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Helen Whitney

January 7, 1934 — July 14, 2022


Helen (Hesse) Whitney died July 14, 2022, due to a liver tumor. She had a well-lived life of 88 1/2 years, living independently and driving until her last admission to the hospital in early July. She was able to spend her last few days at home which was her wish.

Hella Dorthea Hesse was born on a Sunday, Jan. 7, 1934 in Bruex, Sudetenland, the German part of the present Czech Republic. Her parents were Franz and Ruth (Musil) Hesse. She spent her childhood during World War II in Bruex. After the war, when the Germans were driven out of their homeland with only what they could carry, Helen and her mother, father, and younger brother, Herbert, ended up in a refugee camp in East Germany. Here Helen was able to continue her education, after having no school for almost two years because of the war. During this time she developed a love for books, and she continued to cherish books all her life.

To flee Communism, the family escaped across the Iron Curtain to West Germany, hidden in a hay wagon after paying off the farmer with some diamond earrings. They settled in Usingen, near Frankfurt, where Helen received her secondary education. As "Displaced Persons" the family had a chance to emigrate to the United States. They acquired a sponsor in Butte, Montana, the Dr. Kroeze family. Helen's papers arrived separately from the rest of the family. It was decided that Helen should leave ahead of her family to be able to start college as it appeared it would only be a matter of weeks until her parents and brother would follow. So it came, that at the age of 17, Helen came to this country without her family, on a troop transporter loaded with many other refugees, across the Atlantic in the winter of 1951 with one suitcase "half full of books." Her parents told her to not talk to strangers on the trip and until the day she died she said she has yet to meet a stranger. She landed at Ellis Island where her name was "Americanized" to Helen Dorothy Hesse. She took the train from New York to Butte. Helen's parents and brother never did get their papers to come to America and ended up settling in Brazil, where they lived out their lives.

With the help of her sponsors in Butte, Helen enrolled at Montana State College, now MSU, in Bozeman. She lived with families earning her room and board and worked her way through college, graduating in 1955. There she met the love of her life, Wayne Whitney. Their marriage lasted almost 60 years until Wayne's passing in 2015.

Most of their married life was spent in Helena where Wayne had his architectural business, and Helen taught German at Helena High School for more than 25 years. Here they raised their three children, Joy, Mark and Frank.

They retired to her beloved Swan Lake to a house built by their son Mark, next to the cabin they built in 1956, which they started on their honeymoon.

Helen was preceded in death by her parents and brother of Brazil and her husband Wayne. She is survived by her daughter Joy Corwin (Bob) of Great Falls, her son Mark Whitney of Bigfork, son Frank Whitney (Toni) of Bigfork, and grandchildren Tyler Corwin, Kevin Corwin, Bayleigh Saechao and Evan Whitney. She also leaves four great-grandchildren, and numerous nephews and nieces, and relatives in Germany.

She had an interesting life and has written down much of it for her family and friends to read.

Cremation has taken place. There will be a celebration of life and a graveside service at a later date. Buffalo Hill Funeral Home and Crematory is caring for the family.

To order memorial trees or send flowers to the family in memory of Helen Whitney, please visit our flower store.


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