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Friday December 7, 2012

Helena Maria Schlumpf

Wife, mother, grandmother, woman of natural grace and authenticity. Born May 12, 1929, in Baden, Switzerland, died Oct. 25, 2012, in Burlington, Ont., from peritoneal cancer, aged 83.

Helen was born in the village of Fislisbach near Baden in Switzerland to Rosa and Albrick Wetter. The youngest of four children, she came along 12 years after her next eldest sibling, Margrit. The family lived on the second floor of a house her father built, with his machine shop taking up the first floor.

Albrick died in 1931 during a flu epidemic, and the loss led to emotional and economic hardship for the family. They were unable to keep the house, and moved into an apartment. Helen's brother Hans, then a teenager doing an electrical apprenticeship, assumed an important role in the family, helping to raise his baby sister.

When Helen was in Grade 2, she and her mother moved to the village of Wettingen, where they lived for four years in an apartment with no bathroom. They shared a toilet with the family below. There was a two-burner gas stove top, but no oven.

After Grade 6, Helen passed exams to attend the Bezirksschule in Baden, which would allow her to pursue post-secondary studies. But there was no money for further studies, and at age 16 she went to work in a household in Vesenaz near Geneva to learn French. While there, she became very ill with pneumonia and pleurisy. Without the benefit of penicillin at the time, she was admitted to hospital and confined to bed for four months, then spent a further eight months at a girls' sanatorium in the Alps to allow her lungs to heal completely.

After her convalescence, she went to Zurich and worked various office jobs. During a visit to England, she and her friend Ruth noticed a magazine ad from two Swiss men in Canada seeking to correspond with two Swiss women. Always open to interesting experiences, Helen began to correspond with her future husband, Otto, who regaled her with stories of his adventures in Canada. They finally met in 1955 in Geneva.

In 1956, Helen left the comfort and sophistication of Zurich to join Otto in Sudbury, Ont. She quickly adapted to the simpler setting, making friends in the local Swiss community. They married and had their first child, Greg, in 1957. In 1960, the family settled in Burlington, Ont., buying a home and welcoming two more sons, Ron and Mark.

Helen was endowed with a natural grace, beauty and simplicity, an easy laugh and an inclination for fun. She loved good conversation, and her animated chats in the Swiss German dialect with visiting family were especially entertaining. She was a wonderful wife and mother, and a devoted and ever-present grandmother to Christian and Mikael.

She was diagnosed with peritoneal cancer in March, 2012, and died Oct. 25. At her request, her ashes will be spread among the forests, wildflowers and pastures of Zugerberg, Switzerland.

Ron Schlumpf is Helen's son.

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