Like others, I was given strict instructions by Jean, of course, for this day.  My job was to help with today’s Celebration of Life and create the link to people in Jean’s life… Jean’s life was so rich and full.

Almost 10 years ago Jean was the recipient of a surprise 84th birthday party given by 2 of her dear friends Karen and Kay. You see Jean had mentioned she really wished she’d know who would be at her funeral.   

THAT was our Jean…



Very cleverly Karen and Kay secretly reserved the upstairs back room at  Piggy’sRestaurant.

Jean thought she was just going to celebrate her 84th Birthday dinner with the two of them until she was greeted by a roomful of friends in unison yelling“Surprise.” She was sooo pleased-

BUT rest assured, Jean noted who was not there. 

 THAT was our Jean…

That evening every guest stood up and introduced themselves to the room and how they knew Jean. I shared how when I moved here everywhere I went whether it was for any of the campuses ‘ events , cultural/social city events be it theatre or an art opening, I always saw this attractive, impeccably dressed older woman with beautifully coiffed white hair. I even spotted her my first holiday services seated behind us. So, when I eventually found myself sitting across from Jean on a minibus student faculty art field trip to see the Frida Kahlo exhibit in the Twin Cities, I introduced myself and told her how we seemed to frequent the same events and obviously shared similar interests. On that excursion I also discovered we both loved languages and travel.

And so our friendship began… That was almost 20 years ago.

Jean Helliesen as you know was a bright, articulate woman. Sharp as a tack into her 90’s. She scoured daily newspapers and would save articles for friends. Local, state, national and world politics were always topics to be shared. She also stayed in contact with the outside world using the computer for email until her sight began to fail her. Then friends and aides helped with correspondence. I was one of those.

We also were a great pair in our appreciation of food. Over the years I would share seasonal garden veggies, homemade soups / traditional dishes like matzo ball soup and halabkas ( stuffed cabbage rolls.)

And she shared what she made best,  RESERVATIONS.     

THAT was our Jean…

Whether it was a meal at one of La Crosse’s finer restaurants like the Waterfront /LeChateau, her list also included places like the Hungry Peddler and Subway, where the waitstaff at any of the restaurants she frequented knew Jean. You see her dining experience besides food was her relationship with the wait staff. She knew them by name and would request her favorites. Jean knew what was going on in all their lives.

THAT was our Jean…

As it became more difficult to go to restaurants due to mobility in the last couple of years we needed places without stairs so the closest were fast food places.

I confess: I introduced her to Culver’s chicken tenders and made sure Bethany St Joe’s freezer held Wendy’s Frostys for her.

Jean had a way of connecting with people. Children, uh, not so much- BUT Jean loved men. AND men loved her. It must have been that twinkle in her eyes. No matter the age Jean would comment on their looks. In fact, after one hospital stay one of the nice busy medical residents actually came over to walk with Jean around the block to help her regain her strength.

THAT was our Jean…

Jean could be very kind, sweet and charming. Yet, she was a strong woman who could be pretty overpowering. The frustration of losing both her sight and hearing took its toll… Visiting on a day before hearing aids were in/ working was tough-   

 I confess: Before heading into her room I would always check with her attendants if it was a thumbs up/ thumbs down day. Because when Jean was in one of her moods, no one was exempt from her wrath. Jean was never a woman to mince words… One knew exactly what she was thinking because she would tell you. As complimentary as she could be, there could be biting remarks. If anybody wasn’t in her good graces, you would hear about it.

There have been bridges burnt, rebuilt / maybe not.

THAT was our Jean…

I’m proud to have been part of Jean’s ‘posse’ of friends who looked after her and became her family. From her hairdresser David who would personally pick her up for hair and nail appointments, Andy’s friendship, a water aerobic class friend, who involved Jean reading with her 2nd graders, Nancy who included Jean in family holiday meals and constant replenishing Jean’s case of  soda beverage of choice – Diet Coke and Deb, a former student who took Jean to ‘all’ her medical appointments ( and there were a lot of those) and shopping endeavors which could last for hours and last but not least Kathy who besides shopping and correspondence was Jean’s “CFO” Chief Financial Officer who balanced her checkbook and kept track of all her finances.

Jean 92 '19
                                   Around Jean’s 92 nd Birthday table at Le Chateau 2018                                           starting on the left with Nancy, Jean, Andy, Deb, Kathy & me 

To her wonderful aides at Bethany St. Joe especially Janet and staff who took such good care of her along with our spiritual leaders Brian Searle and Rabbi Simcha Prombaum … THANK you all…

I confess: Jean, I ran a couple minutes over my 5 minute allotment.

I hope YOU all will join us later to add more to the Jean stories at our Condolence Meal at the Synagogue.

Rest in Peace Jean.

You will always be our Jean.

TO Read about Jean’s life click on this link:



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