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‘When an old person dies, a library burns to the ground’

The amazing Helen Hample is gone. Last Tuesday, Jan. 29, at the age of 104, she left this earth. In conversation with a colleague who was a longtime friend of Helen’s, I learned of a message she received from another colleague, a professor emeritus of the University of Jamestown and alumnus of Jamestown College, who was confirming her passing. The last sentence of his message was this: “When an old person dies, a library burns to the ground.”  His words echo statements made about other Jamestown residents who passed, leaving us without their memories in times of need.

What was said about a library burning was true. How many people with a lifetime of experiences have passed away, taking with them all their knowledge and memories - and what a loss. But with Helen, many of her memories were spoken to friends, and they will try to pay them forward as they follow in her footsteps. Her obituary was in The Jamestown Sun and her memorial was last Monday.

It would be so easy to fill space with memories of this grand lady. Over her lifetime, she did so many selfless acts to help thousands. Like so many trailblazing female professionals of her era, becoming a career woman put her a few steps ahead of those who wished to do what she did, but were not able. She grabbed that gold ring and never let go. Her plan was to do as much as she was able, for as many as she could, where she was, with what was available.

Like so many who loved history and the written word, Helen strove to preserve both. As others did in our community, such as Mary Faith Young, Charlotte Hansen and Ernest F. Hubacker. All of these people helped to shape Jamestown. Other names need to be added, but these are near, or at the top. Helen believed every woman should have the same chance to go to school, learn and excel, as men. Her AAUW work was her tool to help build that legacy at her beloved college, the University of Jamestown.

Ernie, who died at 102 in 2018, fought in WWII and believed veterans’ rights were important.

Mary Young was Jamestown’s unofficial historian until her death at 95, in 2015. She was a walking computer. Without that spunky, history-loving lady, the 1883 Stutsman County Courthouse would be an asphalt parking lot today.

And The Jamestown Sun would be lacking had Charlotte not helped her husband, Gordon. She was another of those hardy North Dakota women, who, like the early settlers, was a woman before her time.

How wonderful it would be if we could have downloaded what they knew.

Helen Hample joins the many amazing people who are gone. Her classroom influence is seen in her students; her life history a model for women anywhere. The respect Jamestown has for her is enviable. May her memory join with those leaders of the past who left their mark on the ground we walk today.