Helen Christopher

by

Lori Bakken

Junior High Division

 

Helen Henrietta Christopher (known to many people as Pat)is the eighth child from a family of eleven children - seven girls and fourboys. She was born to Celia and Edward Conmy on July 15, 1892, in Pembina,North Dakota.

Pembina is where Pat received her early education. Whenshe began school, she was so small that her feet didn't even touch the floor.Her mother made her bring an old, empty cigar box to put under her feet.She still recalls how embarrassed she would get bringing that old cigarbox to school, but gradually, she got over it. In 1909, she finished herhigh school education. In that same year, she entered St. Mary's Academyin Winnipeg, Canada. Toward the spring of 1910, she was hospitalized withscarlet fever. A mastoid operation was then performed which caused the lossof hearing in her ear. After the operation, she stayed at home to recuperateuntil the fall of 1911.

Pat wanted to be a Home Economics teacher but in thosedays, Home Economics Colleges were scarce. Pat traveled by train to Menom,Wisconsin where she completed the usual two year course at Stout Institute.She started her teaching career at Minto, North Dakota, in the fall of 1913.Her four years of teaching there were enjoyable except for learning howto pronounce such words as szszys.

A few years later, part of the family home was burned anddestroyed by fire. Pat's parents were growing old and asked for Pat's helparound the house. Pat returned home for a few years. Again, her mother'syouthful spirit didn't fail! When soot blew off a half burned wall and fellon top of the food on the old range, she calmly remarked, "Add plentyof salt and pepper and nobody will know the difference."

Each day Pat had to drive the car, lurching over the olddirt roads to pick her father up after his day's work; checking, fixingand cleaning farm operations. She became deeply interested in local historyas her father pointed out historical spots on the way home, and her motheralways added the story of Minnesota Pioneers. Perhaps this was the beginningof Pat's hobby, Pembina History.

Later in the fall of 1919, her father became criticallyill with cancer, and from January 1920 until his death the next April, hewas bedridden and cared for at home.

Toward the fall of 1921, her mother suggested she returnto school. After three semesters at the University of North Dakota, shegraduated in midterm of 1922 with a Bachelor of Science Degree. She immediatelywent to teach at Grand Rapids, Minnesota. Her final stint was at Sauk Centerfor two years. While there, her sewing demonstration team won first placein Minnesota 4-H club. And then went on and demonstrated at the State Fair.Again, fate had other things in store. Her mother wanted her home again.But this time it wasn't for long, because she established her own home whenshe met Albert J. Christopher and married him in June, 1925. Their new homewas also in Pembina because her husband and his brother, Andrew, had establishedan automotive business there.

Later, the spring of 1950 brought the worst flood everrecorded in Pembina History. For five weeks, the Christopher's house satin water. The basement was full and for twenty days the first floor wascovered. The garage and $50,000 worth of John Deere machinery bought oncredit were in the water. The whole family pitched in to help. Gradually,order came out of chaos and business operated again. Later, their childrenfinished college. Pat's husband was elected North Dakota State Legislaturefor seven consecutive terms. Pat always accompanied him.

Business was becoming quite detailed as the years followedone another. Pat and Albert took stock of the situation and decided to sellthe business in 1960, when Albert retired. Pembina's boom still kept themboth busy. At that time, he was serving his thirty-fifth year as city mayor.There was never a dull moment for Albert and Pat.

In the year of 1966, Pat was entered as a contestant forthe Mother of the Year Contest. Pat didn't win but she was one out of eighteenin North Dakota. She did feel though, that the lady who did win really deservedit.

Throughout her whole life, she has been a very ambitiouswoman. Pembina people think of her as the "Spark Plug of Pembina."She has received many awards and has constructed, assisted, and directedmany worthwhile projects.

Pat and her husband, Albert, have stood together throughfire, famine and flood. They are proud of their community, the oldest inNorth Dakota and have great faith in its future.

Bibliography

Christopher, Helen Henrietta, Pembina, ND, InterviewFONT>

Christopher, Helen Henrietta, Pembina, ND, Interview