested cotton and soybean crops with her father-in-law, Tommy Allen Byers, then 80 years of age.
In the summer of 1952, Helen and Thurlo bought a new home in Glasgow Village, an enchanting village of 900-square-foot homes located in North St. Louis County and populated with young families reaping all the benefits of post-war America. For Helen, her new home was nothing less than a mansion. There, she and Thurlo raised their five kids: Cheryl Yvonne (Sherry), Cynthia Jane (Janey), Thomas Allen (Tommy), Peggy Jean and Lavonne. Helen talked about how she especially loved the babies-bathing them, dressing them and playing with their tiny fingers and toes!
Helen became involved in everything-community, church, schools, neighborhood and family. Her activities shaped and influenced the lives of her children, her husband and many others. She infused cultural enrichment into our home and lives. In 1953, she bought season tickets to The Muny with two other young mothers on our street. She remembered stopping at Lombardo's Restaurant at West Florissant Avenue and Riverview Blvd one evening returning from The Muny and eating pizza for the very first time. In later years she loaded all five kids into the car and took us to The Muny, where we sat in the free seats and enjoyed all of the wonderful musicals of that era.
It was her supreme dream to purchase a piano and have every one of her kids take lessons. We spent many hours as a family singing show tunes while gathered around the piano. She was a regular patron of the bookmobile, where she checked out and read many, many plays, both new and old. She was part of a Canasta Club in Glasgow Village. It was a fun, very hip group and we were always so excited when she hosted. She formed and lead a Kitchen Band with mothers from Glasgow School. She and Thurlo were active in the PTA and never missed their kids' programs and sporting events from elementary through high school years. She taught herself to sew and designed and made many of our clothes while we were growing up. She could make everything- from doll clothes to formals to dresses to suits. At the time right before Lavonne was born in 1959, a 10-year-old Lee Turpin, who lived across the street, paid Helen the highest compliment when he told her, “Helen, you are the most beautiful woman in Glasgow Village.”
In 1953, Helen joined Riverview Gardens Baptist Church, where she actively led the Women’s Missionary Union and Girl’s Auxiliary. She sang in the church choir, taught Sunday School and served as Vacation Bible School principal. She drove the girls' softball teams all over the city and county for innumerable games and championships. In 1966, she was overcome with excitement and anticipation as she kept a secret for one long month, when Thurlo was awarded St. Louis Baptist Athletic Association Softball Manager of the Year, a thrilling win for the entire family. In 1969, she moved her membership to Bellefontaine Baptist Church and in 1976 to Ferguson Baptist Church, where she was a dedicated, giving and beloved member for over 40 years. Her Christian faith sustained her throughout her life. Her sisterhood of friends formed in the Baptist Church has been an inspiration. Her deepest and closest friendships were those with Imogene Mounce Young, Marty Votaw, Betty Muth, Bonnie Selby, Mary Owen, the late Ruth Redman and the late Jean Clodfelter. All of these friendships go back nearly seventy years.
Helen and Thurlo were a true team. Each brought a special brand of personality and style to their union. In many ways, theirs was a traditional marriage, but neither ever left the other stranded and each gave unmitigated support to the other. When Helen worked outside her home, it was behind a makeup or fragrance counter at Dillard’s or Famous-Barr, where she enjoyed selling the products and schmoozing with her customers and fellow employees. An office environment was not the life for Helen! After the kids were gone, Helen and Thurlo took many road trips, searching the country together during pre-internet years for answers to genealogy questions raised by Thurlo in his research of our family history. These trips turned into real glory days for them.
As their kids (and the beneficiaries of their dreams, talents and love), we have always marveled at their uncanny ability not only to let go of each of us as we grew into adulthood and to avoid meddling or interfering in our affairs but also to lend support to each of us and our families when support was needed and to recognize our successes, the same as they did when we were kids. They instilled in us a love of reading and education and, while they never prodded or cajoled us, it was tacitly understood that a college education was in our futures. With five kids, they did their best not to play favorites, even though their only boy tried to wield his influence by spewing propaganda such as, “Goils, goils, goils. I’m sick of goils!”
After Thurlo died in 1998, Helen built a new life for herself. In 2007, at age 80, she competed in the Ms. Missouri Senior America Pageant, open to women in Missouri over the age of 60. It was a grand experience and she was honored as Second Runner-Up. For her talent she entertained the capacity crowd at the Florissant Civic Center with a montage of songs on her harmonica. From that point on, Helen’s signature look included not only a scarf but also jeweled crown pins, many of which she collected over the remaining years of her life. She also enjoyed her ensuing years performing with the Missouri Cameo Club.
