Helen Clarencetine Gillespie Hufford, 97, of Pulaski, died on Easter Sunday, her favorite day of the year, April 17, 2022 at her home, surrounded by the love of family and friends.
Born April 5, 1925, Palm Sunday, on the Back Fork of Elk River in Webster Springs, WV, she was the second child and first daughter of ten children born to Bertha May Baughman Gillespie and Clarence Ward Gillespie.
Helen’s name at birth was Mary Josephine Gillespie, but before the birth certificate was finalized her paternal grandmother, Mary Gillespie, voiced her disapproval, saying “Oh, please don’t name her Mary – every Mary I’ve ever known had a hard life.” So, for many months the child was simply called “Sister” until a proper name was decided upon – Helen Clarencetine Gillespie. It was obvious, though, that the County Clerk didn’t recognize Helen’s name to be a feminine derivative of her father’s name, and her middle name was recorded as “Clementine” in the official Webster County birth ledger. In years to come, Helen was always on the lookout for other girls named Clarencetine, with the thought that they could form a “Clarencetine Club,” but that was many years before the availability of internet searches, and Helen never found any other members for her club.
Helen graduated from Webster Springs High School in 1942, and is thought to be the last surviving member of that class. She was probably the youngest member of her school class, since she never officially went to the First Grade. When brother Eugene, two years Helen’s senior, started Kindergarten, she begged and begged to go with him. After Christmas, and with three more younger children in the household, her Mother gave in. But, when Eugene started First Grade the next year, Mother said Helen hadn’t had a whole year of Kindergarten, so she made her do Kindergarten a full year. When it was time for Helen to go to First Grade, the teacher said, “No way, Helen doesn’t need First Grade.” So, she skipped First and caught up with her big brother in the Second Grade. Helen always wondered if she missed out on anything by not going to First Grade – and if so, what might it have been?
Helen always had a loving and caring disposition, and upon leaving high school had three ambitions – to become a wife, a mother, and a nurse. She applied to and was accepted into the University of Virginia School of Nursing, but she had to wait a while before the School would have openings for any more students. In the meantime, she worked as a telephone operator, a department store clerk, and was employed at a hotel, where she became proficient in virtually every facet of the operation.
With the United States firmly entrenched in World War II, and a critical shortage of nurses in both the private and military services, Congress established the U.S. Cadet Nurse Corps in 1943. Funding was provided to greatly increase the size of existing nursing programs at colleges across America, and many more spaces opened up in the program at UVa. Helen finally began her classes at Nursing School in 1944, but her stay there was short-lived. After only about five months in Charlottesville, she was diagnosed with Rheumatic Heart Disease. While undergoing treatment there, her mother came to be with her, and rented a room over a local drugstore. While there, Mrs. Gillespie met Dulcenia Hufford, from Pulaski, who also had taken a room at the same place while her husband, Shirley Hufford, was at the hospital for treatment of a sciatic nerve problem. The two would meet regularly for breakfast, until the day that doctors told Helen her condition was not treatable, and released her to go home to West Virginia, with a prognosis of having only a few months to live.
The Huffords returned home to Pulaski, and Mrs. Hufford told her oldest son, Dean, that she had met a nice woman whose daughter was terminally ill, and suggested that he write her a letter to cheer her up. Dean was fairly shy, but finally wrote a letter that began, “Dear Helen, You don’t know me from Adam….” which he carried around for several days before mailing.
Helen proved the doctors wrong, and survived her illness, although she was bedridden for more than two years. Dean and Helen wrote back and forth during that time, and each visited the other’s home once, before deciding to get married. Against the recommendation of Helen’s doctors for her not to marry, the couple became Man and Wife on June 19, 1948 at the First Baptist Church in Webster Springs, WV. Helen moved to Pulaski to begin her married life, and doctors told her that even though she had survived her illness and had gotten married, she should not have children, as she would not survive childbirth. In September 1949, Helen and Dean welcomed their first child, son Tom, even though there were indeed complications for both mother and son, and doctors advised against any more pregnancies. A daughter arrived in December 1951, taking the “Helen Jane” name that Helen had dreamed of for her daughter years earlier, and making their family complete.
Helen loved God and her Pulaski church family. She grew up in the Baptist Church in West Virginia, but joined Dean’s church, the First Christian Church, upon moving to Pulaski in June 1948. She thought she would rest and get to know the people in the church and in town before getting involved in many activities, but she was wrong. Within four months, Rev. Francis Hume Scott persuaded Helen to establish and teach a Sunday School Class for the growing number of high school aged girls in the church. The class started with about a dozen girls, who named the class the Clarencetine Bible Class, in honor of their teacher. Thus began Helen’s streak of teaching a First Christian Church Sunday School Class for 65 years, with only two one-year respites, when a rotating system was observed to allow the teacher to be a student in the class. Her tenure as teacher of the Emma Byrd Women’s Sunday School Class began on October 6, 1963 and continued until March 17, 2013, when illness forced her to stop teaching.
Helen was very active in the Christian Women’s Fellowship, holding numerous offices at the local, district, and state levels, and held other offices of responsibility in the church, including serving as Departmental Chair in several groups. In 1974, Helen researched and authored a book, “Christian Women’s Fellowship – Then and Now, 1874-1974.” While focused on the work of women in the church, the book was also a history of the First Christian Church in Pulaski. It was updated and republished in 2010.
