Mary Helen Willoughby was born on February 26, 1886, in a log cabin in Punkin Hollow near Stanton, Kentucky. She was the eighth of ten children of Moses and Polly Willoughby. The family left Kentucky in 1887, when Helen was one, and travelled by train to Troy, Idaho. The family lived in Idaho until 1912. There was good land there, and they had a successful mixed farm with cattle, pigs, and chickens, which was common to farmers of that time. Everyone had to work hard. Helen always told the story of walking to school, usually barefoot, and having to watch out for rattlesnakes. One day, she came upon a rattlesnake and had to step on it, holding it down until her brother got a rock and killed it. She stayed in school until 1898, finishing grade 6, and then stayed home to help her mother tend to the household chores and her siblings.
Around this time, Helen’s older brother Will got married and homesteaded near Steele, Idaho. His neighbour was a handsome young bachelor named Jeff Goin, who had moved there from Iowa in 1900. The government had distributed homesteads taken from land belonging to the Nez Perce Indian Reserve; Jeff and three of his brothers, along with Will, had acquired their land this way. Will introduced Helen to Jeff when she was visiting his family, and after a short courtship they were married on January 20, 1903. Helen moved to her new husband’s farm and lived there until 1912. Their first son, Harley, was born in 1903, and passed away the next day. Their second son John Jefferson was born in January 1905, and passed away three months later. These were tragic times for the newlyweds. Their other children born in Idaho were Mary Ollie in 1906, Nora Ellen in 1907, Thomas Jefferson in 1909, and Margaret in 1911.
The Goins were successful and hardworking, enjoying their neighbours, friends, and family. However, getting supplies or hauling grain to the railroad required a 20 mile wagon ride with a steep and hazardous 5 mile descent on the way. It took all day to get there and back, and it was very inconvenient. Jeff saw an ad in a real estate paper for a farm for sale near Millet, Alberta, Canada. In early 1912, he came to Millet to look at the farm, which was was on the north end of town, close to Millet and the school. Jeff was able to make a deal with the owner, Mr. Coates, to trade farms.
In November, 1912, the Goins moved to Millet with all of their livestock, machinery, furniture, and personal belongings by train. Helen’s parents, Moses and Polly, came along and stayed for a year. Jeff got the title to the farm on December 24, 1912. The Goin family has now farmed this land for over a hundred years.
On April 17, 1913, their first spring in Canada, their oldest daughter, Mary Ollie, died of appendicitis. Three months later, on July 13, Robert, or Dick, was their first child born on the farm. Jeff always called Dick his “Little Canadian.” On July 15, 1916, another daughter, Edna Elizabeth, was born. Another son, John Henry (Jack), was born on July 10, 1918. Jeff thought his ever-expanding family needed an easier way to get around, so in 1918, he bought his first car.
Scarlet fever hit the area in 1920, and Edna passed away at the age of 3 on April 29, 1920. The Goins' next child, James Weston, was born on May 20, 1920; due to the quarantine at the farm, he was the only child of Helen’s 12 children born in a hospital. On July 25, 1922, their daughter, Helen Louise was born. Their last child, Miriam Ann, was born on November 10, 1925.
To feed everyone, there was a huge garden with all the staples a large family required. They picked hundreds of bushels of potatoes. There were carrots, beans, peas, turnips, lettuce, cabbage and more. The Goins had a basement cold room to over-winter their vegetables. In the summertime, they would take the horse and buggy to pick Saskatoon berries, raspberries, and cranberries. Helen canned dozens of quarts of vegetables and fruits in the summertime.
In the winter, they would butcher pork and beef. Some of the meat would be salted and frozen, but most was canned. Sometimes they would have moose or deer meat as well. They hatched their own chickens and turkeys, and had their own eggs. One of Helen’s jobs was to feed and water the chickens, and it is said that she could carry two five-gallon buckets of water at one time. Helen was small woman, only 4’11”, but she was strong and healthy - and fearless when it came to mice. Once, she opened the drawer to the buffet and a mouse scurried out. Without hesitation, she picked up a piece of wood from the stove and threw it at the mouse, killing it instantly. After that, she was nicknamed 'Dead Eye Dick'.
If they had a few extra chickens, they would sell them in crates to the local store and Helen would use this money for Christmas presents. Everyone would always get a book, as the whole family were prolific readers. Helen also sewed all of the family’s clothes. The boys always had home-made shirts and bib overalls and the girls had dresses. Helen got her material from the Eaton’s and Simpson Sears catalogs in big bolts. Dish cloths and pillow cases were made from flour and sugar sacks. In the evening, when all the chores were finished, the family would sit around the kitchen table and read while Helen would knit and darn socks.
While the men did chores in the morning, Helen and the girls would make breakfast, which consisted of fried potatoes, steak and fresh biscuits. By the time breakfast was cleared, dinner and supper were already being prepared. During the 1930’s, the household included immediate family, extended family, and hired men, as well as men passing through town looking for work who would be given a meal and a bed for the night. No one was ever turned away! They also gave milk to people who could not afford it. Their famous rhubarb patch was enjoyed by the whole town.
The children started leaving home to get married, and Jack and Jim went off to war. Things started to slow down at the farm. Dick came home with his wife, Emma, to run the farm. Helen and Jeff moved to a house on Main Street in Millet, next to where Leanne’s is today. Then, the grandchildren started coming - 28 in all! Jeff passed away in 1947, and only got to see a few of his grandchildren. But Helen spent the rest of her life doting on all her grandchildren. At least a few grandchildren would drop in to visit her every day. Many of them spent weeks during the winter with her so they could attend school.
In 1955, Helen had a stroke. In order for her to live in her house and stay near her family, she had caregivers live with her. Helen lived in Millet until the early 70’s. She then went to the auxiliary hospital, where she passed away in 1977.
In 1977, Helen’s grandson Garth was the first to return to Kentucky since her parents left in 1887. He found dozens of relatives still living in the Hollow. Since that visit, many other relatives have made the same trip to visit Kentucky, and many of their Kentucky relatives have visited Canada.