Helen Marie was born on Tuesday, June 26, 1934, in Cochrane, and was the youngest of the Johnson clan. Along with her parents, Peter and Martha (Crawford), Helen was welcomed by her older siblings Inez (1915), Agnes (1917), Russell (1919), Raymond “Bud” (1921), Glenn (1928), Curt (1930) and Joyce (1932). The Johnson family resided on a farm, near the hamlet of Clute, where Helen and her siblings became very close. Helen enjoyed playing outside on the farm with the animals or in her playhouse with her sister Joyce. In September of 1939, the family relocated, when her father expanded the family business to include a sawmill in Moose River Factory. It was here that Helen began her formal education, in a one room school house, with her older sister Agnes as her teacher. In 1943, the family returned to Cochrane. It was in these early days, that Helen learned to cook, assisting her mother to make meals for the hired help that worked in the family businesses. Helen was a gifted athlete and student and went on to attend high school in Cochrane before enrolling at North Bay’s Teacher’s College (Nipissing University). It was here that Helen was awarded the Lord Strathcona scholarship in physical education, which entitled her to attend a five-week course at McMaster University in Hamilton. A few interesting facts about Helen’s youth include: she grew up with a guy by the name of Tim Horton and she met Princess Elizabeth, during her royal visit prior to becoming the queen, in Kapuskasing in 1951.
It was during high school that Helen was introduced to fellow classmate by the name of Sheila Donahue. Neither woman knew this was the beginning of a life-long friendship that would last over 73 years. Through this friendship, Helen was introduced to a young man by the man of Charles “Chuck” Bruce Beamer, who was working for the Department of Lands & Forest, based out of Cochrane at the time. The year was 1956. Their relationship quickly blossomed and the young couple was wed on Monday, August 26, 1957, at St. Paul’s United Church in Cochrane. The newlyweds soon settled in Sudbury where Helen struggled to find work as a teacher, due to the fact that she was a new bride. Ultimately, she found work as a supply teacher and taught a variety of elementary grades. Wanting to start their family, Chuck and Helen began looking at adoption, but once again due to the times, the process was very different. At the time Helen was told, “Mrs. Beamer we’ll know you’re serious about adopting when we have a copy of your resignation from teaching.” Helen’s desire for a family outweighed her passion for teaching and together with Chuck they soon welcomed David (1961). The Beamer family continued to grow in the years following with the arrivals of Randi (1963), Nancy (1964), and Mike (1966). Obviously, life was busy for Helen, but she adapted to the role of a stay-at-home mom well and enjoyed providing for her young family.
In August of 1969, the Beamer family relocated to Bruce County, where Chuck took a job as Superintendant of Schools for the Bruce County Board of Education. Helen was reluctant to make this move but ultimately wanted to support her husband in this opportunity. After a few months in Sauble Falls, they made the move to Chesley and in short order moved into their new home in Tower Park. They quickly adapted to their new surroundings and community and were blessed with an amazing network of friends. With Helen’s big heart and outgoing personality, the Beamer home became a loving and lively second home to many friends of the Beamer children. Chuck’s job required a lot of his time, and therefore Helen remained home to care for their young family. Weekends and the summer months meant valuable family time and many memories were made during their yearly summer visits to see the Johnson clan in North Bay. Who could forget their yearly trips to Bay City, Michigan, and the Ramada Inn? This state-of-the-art hotel had a swimming pool, theatre, and bowling and was fit for the queen… On one visit, after a long day of traveling, the Beamers arrived to find that the hotel had been overbooked and their room (which was booked in advance) was no longer available. Let’s just say Helen didn’t take this news too well, and soon made her way to the reception desk. Once there, she asked the receptionist the following, “If the Queen of England was to arrive today would you have a room for her? To which the employee correctly said, “yes.” Helen quickly followed that up with, “Then we will have her suite!” … needless to say, the Beamers had a room and were unpacking minutes later! Helen was also a great host and enjoyed entertaining friends and family whenever the opportunity presented itself. They were known for their progressive yearly New Year’s Eve parties and always enjoyed getting together with friends. Great memories were created during Sunday afternoon cross country skiing or snowshoeing with family and friends during the winter months, followed by a potluck dinner.
Once the children became more independent, Helen became more involved in the community. She was an active member of St. John’s United Church and spent many years as the superintendent of the Sunday School program along with Fran Petrie, where the 2 organized numerous productions for Palm Sunday or Advent services. One notable production in particular included “Noah’s Ark” where instead of having the young Sunday School students perform, Helen and Fran recruited members of the congregation to take on the key roles. Helen could organize anything and would provide a helping hand wherever needed. She was an integral part of the church catering group, in addition to her involvement in the Community Centre catering group. The fact that Helen was an amazing cook, didn’t hurt either. When it came to her creations, lasagna and stroganoff were favourite family dishes. She also enjoyed canning, and could often be found pickling, or making jams, with the contents from Chuck’s garden. Her talents in the kitchen did not go unnoticed, and together with Connie Lustig, the two opened The Shoreline, a seasonal restaurant in Sauble Beach in the summer of 1978. For the next five years, they dedicated their lives and summer months to this venture, enjoying it thoroughly. However, all good things must come to an end and they moved on to other opportunities after the summer of 1983. Helen’s involvement in charity work was extensive. She was involved in youth groups, the Church Board, and two major community fundraising efforts, the Community Centre, and funding the new elevator at St. John’s. As a board member of the Alzheimer Society of Grey Bruce, she started the Forget-Me-Not Tree fundraiser which helped the society get to a solvent footing. Lesser known, she was a long-time supporter (30 years) of the Canadian Cancer Society. She was not only a volunteer but often a confidant for those in the community that received a recent diagnosis… because she had been there. She was a two-time survivor of cancer. Her commitment never wavered as Helen often sat at many of their bedsides during their final hours. In the early 1980’s, Helen was an avid supporter of the local chapters of The Women’s House. On countless occasions, she was tasked with picking up women who needed to be extracted from abusive and often dangerous situations and then delivering them to the Women’s House for support. Helen was truly a special lady and a hero to many! All in all, Helen’s commitment to others and her community was ever present, and so fittingly she was named Chesley citizen for the year for her contributions. Although never one for the accolades, Helen always wanted to help where she could, and that she did!
