Birds have gathered outside of Helen 'Tot' Hill's Lakeview Health Care room ever since her son Harold W. brought her a bird feeder. She enjoys watching the birds whom sometime put on a show for her for enjoyment. Sometimes they fight, sometimes they all gather together and eat.
A son (Harold), sister (Delilah Hutchinson) and cousin (Betty Humprhreys) gathered around her Monday morning to share memories as Helen approaches 100. Helen often talked about her fond childhood memories going to a country school near Fayette where she grew up. She spoke of World War II of which her husband, Harold S. Hill served in. She also spoke of raising her children and the hard work and accomplishments throughout her life. Her son, though, described her as a lady who was very independent, who would do any task that needed completed.
Helen was born on June 30, 1913 to Jesse and Ada Lusby of Fayette.
Helen described walking two miles to attend Lebanon school through a pasture, located northeast of Fayette.
"We were afraid when the bull was there so we would have to go around," Helen said.
Helen's cousin Betty remembers when she came to stay with her and her parents (Lee and Pencelah Crews of Fayette). Betty being much younger than Helen, said Helen often times would comb her hair or curl it.
"She was like a mother to me," Betty said.
When Helen met Harold S. Hill of Boonville, much of the courting was done at the Crews' residence since Helen was often with Betty.
In June of 1941, Helen married Harold. They settled at 203 Third Street. Helen soon got a job at the Selwyn Shoe Factory, located on First Street near the Boonville Katy Depot.
The Hills welcomed a son, Harold W. to the family.
"When my son Harold was two and a half months old, my husband went to war for two and a half years," Helen said.
While her husband was off at war, Helen would often ride the bus to Fayette to visit her parents. She also wrote Harold every day. She explained when mail call came, the soldiers would often not go to receive mail because they knew Harold would be the only one getting mail.
When the war ended Helen along with her son traveled to her parents house where tears of joy were shared.
"My sister and her husband were just starting out, they went to Kansas City because my sister thought her husband would have to go to war too but he didn't have to go," Helen explained.
Harold soon came back to Boonville to be reunited with his wife and to be reunited with his son who was a little older.
"When Harold came back, Harold just stood back and looked at our son," Helen said.
Page 2 of 3 - In the 1940's Helen created a side business where she did alterations and ironing for individuals around Boonville. Betty said she could look at any dress and re-create it.
"I always liked to sew of which I got from my mother and grand mother," Helen said.
"She had two to three stores in Columbia who purchased their cloths here in Boonville so my mother could do the alterations," Harold W. said. "She would run us boys out of the house when ladies would come over so she could do alterations on some of their cloths."
He said for 20 years Helen did not raise her rates. In addition to the sewing and creating cloths for other people Helen crafted most of her own cloths as well.
Gardening was a staple in the family. With three gardens around Boonville, even one located on Water street, which on occasion was overtaken by flood waters from the Missouri River, Helen was always busy maintaining the gardens. She often put her sons to work in the gardens, either by pulling onions or hoeing. Once the vegetables were harvested, Helen along with her sister, Delilah and cousin Betty canned all the produce.
Harold W. said the family was very close, especially the sisters. He said the family outings and gatherings were very large.
"The family was like glue. You could not separate that," he said.
Since 1953 Helen has been a devout member of the Nelson Memorial Methodist Church. Harold W. said if the car could not make it to church because of the weather, she would travel by foot in ankle deep snow.
At age 90, Helen was very active in gardening. She would use the tiller, plant and do what was necessary to keep her 100x100 foot garden up to shape.
"My son (Helen's grandson) came down and saw mom, his grandma, tilling the garden. My son had a fit because he did not believe his grandmother should be tilling the ground. He began to till, but the problem was that he had never run a tiller before. So the tiller ran him all over the garden. Tim said to me if I have ever seen my mother on her knees laughing so hard," Harold said.
A year later, Helen gave up her tiller and donated it to a museum in Kansas City because it was an Aaron Series One tiller from 1948.
Helen has faced a number of hardships through her life as well including the loss of two children. Helen lost a daughter, Janet Danae Hill at birth and a son, Stanny Dale Hill, from complications of a motorcycle accident at age 28.
On June 30, family and friends will gather at Lakeview Health Care, located on Ashley Road in Boonville to celebrate with Helen. The celebration will be between 2-4 p.m. at the main dining room of the facility.
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