Helen served several years as a Deacon before being elected as one of the church’s first female Elders. On July 6, 1980, Dean and Helen served as Elders, the first husband and wife team to be at the communion table together.
She was also a long-time member of Church Women United in Pulaski, and served two terms as that group’s President. She was honored to receive that organization’s Woman of Valor Award, for long and loyal service.
Helen loved children, and her devotion to family and church brought many rewarding experiences, including leadership roles in Girl Scout Junior and Cadette Troops, and by foster parenting children in crisis situations through Volunteer Emergency Foster Care. She and Dean received the RSVP (Retired Senior Volunteer Program) Presidential Lifetime Award in 2004. The residents of the Boys Home of Virginia in Covington were very special to them, also, and they actively supported the Boys Home programs for over 30 years.
In the 1980s, Helen and Dean enjoyed providing summertime housing for minor league Atlanta Braves baseball players who were playing their rookie seasons for the Pulaski Braves. In later years, they enjoyed keeping in touch with “their boys” as some went on to Major League careers and others found success in other professions.
Helen loved to give. She and Dean spent many years working as Santa’s Helpers, throughout Pulaski and in surrounding areas, to make sure that no child was forgotten or overlooked, especially at Christmastime.
Helen worked with Dean to produce heirloom quality pieces of counted cross-stitched work, an art that he had learned in 1984 as rehabilitation therapy following an extensive illness. Over the next two decades, they made more than four thousand Chrismon ornaments, which featured gold and white monograms of Christ, for children at church and others across town and in several states. They helped children understand Christianity, as the Chrismons became a Christmas tradition for those who received the special gifts.
Helen loved her family, and took joy in the lives and accomplishments of her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. She knew two of her own great-grandmothers, one born in 1843 and one in 1853, who lived into the 1930s. As a youth, she listened to their stories, and passed them down to future generations. She meticulously kept notes and information about her family, but always by hand, not with the aid of a computer. She never had any desire to have a computer, saying “If I had one of those, I’d never get anything else done.”
Helen was predeceased by her parents; her loving husband of 57 wonderful years, Shirley Dean Hufford on January 10, 2006; a great-grandson, Lincoln Matthew Herman; four brothers and their wives, Eugene Harry Gillespie (Helen Gray), Edmond James “Jimmy” Gillespie (Nancy Cool), Elijah Bernard “Bunny” Gillespie (Aretta Summers), and Paul Felix Gillespie; two sisters and their husbands, Willa Louise Gillespie Varney (Bill Ray Varney) and Marietta Lucille Gillespie McCoy; a brother-in-law Rev. Robert Grayson Hufford; two former brothers-in-law, Chester “Cubby” McCoy and Jackie Lee Queener; a sister-in-law Beverly Campbell Hufford, a former sister-in-law Sue Pobst Hufford; and a nephew, Terry Lee Queener.
She is survived by her son and his wife, Thomas Dean Hufford (Nanette Lynn Peacock) of Marietta, GA, and her daughter and her husband, Helen Jane Hufford Herman (Rev. Glen Alan Herman) of Pulaski, VA.; two granddaughters and their husbands, Bethany Joy Herman Archer (Lucas Lee Archer) of Findlay, OH, and Sarah Rebekah Herman Kiesling (Jarrod Dean Kiesling) of Huber Heights, OH; and a grandson and his wife, Dr. David Matthew Herman (Lauren Ashley Castle) of Centerville, OH; eight grandchildren, Mackinaw Dean Archer, William Fisher Archer, River Thomas Archer, Jace Dean Kiesling, Cody Alan Kiesling, Trey Walker Kiesling, Sarah-Kate Joy Herman, and Malachi Luke Herman; two sisters and their husbands, Samueline Rebecca Gillespie Allman (Robert Day Allman) of Buckhannon, WV and Bertha Caroline Gillespie Cochran (Melvin Wayford Cochran) of Webster Springs, WV; her brother, Dr. David Marston Gillespie of Webster Springs, WV; a former sister-in-law, Frances Yvonne Row Gillespie Beal of Frostburg, MD; four nieces, Jennifer Louise Varney Sturm, Suetta Jean McCoy, Erica Sue Gillespie, and Susan Quinn Hufford Smith; and ten nephews, Jonathan Ray Varney, James Ward Varney, James Michael McCoy, Jeremy Ward Gillespie, Gilbert Vane Gillespie, Jack Perry Queener, James Scott Queener, Max Wayne Cochran, Robert Grayson Hufford Jr., and Timothy Brian Hufford; one cousin, Patricia Sue Gillespie; one cousin-in-law Carol Sutphin Golladay, and many other family members and friends.
The Hufford family is grateful to the staff of Medi Home Health & Hospice of Pulaski for their kind and gentle care of Helen over the past few months, and especially to her special caregivers Lori, Greg, Mike, and Tina, whose loving care helped Helen to be able to stay in her home through her illness.
The family will receive friends at the First Christian Church, 524 N. Jefferson Avenue, Pulaski, VA from Noon until 2:00 p.m. on Thursday April 21, 2022. Funeral services will follow at the Church with the Rev. Randy Winn, Pastor Timothy Moore, and Chaplain Robbie Vance officiating. Entombment will follow in Highland Memory Gardens, Dublin. Therefore the family requests that in lieu of flowers, memorials may be made to the First Christian Church, PO Box 1007, Pulaski, Va. 24301, or to Boys Home of Virginia, 414 Boys Home Rd., Covington, VA 24426.
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Arrangements by Seagle Funeral Home, Pulaski.