Helen’s parents Walter and Emilia were both born in Poland in the late 1800’s and later each migrated to America. They met in NJ through common friends and eventually married. In 1921, after World War I and having 3 children, Helen’s parents decided to return to Poland. This was short lived because in 1922 Emilia became pregnant with Helen and wanted to return “home” to America. Shortly after their return, on 12/21/22 Helen was born in New Brunswick, NJ.
In 1928, “The Depression”, Helen’s family struggled financially, as everyone did.Being the youngest of 4 girls, many of her clothes were (fourth) “hand-me-downs”. During this time Helen became very close with her father. She was with him constantly and learned a lot about mechanical things from him. Sadly he was killed in an auto accident in July of 1934. At the time Helen’s mother was 2 months pregnant with Helen’s younger brother Walter.
Helen graduated from New Brunswick High School in 1940. A short time after, in 1941, World War II began. Helen can clearly remember where she was on the day the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. She was at the movies when the movie stopped and the theatre manager came on the stage and announced that the United States was at war. Helen says that really changed everyone’s life, she was just 18 years old at the time. Helen says in those days you worked at any job you were lucky enough to find. As a result Helen worked for a shipping company, a sporting goods store and Mack Trucks in New Brunswick who got government contracts to make Army tanks. Helen was offered a job at E.R. Squibb (now known as Bristol Myers Squibb), however in war time employees were not allowed to change jobs if the companies had government contracts. Needless to say Squibb had contracts for medical supplies so there was a conflict. What to do? Someone knowledgeable advised Helen to claim “personal reasons” as an excuse to relocate. Helen found this was interesting. When you said “personal reasons” no one was allowed to ask as it could have been sexual harassment and no one dared ask. Helen joined Squibb in 1944 for $26.00 a week. She stayed with Squibb for 40 years and retired early at age 62. During the war years people would work 58+ hours a week, Saturdays at time and a half and Sundays for double time pay. According to Helen nobody minded working due to the fact they didn’t really have social lives since the men were all off to war. She recalls there was a lot of letter writing and received mail from the G.I.’s, some of which was censored– believe it or not! Helen admits they did socialize a little especially when the USO was formed by the local churches so there would be some interaction with the young women and the soldiers, sailors, marines and air force.
Helen also remembers the inconvenience of rationing during the war. She said that women had to stand in long lines to buy one pair of nylon stockings when/if they became available. Nylons were scarce because that’s what was used to make parachutes. You were only allowed to buy one pair of shoes per year and food and gasoline were also rationed. Practice Air raids were common and you needed to always be prepared, never knowing if it could be real.
Helen never married. Back then, it wasn’t common for single women to get credit cards, but Helen eventually did. By 1953 Helen and her sister, who was also single, bought a car together which gave them “freedom” allowing them to travel all over especially since the price of gas was as low as $ .25 cents a gallon.
Helen has seen the world, vacationing on every continent and making wonderful memories. It isn’t easy for Helen to say which was the most interesting and beautiful location but she would love to be able to return to Kenya and Tanzania where she spent 5 weeks in 1988 which included Helen going on a safari. She has a niece who is a missionary nun in Tanzania. “Sister Mary” has lived in Tanzania since 1970 and helped establish a girl’s school there.
Helen has been to such exotic places as New Zealand, South America, Hong Kong, China, Europe and Greece. She took her first airplane ride at the age of 9 and even had the experience of riding in a hot-air balloon during one of her many vacations in California. Helen lives in Monroe Township and is still active in her community and enjoys spending time with her family and friends.