In the summer of 1988, the fragrance manager at Dillard's followed Helen across the shopping center parking lot, imploring her to come back to work and insisting that she could not quit. A department-wide directive from management prompted Helen to declare she would not comply and she was leaving. She gathered her belongings and walked out. Lest you forget, Helen was not one to suffer fools lightly. She had a sharp tongue and a stubborn streak when she needed them. Pointed quips were in her lexicon. She was capable of speaking her mind and not afraid to draw her line in the sand. Stepping into her car, she told her manager that she had raised five kids. When one of them misbehaved, she punished the child who misbehaved, not all five kids. Then she drove away, never looking back!
Other family members and friends preceding Helen in death were her charming and affable stepfather, Elmer Thompson, dearest sister Millie Markee (and her husband Walt), dearest sister Nellie Jacobs (and her husbands Bud Jacobs and Jim O’Guin), brother Arthur Morton, brother Ernest Morton (Helen’s favorite brother), brother Charlie Morton (and his wife Aline), brother Harold Morton, sister-in-law Faye Helvey (claimed by Helen as her very best friend) and brother-in-law Thurman Helvey (claimed by Thurlo as his very best friend), brother-in-law Burley Byers, sister-in-law Ruth Byers, brother-in-law Paul Byers (and his wife Dale), brother-in-law Cecil Byers (and his wife Grace), dear father-in-law Thomas Allen Byers and dear mother-in-law Jennie Byers, and special friends Elaine Stinson, Martha Headrick, Joan Geller Lytle and Sandy Elmer Williams.
Surviving Helen are her children, Cheryl and Arlan Dohrmann, Jane Byers, Tom and Renita (Bruenning) Byers, Peggy and Pat Fritschle, and Lavonne Byers; grandchildren Michael Dohrmann (and his wife Mary), David Dohrmann, Becky Byers Simpkins (and her husband Matt), and Tom Byers (and his wife Michelle); great-grandchildren Quinn Myers and Jacob Dohrmann and Jack Simpkins and Sara Simpkins; dearest sister Sarah (Ann) Frohmann, sister-in-law Jean Byers Dismuke, and sister-in-law Rose Morton; a host of nieces and nephews, with a special nod to those nieces and nephews lovingly devoted to her through the years, being Butch (Paul) and Diane Helvey, Paulette (Helvey) and Gary Massey, Rod Byers and his late wife Diane, Ralph and Rosemary Morton, and Chris Markee Eddy; a host of great nieces and great nephews; many friends, and special friends Jann Sieving Green, Mary Alwes, Patty Geller-Boudria, Cathy Hunt Patrico, Edith Jackson, Nancy Jackson Wright and Donna Parrone.
Because she spent so much time with them in her later years, Helen had a very special mutual admiration society with two of her dear great-grandchildren, Jack and Sara Simpkins, who never failed to give her generous hugs and kisses when they saw her and who always treated her like the special “Granne” she was. One day, after going through months of chemo treatments and losing most of her hair, Helen told Jack and Sara she wished they didn’t have to see her looking the way she did, to which Jack lovingly responded, “But Granne, you are always beautiful to us.” These perfect words sealed their loving relationship, so many years apart in age but so close in their hearts.
Donations in Helen’s honor can be made to Shriners Hospital for Children - St. Louis and St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
From our earliest years, we remember Helen planting and tending to her flower beds, boxes and pots. She loved flowers. A vital woman with a song in her heart and a tune always on the tip of her tongue (including the machine gun rag), Helen was in her element when singing a favorite melody or a rousing hymn while vacuuming her house. Her sense of humor carried the day on many occasions and, as attested to by her nephew Butch, her love of food was legendary among family and friends. Through a series of quirky events, Helen reluctantly acquired and eventually embraced the wonky but affectionate nickname “Nacho.” Loved and adored by many, Helen will be missed and remembered as a most lively and socially engaged redhead, always ready to enjoy the next good time, whether that was shopping for makeup, eating a MOD pizza or watching Midsomer Murders. We will remember Helen as Our Sweet Angel and, for some of us, as Our Sweet Nacho.
Visitation will be held Wednesday, March 13, 2019 from 4:00 pm until 8:00 pm at Newcomer, Cremations, Funerals & Receptions, 837 Mid Rivers Mall Drive, St. Peters, Missouri 63376.
A Second Visitation will be held Thursday, March 14, 2019 from 10:30 am until 11:30 am at Newcomer, Cremations, Funeral & Receptions, 837 Mid Rivers Mall Drive, St. Peters, Missouri 63376.
Funeral Ceremony will immediately follow at 11:30 am.
Interment will be at Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery.
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