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Helen Moonen

Helen Moonen
Helen was born on August 24, 1908, the first born of Charles and Mildred Frost of Edmonton. She had a younger sister, Ruth, and a younger brother, Bill. The Frost family grew up in Edmonton and the children attended Oliver School. They had to walk a mile to school every day, as their father left too early in the mornings to give them a ride. Growing up, Helen, Ruth, and Bill were fortunate enough to have an ‘upright’ grand piano, which they learned how to play by taking lessons. However, Helen only learned enough to play the organ in her rural schools. On weekends, the Frosts would go out to a friend’s farm near St. Albert, tobogganing in the winter and racing in the pastures during the summer.
After Helen’s time at Oliver School, she attended McDougall School for grades 10 and 11, enjoying Math, French and Latin. She found English composition difficult, but took part in different literary programs which helped her improve. The spring before starting grade 12 at Victoria High School, Helen’s sister Ruth became ill with pleurisy. When she was not getting better, their mother took the doctor's advice and moved out to the Vancouver area to help Ruth recover. Helen went along for the summer. They stayed with a cousin of Helen’s father, George Morfitt, and his wife and two sons. Soon after, Helen’s mother found a place for them to live in North Vancouver. The girls had a fun summer in the Vancouver area. Helen returned home in late September and started school late, but that didn’t hinder any of her learning. At Victoria High School, Helen was involved in the Drama Club and went to the school dances in Sullivan Hall.
After high school, Helen attended Normal School in Camrose starting in September 1926. Helen stayed with Mrs. Oliver for $32.50 a month for room and board while attending Normal School. While attending college, Helen and her friends would go to the ski hill and slide down on tin signs, or they would go on hikes through the farmers' fields. Sunday always saw them in church. Helen graduated on June 3, 1927. That summer, Helen discovered Pigeon Lake while visiting a friend in Bonnie Glen and attending a picnic supper in Mulhurst. She was instantly infatuated with the lake. She went home and talked about it endlessly, and her mother made arrangements for the family to visit some friends during the July long weekend. The Frost family ended up staying until September 19, when the polio outbreak had been contained in Edmonton. During their summer at Pigeon Lake, Helen and Ruth would go to the dances every Saturday night in Ouimette’s hall. Helen met Henry Moonen on one such summer night. Henry courted Helen throughout the fall and took her into Wetaskiwin for shows, often picking up his sister or brother to take with them. Henry saw Helen nearly every Saturday night and Sunday.
Helen took a job that fall, teaching at Springhill School. Her first class was grades 1-8, with 23 students. That spring, some young boys found a garter snake and tried to scare her with it. Instead, she told them: "Lift it out and we’ll have a nature study lesson." The young boys were afraid to touch it, and so Helen had to, proving to the boys she was not a teacher to be messed with. Helen continued to teach at many different schools. She taught at Golden Spike School in Spruce Grove, Colchester School in Cooking Lake, Picardville School in Picardville, and finally at Millet School in 1966.
In 1931, Helen, Henry, Bill, and Helen’s mother were on a trip to Banff when the car broke down. Since they had to wait a while to have the car repaired, Helen and Henry decided to get married. They were married in Banff at the Rundle United Church on July 24, 1931 with Bill and Mildred as their witnesses. Their life together started with Henry building them their log house on their land. With the help of neighbours, friends, and family their house was finished. After they had cleared the required 10 acres of land for their homestead, they had their first crop ready to harvest. Helen would make the crew breakfast for 6 am, coffee at 9 am, dinner at noon, lunch in the field at 4 pm, and finally supper at 7 pm when they all came in for the night.
