Helen Crowley Anstead at 102

by her cousin Thomas R. Crowley, Crowley Clan Newsletter, March 2016

        Helen Crowley Anstead at 100 with her granddaughter Kate Hillman Urek

        Helen Crowley Anstead at 100 with her granddaughter Kate Hillman Urek

Helen Crowley Anstead was born August 9, 1913 in Ellwood City, PA, to James Crowley and Margaret Walsh Crowley the eldest of nine children. In her life she witnessed many events including World War II and the Great Depression.

Helen recalls that education was always a priority. When she was about four she watched the children walking to school and would sneak out of the house to follow them to school about six city blocks away. When she got there, she would just turn around and go back home. As far as she knows her mother never knew of her adventures.

When she was old enough to attend school, she got about every childhood disease there was. Between being sick and passing it on to her siblings, it seemed her house was constantly in quarantine, and she was again unable to attend school. She always lived in the city and grew up with electricity, but she remembers in the 30's when the Federal Government had the rural electricity program. She was in college when her parents got their first phone. "This piece of technology probably changed my life the most," she says.

The Great Depression affected Helen when she was in high school. "People lived with less material things then they do now, and they just did without," she explains. Her dad always had a job, and they were able to make do, but Helen remembers men riding the trains looking for work. They would come to the back door looking for a meal, and her mother would always feed them.

In 1935, Helen graduated from Mercyhurst College in Erie, PA with a B.S. in home economics including studies in chemistry, dietetics, & math. She also studied English and history while attaining a teaching degree. In Elk County, PA she taught home economics, history, and language arts. It was a very rural area, and the men were great hunters. She had a class of all boys because the school thought the boys needed to know how to cook when they were at hunting camps. With a twinkle in her eye, Helen says, "I taught them to make donuts and ice cream."  

While teaching she obtained a scholarship and was able to attend Penn State in the summer for further certification. Even though it was in the midst of the Great Depression, combining what she was able to earn, her scholarship, and help from her parents, she was able to complete her studies.

At Penn State she met Russell, her husband to be, who was from a family of 12. Because he was completely on his own pursuing a degree in agriculture, it took him 6 years to get a 4 year degree, "Once he finished, there was the war!" Helen explains. "He got drafted and was in for four years. It was a struggle for everyone. The war just went on and on and on. Russell was in many battles, including the Battle of the Bulge. It was also his job to write the letters to the families of fallen soldiers. He often did this while in the battlefield himself, carrying a typewriter with him." When the war ended in 1947 they were able to get married on July 4th! Russell had done some of his military training in Indiana, and thought that would be a great place to live.

He accepted a teaching job in Goshen, IN, where they lived for 2 years. A better job came up in Hillsdale, MI where they both taught. Three years and two sons later they moved to Alcona County, MI where Russell accepted a government job in agriculture. They were in Alcona County when their 3rd child, a daughter, was born. Eventually they bought a farm and Russell went back into teaching. He taught at Central Lake, Alpena Catholic Central High School, and finally at Alcona High culminating over 30 years of service. Helen taught at St. Anne's Catholic School in Alpena before her oldest son started school. All three of her children went to school there before attending Alpena Catholic Central. Helen taught over 30 years and retired in 1971.

It took Helen about five years to get used to the rural area of Alcona County. When her boys were about 7 and 9 one day she looked out the window to see that they had built a wagon and had hooked it behind the tractor. Not only had they then gotten the tractor started, but there they were riding on the wagon down the road with their 5 year old sister driving the tractor at full speed! "My stomach went in knots!"

Today Helen is healthy and busy at age 102! She takes no meds, and since retiring she has been active in her church, the Red Cross, the Visitation Team, Friends of the Library, the Historical Society, and she is a charter member of the Michigan State University Home Extension Domestic Engineers. She has a close family that loves to get together for weddings, baptisms, anniversaries or any occasion.

The photo above is of Helen Crowley Anstead at 100 with her granddaughter Kate Hillman Urek.

Peter Crowley