One of area's most respected educators turns 90

{gallery}/11_16_10/helen{/gallery} By Lenora Kell
Editor’s note: Mrs. Kell has been Helen Barrow’s caregiver for 13 years. She says this “very short” biography cannot begin to illuminate Helen’s love and commitment to children, education, community and her deep faith in God and fellow men and women; all this through a life filled with physical pain. There will be a celebration of  Helen  Barrow’s 90th birthday on Sunday, Dec. 5, 1-3 p.m at the Ashpole Center. All are welcome.

It’s time for another principal’s meeting in Southern Oregon; Helen Barrow will be the only woman in attendance. Not only is she principal of Little Butte Intermediate, but also Glenn D.. Hale Elementary; oh, and by the way, she can oversee the cafeteria staff, too. That was in the early 1970s. Helen would like to “do it all over again.” Her commitment to children, all of our children, and to the Eagle Point schools, is truly inspirational.

Helen was born Helen Elisabeth Frey on Dec. 4, 1920 at the Sacred Heart Hospital (Sisters of Providence) in Medford. Her grandfather was a Civil War drummer boy at the age of 14. He came to Oregon to fight in the “Indian Wars.” He was a contemporary and friend of Peter Britt. Having married a local girl he bought “school land” in Lake Creek. Most of the valley land had already been homesteaded or bought.

Another generation and Helen was born. Growing up during the Depression, without a father (Fritz Frey died of pneumonia, when Helen was 10 and long before penicillin.) She worked very hard to help Momma (Flora Wil Edler); carrying heavy water buckets up the hill from the creek took every ounce of strength a small frail child could muster. Her only brother, Harry, two years her junior, also took his responsibilities seriously. Helen says, “It was the end of childhood.” People took advantage of a widow with two young children, but others were kind and sharing.

Helen loved school and books, the wonderful sounds and smell were engaging.  By age eight, Helen knew she wanted to be a teacher. Getting the needed education was not easy. Boarding with a family, usually a wealthy one, was one way for single young women. Room and board in exchange for work often involved long hours cleaning, cooking, laundry and child care, leaving little time for study.

She received her teacher certification from Ashland Normal School (now SOU) in 1939 after eight quarters. At the age of 18, her first job was at Lost Creek School (South Fork)in Lake Creek where she had eight students in four grades.

Also in 1939, Ray Barrow came into Helen’s life on horseback and in 1942 they were married in California. He had been drafted and was in boot camp. Helen returned to Oregon where she found work at another one room schoolhouse near Phoenix. At Fern Valley School, there were 25 children in eight grades. Janitorial work was included at $5 a month. Helen chose to share her magnificent renumeration with her students and they were able to purchase skates to use on the wood floors.

Helen followed Ray to military bases before he was deployed to the South Pacific. She found work with the government (essential personnel). Between their two pay checks they were able to literally keep themselves from starving. When Ray was shipped overseas, Helen returned once again to Oregon. She had to support herself so she picked pears, but moving the heavy ladders was impossible. So she packed pears.

Finally she started getting substitute teaching jobs. At the same time she chose to sign a contract with Eagle Point (District 9). She never left. Ray came home in 1945 and they found a little house ,where Economy Lumber is now, to rent. Soon they were able to move to Eagle Point. Helen continued teaching and decided to continue her education. Many teachers and administrators had little certification. A “lifetime certification”was conferred after five years of experience.

Commuting to Ashland for years, Helen earned her B.A. and Masters. She was the first teacher in Eagle Point to do so. She had degrees in library science and school administration. She enjoyed her many Shakespeare classes with Angus Bowmer.  One memorable moment came when a fellow (male)student in advance administrative classes told her he “ felt so sorry for her because she was spending so much energy on something she would never use.”  Only men were hired in administrative posts.

Time passed too quickly and Ray’s health was failing. Helen and Ray decided to spend more time together so Helen reluctantly retired. It was 1977 and a low point for Helen because District 9 schools closed for lack of a budget agreement. Eagle Point made national news because this was the first time this had happened in the nation. Teachers left, others volunteered to give books to children.  It was a painful time for all. Helen says she can never forget the cold, dark rooms and halls and  the hurt and disappointment in the absence of children’s laughter.

Retirement found Helen elected to the District 9 School Board, where she served for four years. She has served on several private school boards and at the age of 90 is currently still on one. When someone asked her why she would wish to be on a board after so many years as an administrator, she said “I’ve always wanted to be in a position where I could tell the superintendent what I thought.”

The Eagle Point community has been “blessed” by the devotion and tireless energy of one of our best and most loved educators. Her enormous commitment to all of the children in our community continues to impact new generations of students. Many of Helen Barrow’s ideas, philosophies and innovations to improve our schools and help children are still in effect today. She would tell you, “It still hurts in September when school starts, I want to be there so badly.”

Join us in honoring Helen and sharing your memories with her and others on Sunday, Dec. 5.


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