In 1937, Helen organized the Lady Tweedsmuir Women’s Institute to help farm women broaden their knowledge of nutrition, food processing, and how to help with the war effort. This was Helen’s first taste of community involvement. Her daughter Ruth was born on January 17, 1938 at the Royal Alexandra Hospital in Edmonton. On July 15, 1943 a second daughter, Jane, was born. During this time Helen was an avid farm wife. She gathered produce from the garden in the fall, canning the fruits and vegetables. The fresh fruit that was picked throughout the summer was often used for jams and jellies. During hunting seasons Henry and friends would go out and catch game for the winter months. Henry and Helen also raised chickens to harvest in the fall with the help of Helen’s mother. In 1950, Helen and Henry purchased 2 lakefront lots at Pigeon Lake from Leonard Graves. That winter, Henry hauled logs onto the lots from the north side of Pigeon Lake. In the following summers he cleared the bark off the logs of the tamarack and built a 20- by 30-foot cabin in 1952 using only an axe and buck saw.
Once Ruth started school, Helen started teaching Sunday school at Millet United Church. In 1946, Helen organized the Golden Glow Women’s Institute. Once both girls were in school, Helen became more active in the Home and School Association, being on the executive board for many years. As Ruth and Jane grew up, they were given many opportunities to develop their skills. They took piano and dance lessons, and also got involved in a sewing club. This led Helen to become a 4-H leader for both a garden and sewing club for over 10 years. In 1952, Helen and Henry’s nephew drowned in Pigeon Lake, and this motivated Helen to become active in the Canadian Red Cross Swimming Program. In 1953, 103 children were bussed from Millet to Ouimet Park at Pigeon Lake to take swimming lessons. This program was a great success and continued until 1967. In 1967 Helen was honoured by the county of Wetaskiwin for her contribution to the community through volunteering.
During the 1970’s, Helen saw a lot of changes in her life. She and Henry sold the home quarter to their daughter Ruth and moved into a new home across the road. During this time, Helen also had to have gall bladder and breast cancer surgery. Even before her illness, Helen had canvassed for the Cancer Society since 1961. Her recovery was long and slow, but the winter was full of little things she liked to do. Once spring came along, one would never have been able to tell that Helen had been sick. She was back to her old self and began doing all her old activities. Helen had a keen interest in gardening and she became a charter member of the Alberta Lily Society in 1985. At this time, she began a campaign to get Highway #616 paved. She held organizational meetings with farmers and county officials at Porto Bello School. Because of her persistent petitions, the residents finally saw the highway paved in 1987. She was also an active member in the Wetaskiwin Horticulture Society and would host strawberry teas during the summer. She would bake strawberry shortcake for her guests to enjoy and continued this tradition until her 89th year. Helen was an active member every Sunday at the Millet United Church. She would often bring her cinnamon twists or buns for fellowship or church suppers.
Helen was very involved in the creation of the Millet Museum and the Millet & District Historical Society. She felt it was important for Millet to have a museum and seniors' apartment. Helen played a vital role in securing government funding for the Society's projects. Helen and other volunteers also set up a table at the weekly Farmers’ Market to sell fresh baking and crafts. In the end, the Town of Millet donated space to create the museum and her dream of Millet having a museum came true.
Helen lost Henry in 1988 due to illness but continued to keep busy. She made quilts for her grandchildren, and kept up with her gardening. When Communities in Bloom started in Millet, Helen was happy to help, and she was a faithful supporter. Helen was also on the phone committee for many years. Helen helped to teach adults to read and was involved with PALS from 1988-2000, teaching at least 2 students a week. In 1999, Helen was thrilled to receive a clock plaque from the Millet and District Chamber of Commerce in honour of her Lifetime Community Contribution.
As Helen got older and her health deteriorated, she had to give up her car and move into Millet. As her arthritis progressed, she lost much of her independence. Being an independent woman all her life, this was a hard reality for Helen to accept. However, she never missed an outing and she continued with her volunteer work. Helen only spent a year at John A. Smith Manor in Millet and in 1998 moved to Peace Hills Lodge in Wetaskiwin. She stayed active in the Lodge, getting involved in recreation activities and volunteering with the Pioneers Association. Even her PALS students continued to visit weekly. Helen celebrated her 92nd birthday in 2000 at the lodge before passing away later that year.
Helen Frost Moonen will forever be remembered for her contributions to the community of Millet.