Fascinating Obituary of Wappinger 93-Year-Old Will Make You Smile
Helen Parsons may not be a household name, but after reading her obituary I think she probably should be.
If I'm being honest, I've never been one to read obituaries. Unless it's a write-up about someone I personally knew, I'd usually just scroll right by. But after stumbling across the fascinating life story of a woman from The Town of Wappinger I've found a whole new appreciation for the obituary.
I'm not sure why I decided to read the story of Helen Parsons' life. I never met the woman nor did the name sound familiar, but as I scrolled through the events of her life I was truly fascinated.
Born as Helen Sutton in 1929, ten years before the start of World War II, Parsons attended a one-room schoolhouse that was located in Clove Valley. At the age of 13 she and one of her neighbors convinced her parents to allow the duo to go on a 500-mile bike ride to Rhode Island. Parsons raised $10 to fund the trip by picking blueberries. Earning just five cents a quart, this must not have been an easy task.
Eighty years later, this bicycle trip apparently still made Sutton proud. According to her obituary, she "treasured" newspaper clippings about the journey and the "great adventure" she went on.
After returning home, the young girl took a job picking bushels of corn and went back to school. At the age of 16 she quit her studies and moved to Poughkeepsie where she took jobs as a meatpacker for the Knauss Brothers meat company and a "sales girl" for the Wallace Company Department store on Main Street in Poughkeepsie.
Parsons was known to her friends by the nickname "Hi Hi." I would love to know the story behind that. Perhaps it came from her 31-year stint as a switchboard operator. At 17 she was encouraged by a friend to apply for a job at the New York Telephone Company. During her time working there, she met and married her husband Bill and was an active member of the Telephone Pioneers of America.
After retiring at 48, Parsons' life was just beginning. Before the Internet existed, she created her own social network. Instead of uploading TikToks and sharing links, Parsons would mail out photographs and newspaper article clippings to her friends list.
The Hudson Valley woman also began collecting stuffed animals and porcelain dolls. According to her obituary, Parsons and her husband had wardrobes for the dolls that they would switch out with the holidays and seasons. In the summer, neighbors would be treated to an outdoor display of Parasol Lawn Dolls the couple would put out in front of their home.
One of Parsons' biggest legacies is the World War II War Memorial she helped build at the intersection of Myers Corners and All Angels roads in the Town of Wappinger. in 1993 Helen, her husband Bill and his brother John helped commission and finance the memorial that still stands today.
Reading Helen's obituary, I wish I got to meet her. It sounds like her life was filled with some fascinating experiences. It makes you realize that everyone has a lifetime of stories that many of us will never even hear about. I'm not sure why Helen's story touched me so deeply, but hearing about the fascinating life of a woman I've never met has made me regret scrolling past all of those obituaries in my newsfeed.
If you'd like to pay tribute to Helen's amazing life, her family has suggested making a memorial contribution in her memory to Hudson Valley Hospice.