Helen was a crafty lady with a particular fondness for knitting and sewing – she could make anything. She was a collector of Norwegian pewter and had her fair share of frog and troll memorabilia. Her colours of choice were pink and teal and she had a soft spot for pets. Through the years she enjoyed companions like Shep (her childhood dog) in addition to a variety of indoor cats, like Barnie (originally Bonnie until it was noticed that she was a he) and Clyde! The gathering of friends and family was always important for Helen and something she always looked forward to! Christmas was always a favourite, beginning early with Christmas baking. Then there was shopping, especially with her sisters Agnes and Joyce, another favourite pastime of Helen’s. She liked to say, “If the Visa was full, get out the Mastercard!” All joking aside, spending time with friends and family during the holiday season was what really brought a smile to Helen’s face. I am told a little scotch or white wine could also help.
Helen enjoyed travelling. During her early years of teaching, she decided it would be a good idea for her brother Curt and herself to go on a road trip to visit their sister Inez in B.C. Because of the time commitment, Curt decided to give Helen his brand new car and credit card (for emergencies) so she and a friend could drive out west and he would fly out and join them later. Together with Chuck, they enjoyed travelling and seeing the likes of Norway, much of the Caribbean, and of course, B.C. and Alberta to see their children and grandchildren. Extra free time also meant spending more time with family. She adored her grandchildren and spending as much time as possible with them – having tea parties, playing board games, store or dress up, swimming in the pool and of course lots of baking. She always had a special cupboard or freezer full of treats. She always enjoyed their visits and catching up with the happenings in their lives. She loved getting pictures of her grandchildren and great grandchildren. She was always so proud of all their accomplishments and was their biggest cheerleader. Thankfully, these memories and stories will live on in her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren for many years to come.
Sadly, dementia ran in the Johnson family, and Helen suffered the same fate. She started to experience memory loss as early as 2012, but with the support of Chuck and her family, she was able to live a very normal life. When Chuck died suddenly in May of 2020, Helen’s world was turned upside down, when she not only lost her husband but her best friend. Life forever changed. Later in 2020, Helen moved to the Lodge in Elgin Abbey, where she became a member of their family, receiving great support and care. Helen passed away, surrounded by family, on Wednesday, September 21, 2022, in her 89th year.
Loving mother of Randi Klages, Nancy (Shawn) Morrow, all of Chesley, Michael (Tracy) of Canmore, Alberta, and mother-in-law of Connie Beamer of Surrey, B.C. Cherished grandmother of Brenda (Ryan), Lacey, Adam (Hellen), Toni (Mike), Molly, Sadie, Kaitlyn (James), Stephanie (Chris), and great-grandmother of Hunter, Benjamin, Ava, Elsa, Ainsley, Sophia, Kayla, Silas, Nathan, Finn, Kalleigh, Greyson, Ezra, Knox, and Isla. Helen will be dearly missed by her brothers Glenn (Joan) Johnson, Curt (Peggy) Johnson and sisters-in-law Phyllis McNaughton and Ruth Milani. She will be fondly remembered by life-long friends Sheila and Don Cox (known to her children as Aunt Sheila and Uncle Don) and their family. Helen was predeceased by her husband Chuck, son David, son-in-law Tim Klages, siblings Inez (Don) Taylor, Agnes (John) Bennett, Russell (Lannie) Johnson, Bud (Charlotte) Johnson, Joyce (Jack) Graham, and her parents Peter and Martha (Crawford) Johnson.
A memorial visitation will be held at Rhody Family Funeral Home, Chesley on Thursday from 7 – 9 p.m. A celebration of Helen’s life will be held at St. John’s United Church, Chesley on Friday, September 30, 2022, at 11 a.m. Private inurnment in Chesley Cemetery.
Memorial donations to the Canadian Cancer Society or Alzheimer Society would be appreciated as expressions of sympathy.
The family would like to acknowledge and thank Dr. Chittick and the staff of the Chesley hospital for her care during her time in the hospital. A very special thank you to the amazing staff at Elgin Abbey Nursing Home, where Helen called home for the past two years. You kept her smiling. To all the staff, that welcomed Helen home for her final days and for your compassion, care, and support, words can not express how much this means to the family.