Helen Morgan’s story worth telling, long overdue

By Regina Villiers.  Originally published September 15, 1999 in The Suburban Life, added September 14, 2015.

Brownie and Helen Morgan pose for a rare snapshot in 1975 in front of their gift shop on Miami Avenue in Madeira

Brownie and Helen Morgan pose for a rare snapshot in 1975 in front of their gift shop on Miami Avenue in Madeira

One of Helen Morgan's stitched paintings shows she and husband Brownie's love of nature.

One of Helen Morgan’s stitched paintings shows she and husband Brownie’s love of nature.

If I worked for “60 Minutes” or any of the TV news magazines, I’d be fired instantly for not writing the stories I know or not following up on news that I’ve heard.

I know plenty of stories I’d never write, especially about friends who are shy about appearing in print.  This, of course, is a great impediment to my career or my winning the Pulitzer Prize.

One story I’ve sat on for years and years is Helen Morgan’s story.  I’ve known Helen and Brownie Morgan almost from the time I first moved to Madeira.  They are two of the really neat people of the world.  Both are talented and interesting, worthy of many stories.

I’ve written reams about Brownie.  Helen applauded that and encouraged it.  But when it came to stories about Helen, she put her foot down.  She would hardly have he picture taken, even with Brownie.

From time to time, I’d learn something about her that would send me scurrying for my pen and notebook.  But then, she’d clam up and insist no story.

There was the time a few years ago when Brownie told me Helen had served with the Red Cross in Europe during World War II.  I grabbed my pen.  But he told my I couldn’t write about it.  “You can’t even mention to her that I told you,” he said.

But things have changed.

Helen now lives in a nursing home after a fall, and their lives have changed.  Brownie lives on in their home at “Wildridge” in rural Brown County, but he visits Helen often and spends as much time with her as he can.  After I wrote about his 90th birthday party in April, he told me Helen had relented and said it was OK for me to write her story.  Then he shared with me her pictures, stories and a lifetime of memories.

Helen Morgan was born Helen Chapman on Feb. 17, 1908, the daughter of John and Florence Chapman.  She was a precocious, talented youngster.

She was musical and took organ lessons.  In high school, she got a job playing for movies at a silent movie theater at Prouts Corner in Price Hill.  It’s said of her that she’d go from a cavalry march to a romantic ballad in seconds.

That’s something I can see her doing.  She would have relished that.  Her beautiful piano still sits in their living room.

Helen graduated from college at the University of Cincinnati in 1929.  She was on the rifle team in college.  She started out in zoology, but switched to education-a lucky switch for children.

She became a teacher and must have been one of the best ever.  Helen had an uncanny rapport with children.  She never quit being a child herself and still has the most whimsical, childlike sense of humor.

While she was in college, she worked as a waitress at the Faculty Club.  During the summers, she went to an Episcopal girl’s camp near Marietta, which had been a stop on the Underground Railroad during the Civil War.  Runaway slaves would hide out on the third floor.

In college, she had extremely long luxurious hair.  When she had it cut short, the beauty shop made a big braid of it and fastened it on a comb.  After college, she bought a car, the first her family had owned.  She also became a teacher after college.

During World War II, she took time off to serve in the Red Cross.  She served behind the lines in Bavaria and in Eastern Europe, but she never talked about it.

And then she married Brownie Morgan and moved to Madeira, where Brownie’s family had lived since he was a youngster.

Brownie and Helen lived on Miami Avenue and had a gift shop in a small building in back of their house.  Their house and gift shop sat next to the house that is now the Earthen Vessel.  The drive-through to the Good Samaritan Medical Building is about the spot where their house and gift shop stood.

In 1975, they moved from Madeira to some acreage they bought out in the country in Brown County.  They build their dream house there and called it “Wildridge.”  They settled down to plant wildflowers, write poetry, paint pictures and dream their dreams.

Theirs must have been the love story of the century.  Each thought the other hung the stars and painted the man in the moon, and said so, to anyone who’d listen.  Helen, more articulate, was better at this than Brownie.  Their interests were many, and they did everything together.

I’ve written about Brownie’s poetry and his art, but Helen was an artist, too, in addition to her music.  But she executed her art in needlework and painted her pictures in stitches with threads.  Her works of art, many of them quite large, hang framed all through their home.  She signed them all in tiny letters in a corner:  “H&D M (with the year).”

Helen and Brownie did everything together.

Helen’s pictures did not come from kits or stitch-by-number.  They came from her fertile mind and her heart.  A scene would be something of significance in their lives, or she’d create and entire meadow around a single caterpillar.  Each picture was a story, as she’d explain it to me.

This is the bar-bones story of Helen Morgan.  It says nothing about her funny quips and stories, or her antics with neighborhood children.  It says nothing about

the millions of little ways she has added to hers and Brownie’s lives and to the lives of others she has touched.

She’s still doing that, I’m told as best as she can.

It’s impossible to put the life of Helen Morgan in one column.  But this is a start.

This stitched scene recreates a significant story in the lives of Helen and Brownie Morgan

This stitched scene recreates a significant story in the lives of Helen and Brownie Morgan