Beloved Linfield athletics matriarch Dorothy Helser passed away peacefully Wednesday, Nov. 20, in McMinnville at age 98.
Mrs. Helser, a 1936 Linfield graduate and widow of Hall of Fame coach Roy Helser '39, was a fixture at Linfield athletic events for as long as anyone can remember.
Dorothy and Roy held the distinction of being the first married couple ever enrolled at Linfield. Her popularity on campus led to her being selected as the 1936 May Queen.
Service arrangements are pending.
Dorothy's connection with Linfield was chronicled in a feature story by Starla Pointer that appeared in the May 3, 2008, editions of the Yamhill Valley News-Register:
Linfield College President Elam Anderson visited Dorothy Helser's church in Bellingham, Wash., when she was a high school student. He recruited first her older sister, then Dorothy herself to come to the McMinnville school, which he promised was on the verge of great things. Dorothy was 17 when she matriculated in the fall of 1932, right in the middle of the Great Depression. Room and board cost students about $225 to $250 a semester back then, she recalled; tuition was about the same, although the Baptist college gave Dorothy a discount since her father had been in the ministry.
"It was Mom and Dad's dream that all five of their kids have a college education," she said. Like most other students, she roomed off-campus, since Linfield had only a small dorm area on the upper floor of its main building, Pioneer Hall. She and several other girls walked to classes from Mom and Dad Arthur's house on Baker Street, near the First Baptist Church - coincidentally, Linfield's first location. To reach her school, she and her friends could go down Davis Street, crossing the Cozine on a bridge and passing the president's house, now education building Potter Hall. Or they could walk straight down Baker and take a shortcut via a footbridge that spanned the Cozine Ravine high above the water.
Linfield's first women's dorm, Grover Cottage, was under construction during her freshman year. Dorothy was in the first group of students who moved into the new hall. She roomed on the second floor with her cousin, Margaret. Dorothy recalled that they had a spat one day and Margaret threw all her clothes out the window, even her shoes. A house mother kept watch over the coeds, making sure they signed in and out, and that they came home before curfew - 10 p.m. most nights and 11 p.m. on weekends.
"Once in a great while they let you out until midnight," she said. Students who were caught crawling in the window because they had missed curfew faced significant consequences, she said - although she was quick to add that she herself had never been caught. The house mother also strictly enforced rules designed to keep the young women innocent: Men weren't allowed in dorm rooms.
"They could barely get into the lounge," Dorothy recalled, laughing. The rules, which applied to both genders, became even more severe as Linfield added more housing and most students began to live on campus.
The college's American Baptist founders would have approved: No drinking. No playing cards. No dancing.
"That's where Al Beeler's band came in," Dorothy said, recalling her classmate. Beeler, who later owned the men's clothing store, Hamblin Wheeler, played drums with big bands and swing groups.
"Al's band would play downtown, and we'd go down there because we couldn't hear that kind of music on campus," she said. Even though Linfield had strict rules, Dorothy said, students had a wonderful time.
"We had a lot of fun. There were so many student activities," she said. She recalled the sporting events, plays, May Day celebrations and other activities. She also mentioned the annual song contest, which is being revived for the May 9 sesquicentennial celebration.
"The nice thing about being on campus was that you knew practically everybody. It was a close, warm feeling," she said. Students often saw one another in Pioneer Hall, which contained classrooms, a theater in which many plays were produced, and the college dining hall. Dorothy served food in the latter. The dining hall had five or six tables, one of them reserved for faculty only.
Next door was a recreation room in which students played round after round of an innocuous card game - using a different type of deck than the banned poker-style deck, of course.
Classes also were held in Melrose Hall, built in 1928 and also housing administrative offices, a library in what is now the Jonassen Hall lecture space, and a new, state-of-the-art auditorium. A home economics building and infirmary, both no longer existing, provided additional space, as did the "Chem Shack," a science building that's now a dorm called Newby Hall. Along College Avenue, where the Dillin dining hall is now located, stood houses in which students lived. Failing Hall, another dorm, was built next to Grover about the time Dorothy graduated.
Dorothy enjoyed her classes and college social life. But she had no interest in sports - until she saw a handsome fellow student in his letterman's sweater.
"He had shoulders out to here," she said, holding her hands wide apart. "He sat down in front of me in class, and I said, 'Here's my man!'"
Soon Dorothy was "accidentally" bumping into the multi-sport athlete, Roy Helser. She hung out at the gym. She sat near him in class.
Sometimes she shadowed the windows of Grover Hall, watching for him to make his exit from his residence to the central part of campus. As soon as he appeared, she would pop out of her dorm and just happen to be walking the same way.
"Oh, I had a terrible time getting Roy," she said, recalling all her hard work. As spring approached, Dorothy gathered up her courage and asked Roy to her dorm's March Hare dance. "That's all it took," she said.
Soon they were inseparable - so much so, they were voted "Mushiest Couple on Campus" during their sophomore year. They decided to marry in the summer between their junior and senior years of college. Her parents gave permission; his parents did, too. But they still faced another hurdle: Getting approval from Dr. Anderson, the college president.
"I don't know what he thought we might do," she said, laughing now at how serious the matter seemed back then. Although the president allowed the newlyweds to stay in school, Linfield had no accommodations for a married couple.
The Helsers found an apartment upstairs on the corner of Third and Cowls. The four-bedroom space rented for $10 a month, garbage service included. It seemed expensive back in 1935, Dorothy recalled, but it was worth it. Columbia Market was just across the street, in the space where Harvest Fresh is now located. And the second-floor location gave them a bird's-eye view of everything happening downtown. To help pay the bills, Dorothy worked during her senior year. She corrected papers for the head of the language department. She also taught first-year Spanish students, such as Kenny Jernstedt, who, a few years later, became one of World War II's Flying Tigers.
That spring, Dorothy was the first married student to be elected May Queen, back in the days when the May Day celebration was an important tradition at Linfield. After they graduated in May 1936, Roy played professional baseball and Dorothy often traveled to his games.
"He had great stuff, but he was wilder than a March hare," she said fondly, recalling how the left-handed pitcher often threw equal numbers of strikeouts and walks. He played in Iowa, then returned to Oregon to play for first the Salem Senators, then the Portland Beavers. He returned to his alma mater in 1950 to coach baseball; later, he also coached Wildcat basketball with friend and classmate Paul Durham, and served as an assistant coach for Durham's football program. Linfield's baseball field now bears the name of Roy Helser, who died in October 1994.
Dorothy just calls it "Roy's field."
"I wish my husband could see his ballfield," she said, proud of the way the campus looks today. When her husband returned to college, so did Dorothy. She pursued her teaching degree, balancing her classes with taking care of their three young children, Dennis, Susan and Roy Jr. She wanted to teach Spanish to high school students, but McMinnville School District had openings only at the elementary level. Hired by then-Superintendent Fred Patton, she taught second grade at Cook and Adams schools for six years before moving to Mac High.
The Helsers moved to Lincoln City after he retired, and she finished her teaching career at Taft High School. They returned to McMinnville about 20 years ago.
Being "home" was a plus for Dorothy during Roy's last illness, as she was surrounded by his former players and friends who were a great help.
People like Linfield athletic director Scott Carnahan still make sure she's well taken care of. Approaching her 93rd birthday, Helser leads an active life. She teaches nondenominational Bible studies twice a week, reads like she's making up for lost time, and often attends Linfield football, basketball and baseball games. If a physical ailment threatens, she follows her late husband's favorite coaching advice: She walks it off.
Dorothy Helser '36
Director of Sports Information
McMinnville, OR 97128