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Boise Voices

Boise Voices

Oral History Project

John Helmer

Mt Hood (0:16)

John Helmer

    I love to climb mountains, so I climbed 50 different peaks in Oregon, Washington and California. I used to say that if you can see Mt. Hood there every morning you have to climb it in your lifetime.

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    • My full name is John Helmer, Jr. and my father's name was John Helmer and our son's name is John Helmer III. And I was born on August 24, 1923 in Portland, Oregon. And I lived most of life on Beech and Vancouver, on the corner, one block from the Wonder Bakery.
    • Where did your father go to work and what did he do?

      My father owned a menswear store, and it was located in downtown Portland, on Broadway and Salmon. One of the interesting things is that he walked to work. Took him an hour. And then he took the streetcar home.
    • What businesses do you remember in this neighborhood when you were growing up?

      We had many businesses. We had three grocery stores within one block of our house on Beech Street and we had a shoe repair shop and we had an one ice-cream parlor--you know, where they served ice-cream.

      Did you ever go to the ice-cream store with any of your friends?

      Oh yes, and I can remember my mother used to send me with an empty pitcher--you know, that you carry water in--and we'd buy ice-cream and I would carry it home. We used to go to Phipp's Drug Store which was on Mississippi and Shaver, on the corner, and a Coca-Cola cost about 5 cents and a dish of ice-cream cost about 10 cents and a milkshake cost about 15 cents. And I used to buy from a meat market on Fremont and Williams. And in those days, the butchers used to buy all white long aprons. They always wore a hat because they were always inside and outside the refrigerators--the walk-in refrigerators--and there was sawdust on the floor. And we used to charge and pay for the food at the end of the month. And my mother would give me the money and whenever I paid the bill, he would give me a box of animal crackers, so I was always happy to pay the bill.
    • What was your favorite thing to do as a child?

      The favorite thing that I always liked was my bicycle. And I rode all over the city on my bicycle. And I delivered packages for the store, and I went on many bicycle trips out of the city, for half a day in one direction and half a day coming back in the other direction. My bicycle was my best friend.

      My first bicycle, I remember, my Dad bought and it was 17 dollars. In fact, I did so much bicycling in my younger days, in 1939, I was 16 years old, I was the State junior bicycle champion.
    • When were you lonely, what did you do about it?

      Hmmm...when I was lonely. You know, I liked to be alone so I was never lonely. I used to go hiking in the woods alone and go on bicycle trips alone so I never felt lonely being alone.

      You never felt lonely because your friend was your bike?

      Yes, that's right, yes. My bicycle was my best friend.
    • How is the world different from now and when you were a child?

      Oh yes, quite different--I think so many more automobiles. We played in the street a lot--played football in the street, baseball. Kerby street was our roller-skating street. It's a very smooth street. And we used to use to play roller hockey and adults would use it for roller-skating. And there would be hundreds of children roller-skating on Kerby Street.

      On the corner of Beech and Haight we would play softball, and then we played games like Annie, Annie, Aye-Over and Kick-the-Can, games like that. Have you heard of games like that?

      Yes, I have.

      Oh, have you?
    • What kind of conflicts or problems did you face when you were younger?

      Well, let's see. Sometimes I was teased, I was chased home by bigger boys. But I wasn't a fighter. My neighborhood boyhood friends, we never fought, the four of us, we played together.

      What were the names of your friends?

      One friend was Albert Rotu, his parents were from Finland, another friend was Lyn Degerstad, and his parents were from Sweden. It so happens that all of us became pilots during World War II. We flew different kinds of airplanes. And my parents, both of them, were born in Sweden. My mother was a farm girl and she came when she was 17 years of age and came because she wanted to be a nurse. And my father was a city boy. He grew up in the capital of Sweden, Stockholm. And my children have all spent a summer in Sweden, in my mother's old farmhouse.
    • What were your goals and ambitions when you were young? Which ones have you been able to fulfill?

      Of course, I wanted to be a pilot and I did become a pilot in World War II. We had six men on our airplane and I was the youngest fellow and I was the first pilot. And I loved to climb mountains, so I climbed 50 different peaks in Oregon, Washington and California. Beverly and I climbed Mt. Hood together when we were first married. I used to say that if you can see Mt. Hood there every morning you have to climb it in your lifetime.
    • What is the most fun day of your life that you wish you could go back in time and do again?

      I think the day Beverly and I got married was maybe the most exciting day.

      What do you remember about it?

      Well I remember it was a warm day. We were married in a church downtown. And we drove to the coast. We drove all the way down to California on our honeymoon and we took our bicycles with us on the car and we rode our bicycles in different cities on our trip.

      How long have you two been married?

      We've been married about 60 and a half years.
    • What is your saddest memory?

      Oh, saddest memory...mmm...saddest memory. Well, I really can't think of a memory that is so sad that I remember it.

      Do you have a happy memory?

      Yes, I think I have many happy remembrances. Conquering the mountains, that was very exciting to be on the top of a mountain, and to go on bicycle trips. And Beverly and I spent 18 months bicycling through Europe in 1953 and 54.

      Can you please describe?

      Yes, we got bicycles in England--Raleigh bicycles--and then we bicycled up to Newcastle, and then we went to Bergen, Norway and visited our relatives in Sweden and we spent the winter in Morocco and then we visited some islands called the Balearic Islands off of the coast of Spain. We went to the Holy Land and we brought home, to Portland, the first Volkswagon, and everyone felt sorry for us--it was such an ugly little car, the Beetle. But it was a wonderful automobile.
    • What was your favorite type of candy?

      Oh, I love chocolate. And I like Nestle bars.
    • If you could go to war and you had to, would you go to war?

      Yes, you mean, like today? Yes, if I had to. Yes, I would go. Naturally, none of us like war. We wish we didn't have it. And I think the military training is good for young people--it gives you discipline, you get goals and you get to continue your education. So a young person that thinks about the military--that's a good thought. Thank you so much for your time.

      And thank you for inviting me to come.
    John Helmer-remembered as a good neighbor.mp3 (0:15) How would you like to be remembered? Well, I'd like to be remembered as being a good citizen, and being a good neighbor in the neighborhood, and anxious to say hello as you pass people in the street.
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