• Frank Haight: Helen Kenworthy has a servant's heart

  • Helen Kenworthy considers herself “pretty lucky.” Not that she recently celebrated her 103rd birthday.  But because she “isn’t full of wrinkles like some people are.”

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  • Helen Kenworthy considers herself “pretty lucky.” Not that she recently celebrated her 103rd birthday. But because she “isn’t full of wrinkles like some people are.”
    The petite, blue-eyed woman with silvery-gray hair and infectious smile voiced that comment to Suzanne Pichlmeier, Helen’s cousin and power of attorney, after looking in the mirror prior to her milestone birthday. Then jests, “Maybe my eyes aren’t so good.”
    This remembrance is one of many Suzanne has jotted down over the years concerning Helen, whom she calls a “constant” in her life.
    “When she passes ... I figured I would put together a tribute on her life,” she says of the quotations and stories she’s gleaned from Helen, a resident of Maywood Terrace Living Center in Independence. Suzanne, though, keeps adding to those remembrances – from one birthday to another.
    Helen, who loves a “good party,” was treated to a birthday doubleheader this year. And she loved it. “I like to party every chance I get,” she chuckles.
    “Yeah, this is great. Let’s just keep on partying,” Helen tells well-wishers at one of her two celebrations: The first, Sept. 23 at VFW Post 1000, where she is still a member of the Auxiliary. The second, Sept. 24 at Maywood, where she lives an active life and strives to be helpful.
    Calling Helen’s legacy one of servitude, Suzanne tells of receiving a telephone call from Maywood last year saying Helen wanted to clean off a dining-room table following a meal.
    “Helen wants to do that, the caller says, “and we told her she doesn’t have to do that. How do you feel about that?”
    “Hey, anything that is positive has my blessings as long as she is not creating a problem, so let her do it,” Suzanne replies, explaining Helen has a servant’s heart, and clearing the table makes her feel useful.
    The third oldest of 13 siblings, Helen was born Sept. 24, 1909, on a farm in Carroll County, near Wakenda, Mo. She spent most of her childhood caring for her younger siblings and helping her mother with housekeeping, ironing, gardening, canning and cooking.
    “That’s what I was suppose to do. You were suppose to help your mother,” she quips. “Work doesn’t kill you; it makes you strong.”
    Growing up wasn’t all work. Asked what she did for fun, Helen drew a blank. To jog her memory, Suzanne asks if she remembers her parents clearing out a room in the farmhouse for square dancing.
    “Oh, yeah! Mother and Dad use to stand in the door and watch us,” Helen responds. “I remember that. That was years ago.”
    Then, without being asked, Helen launches into a childhood remembrance about how she and her older sister, Mildren, were responsible for firing up the stove every morning.
    Page 2 of 2 - “We slept upstairs and we could never figure out why, with so many brothers, we had to fix the fire while our brothers laid in bed,” she chuckles.
    Also evoking a chuckle was her recollection of walking to school with her siblings, and “a big bucket of lunch” they carried. Asked how far she walked, she quips, “It seemed like 10 miles.” But it wasn’t.
    With only an eighth-grade education, Helen became a successful entrepreneur. After settling in Kansas City in the 1950s, she purchased and operated “Helen’s Restaurant” “for a number of years.” The eatery was on Grand Avenue near the Kansas City Star building.
    Though cooking was her forte, Helen set aside her culinary skills and helped the World War II effort by making cockpit latches for B-25 Mitchell bombers at the American Aircraft Co. in the old Leed’s plant in Kansas City.
    Best known for her delicious food, canning and apple butter, Helen began cooking early in a Carrollton, Mo., restaurant, where a prominent banker recognized her talents and hired her to prepare delicacies for his numerous parties. Perhaps her last cooking job, Suzanne says, was at the old Independence Sanitarium. But she is not sure.
    Helen, whose only child was stillborn, survived all her siblings, as well as two former husbands. She also survived the worldwide Spanish flu epidemic and an ATA bus robbery in the early 1970s in which two men – one armed with a revolver – boarded a Kansas City bus and took money and jewelry from the driver and 22 passengers. Helen lost $18 in the heist.
    The centenarian is many things to many people. But to Suzanne, she is feisty, spry, witty, humorous and self-sufficient. But that’s not all. “She doesn’t have a lazy bone in her body ... and she will never ask anyone to do anything for her that she could figure out how to do,” Suzanne notes.
    Helen, though, sees herself differently. “I just live day to day like an old farm girl. I’m proud of it.”
    She’s also proud of her age and all her volunteering accomplishments in dozens of organizations.
    As she was telling well-wishers at her VFW party: “I’ll see you next year, if not before. ...I just keep plodding along.”

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