Helen Frances White:
The Helen White Story
22 Feb 1906 - 16 Aug 2002
August 18, 2002
Tonight I will tell you about one of your great-grandmothers.
Helen Frances was the fourth of four children born to William Wesley and Anna Adelaide Nicklas White, February 22, 1906, on the White family farm near Apple River, Illinois. She followed Wilbur, born in 1900; Dorothy Ellen, 1902; and Phillip, 1904.
When Helen was two years old, her mother developed neuritis in her face and was advised to go to a warmer climate. And so the family moved to Virginia where they bought two farms at Midlothian, near Richmond. The children soon turned yellow from malaria, but they all survived it.
Helen’s dad was a clever and inventive person. A favorite memory was of the merry-go-round he made for the children out of a wagon wheel.
Another favorite play activity for Helen and her sister was to make dolls out of the empty thread spools. Any old scrap of fabric would do to dress them. Here's how Helen's sister Dorothy described the spool people. "They were just spools that our imagination gave heads, arms, legs, and faces. Mother sewed, so we had the use of many empty spools. We dressed them in bits of cloth. Spool families would visit one another."
Wesley White was also a great reader and stressed the value of education to his children. The Reader’s Digest was one dependable source of reading material the White's had in their home. From her father Helen developed a love of reading. Two of her favorite books from childhood were David Copperfield and Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm.. After dinner each evening the whole family would sit around the dining room table and read or do homework.
Aunt Dorothy writes about school days in Virginia. "After fourth grade we went by horse-drawn schoolbus to a consolidated school. I remember that a neighbor boy just didn't want to go to school, and he didn't have to go."
Later she writes about high school. "Some of us near Richmond, Virginia went to high school via train. We had a whole train society. The conductor would come through the car punching holes in our tickets. He might call out, 'Tickets, tackets, and pocket books!' Besides the school children there were college students and men and women who commuted to their jobs.'"
When Helen was 17, her mother, Phillip, and Wilbur went to New Mexico because Wilbur had TB and the wet Virginia climate was bad for him. Wilbur died there of TB in 1923. Mrs. White refused to come back to Virginia, so the family was forced to sell their nice farm and move to New Mexico where it was extremely hard for Wesley to make a living. In retrospect Helen realized it was a blessing the family moved to the southwest because both she and Phillip had developed TB though no one knew at the time.
The Whites lived right on the border of New Mexico near El Paso, Texas. Helen completed her senior year of high school at a huge high school in El Paso.
When Helen graduated from high school, she wanted to marry a boy her parents disliked. They offered her a chance to go to college in Platteville, Wisconsin, so off she went to Platteville which is quite near Apple River, Illinois, and Helen was close to many White and Nicklas family members. Her Aunt Annie White was especially helpful in paying for school expenses, as was Aunt Eva Nicklas.
After getting her teaching degree from Platteville Helen began teaching in Waukegan, Illinois in 1929. At first she lived in the YWCA where they had very strict curfews. She was teaching 2nd grade at Whittier School in 1933 when she began boarding with the Stevens family on Utica Street and soon after that began dating Flora Stevens’ son, Harold. On their first date they rode the North Shore Line, an electric train, to Chicago to see a hockey game. It was the Depression. Harold did not have a good enough job to support a wife, so, they dated for five years. During that time they went to see every movie that came to town for 15 cents a show. Finally, Harold got a job at Abbott Laboratories allowing the couple to marry on January 1, 1938 at the Stevens’ home in Waukegan.
After the marriage Helen was allowed to keep her job only until June, because at that time in Waukegan married women were not allowed to hold teaching jobs. When June came they both lost their jobs.
In September Helen got a job teaching at Spaulding School which was outside the Waukegan district and had different rules. She was given a class of 47 first and second graders. At home she had a husband plus two roomers to cook and clean for. Life seemed very hectic.
Meanwhile Harold got a job at the TB Sanitorium. His boss suggested he bring his wife in for a screening. It was then discovered Helen had had TB in both lungs. After that Harold insisted his wife take life a bit easier which became more possible as Harold was once again employed by Abbotts and became the Paymaster.
Paul Robert arrived on April 6, 1940 and Lois Marie on June 19, 1942. Their family was complete.
Their first home was an apartment on Sherman Place where Paul was born. They moved to 1501 Ridgeland, where Lois was born, and then to 22 N. Butrick. In 1946 they purchased a large Dutch colonial at 28 N. Elmwood for $13,000.
Many consumer goods were in short supply during war time. The Stevens were not able to purchase their first car until 1946. But they were the first family in the neighborhood to have a TV. If the shade was up on the back door it meant it was OK for neighbor kids to come and watch. And come they did! It was not unusual in the afternoons to have the living room carpeted with children watching Howdy Doody.
Helen was always a gracious hostess to her children’s friends. Whether it was 30 neighborhood children watching TV or a friend needing a place to wait after school ‘til working parents could pick her up (Dianne), it was fine. If Lois happened to bring a new friend home from camp who wanted to stay for a week, no problem. If 40 kids from church needed a home to serve the entree for the youth group’s Progressive Dinner, well the more the merrier! You could count on the Stevens’ home to be warm and welcoming.
Paul was a sickly child and spent as much time out of school as in school in the days before widespread use of penicillin. During those times Helen, who was a stay-at-home mom, would read to him and help him memorize poetry. Among their favorites were poems by James Whitcomb Riley and Eugene Field. These have been passed on to grandchildren and now, to great grandchildren
In the spring of 1955 Harold became ill. His doctor put him in the University of Chicago Billings Hospital. Three weeks later he was dead from pancreatic cancer and Helen was left with two children.
Because of life insurance, there was no immediate financial peril. Helen went back to school at Roosevelt University in Chicago to earn her Master’s degree and bring her teaching credenntials up to date. She then returned to teaching and taught at Clearview Elementary until her retirement in 1967.
On July 19, 1957 she married Alvar Romppainen, a man of Finnish descent who worked for Ammco Tools. He and his brother Arvo had been roomers with the Stevens family. They sold the Elmwood home and bought a smaller house at 1818 Monroe in 1963.
Helen thoroughly enjoyed life after her retirement. She engaged in many social activities and hobbies. She sewed for herself and her family and for friends who had troubles getting things to fit. She did upholstery. She played bridge. She took up oil and watercolor painting and created many works treasured by her family including several renditions of the family farm in Apple River. She was an active member of the First Christian Church and the Waukegan Women’s Club. She was a volunteer with the Victory Hospital Auxillary. Her grandchildren fondly remember their visits to “Nana’s” house where she kept a room just for them, well stocked with toys and dress-up clothes. One of her favorite activities with grandkids was a trip to the library.
When Al died very suddenly of a heart attack on August 28,1987, Helen abruptly sold her house and moved into a retirement home in Vernon Hills, IL. She stayed only one month because she was so miserable and disoriented. Lois helped her relocate to an apartment at 520 N. Genesee Street, Waukegan, where she had several old friends. With Lois’s steadfast support she lived there independently until after her hip replacement surgery in 1992 when it became apparent she needed full time support. That was when the wonderful Lucy was discovered and became her full-time live-in caregiver. Lucy stayed with Helen until her death, August 16, 2002, including over four and a half years of care when Helen was totally bedridden.
That's the story of you great grandmother Helen Frances White, She was an intelligent, industrious, talented, independent-minded, and resourceful woman. From her birth family she inherited a strong sense of family, a love of books and learning, and a practical and inventive approach to solving lifes problems. She acquired a college education long before it was the norm for women to do so, and she used her education to support herself before her marriage to Harold, and after his death, to support her children and herself. She made her home a welcoming haven for her children and their friends and her grandchildren. She lived through TB , the Depression and World War II, and outlived two husbands. She was a good teacher, wife, mother, and person. We can be very proud to have Helen Frances White in our family tree.
Here is how you are related to her. Helen Frances White was the mother of Paul Stevens. Paul Stevens is the father of Dawne Stevens. Dawne Stevens is the mother of . . . .Guess Who! So Hooray for Helen Frances White!
Ronppainen, Andrew O age 36 m imm 1905 Fin Fin Fin Farmer - general
Lizzie wife 29 1893 same
Arnie son 11 MI Fin Fin
Arvo son 4 9/12 same
Alvar son 2 3/12 "
Line 66 704 Mott Ave.
Romppainen, Andrew head rent $40/mo 44 m.age 21 Fin Fin Fin imm 1903 Pa Occ: Laborer - steel mill
Elizabeth wife 39 17 same 1893 Pa
Arvo son 15 MI Fin Fin
Oliver son 12 same
Virginia dau 7 "
Ethel dau 2 8/12 "
Matero Brita mother-in-lkaw 76 wd 1893 Na
line 33; Dwelling # 145, Family # 145
White, Wesley age 44 married 11 yrs - Farmer
Adalaid 37 11 4 children born 4 children living
White, Wesley W head own mort age 55 yrs IL IL Isle of Mann, Eng General Farmer
Anne A. wife 47 WI Pa Germany
Wilbur L. son 19 IL IL WI
Dorothy E dau 18 same Artist working for wage at painting and
Philip L. son 16 "
Helen F. dau 13 "
Line 79; dwelling # 73; Family # 75
White, Wesley W. - home is owned, value $350 65 yrs old - age at 1st marriage 34 - Farmer
Addie 57 26
Philipp 26 - Farm Laborer
Dorothy 28 - *Stenographer at a furniture store
Helen 24 - Public school Teacher
*Dorothy indicates she has been unemployed for 3 months.
Name: Helen Stevens
Estimated Birth Year: abt 1911
Marital status: Married
Relation to Head of House: Wife
Home in 1940: Waukegan, Lake, Illinois
Map of Home in 1940: View Map
Street: Sherman Pl
House Number: 204
Inferred Residence in 1935: Waukegan, Lake, Illinois
Residence in 1935: Same Place
Resident on farm in 1935: No
Sheet Number: 2A
Attended School or College: No
Highest Grade Completed: College, 3rd year
Weeks Worked in 1939: 0
Income Other Sources: Yes
Neighbors: View others on page
Household Members: Name Age
Harold Stevens 31
Helen Stevens 29
Revised: November 26, 2016