OROVILLE — Her life is a rich quilt, not unlike the ones she creates to donate to raise money for various causes and events, perhaps that’s why Elva Helm was selected as this year’s May Festival Grand Marshal.
Helm grew up in the Molson area on her family’s farm, part of the Rise family that is well known in the Okanogan Highlands. She graduated from Molson High School, in one of the last few classes to do so before the Molson kids were bussed t0 Oroville to attend school.
Her parents were Ed and Doris Rise and she came from a family of six children. Her father was a farmer and her mother kept house, she said. The kids kept busy on the hill doing chores, although she says she never had to milk the cows.
“We had to pack water, feed the chicken, get eggs…. things like that,” she said. “The last 15 years dad drove school bus and worked in the school kitchen in Oroville.”
Her mother was a “housekeeper, gardener, sewed, canned and did everything. She was well-rounded and also played the piano,” she said.
Helm recalls when she first started going to school at Molson she and her siblings had to walk a mile to catch the school bus, sometimes through deep snow drifts. Later, though, they started catching the bus at Loe’s and only had to walk a quarter-mile.
In 1958 she married Delmar Helm who was from the Havillah area and they moved to Omak for five years where he worked for the Biles-Coleman sawmill. Her husband also helped out his dad after her father-in-law had broken some ribs.
Following a year working with his father her husband got on with the county in the Public Works Department, said Helm, who recalls how she and her husband worked on the county commissioners and the head of public works to get them to take him on.
Helm said she took the Civil Service test and about five years later applied for a job at the Tonasket Post Office.
“I went to work at the Post Office in 1968, then we moved to Oroville in 1969,” said Helm. “I worked at the Tonasket Post Office for 10 years and filled in at the Oroville Post Office for two months. Then I got the Postmaster job at Wauconda and worked there for 20 years, all the time still living in Oroville. I had no idea it would be a lifetime career. I thought I was going to work a few years and get out before Delmar retired.”
“I only had a couple of close calls in all those years, once was some black ice where the car ended up rolling on its side. The other time was when I was driving to Wauconda and I saw two bright lights and the next thing I knew I had one fork of a hay bailer sticking in the bumper and the other in the side of the car.”
While she had some other minor run ins with snow heading for the post office up Highway 20, she worked 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and it was after the state snowplow had already cleared a path for her journey.
When asked about her hobbies, she says she likes to play the piano, and can often be seen playing at events held at the Molson Grange. She also likes to sew, especially quilts — she donates a quilt to be raffled off in support of the “Molson Fun Day” each year. She also makes pillows to raise money for the Oroville Scholarship Foundation.
In addition, she compiles historical books. Perhaps one of her most recognizable accomplishments, was a collaboration with the late Henry Colbert on “All Roads Lead to Tonasket.” She followed up by helping on several other books in between she says, most dealing with the history of the region. Her latest three books are available at several locations in the county. “The Poland China Mine: North Fork of Mary Ann Creek and Surrounding Area, 1896-1939” contains information and photographs collected by Barbara Dart and other area sources. “Highland Railroad Echoes: Great Northern Railway 1905-1936” is a pictorial history of the railway between Marcus, Washington and Princeton B.C. with a focus on Molson west to Chopaka and east to Chesaw. She did that in collaboration with the Molson Museum Association. The third, is “Historical Short Stories Gleaned from the Archives of Okanogan County.” It recounts the Native Americans, Fur trappers, missionaries, mining, cattlemen and settlement of Okanogan County, as well as homesteaders, steamers, freighting, trading posts and towns, and much more.
Needless to say, she belongs to the Molson and Okanogan County Historical Society. She also belongs to the Lutheran Church.
Delmar and Elva raised three children in Oroville on the south end of town — Brad, Greg and Marcia, and she has several grandchildren and is a great-grandmother as well. One of her granddaughters, Narya, served as May Festival Queen two years ago. During the parade this year’s Grand Marshal will be riding in her son-in-law Ed Naillon’s pickup. He and Marcia are Narya’s parents.
The couple moved to a house just south of Oroville on County 7 for awhile and even spent some time living in Chesaw, but now she’s back in town living near the Okanogan River where she says she has “a great view” out her front windows.
After 50 years of marriage she lost her husband Delmar and later lost her second love, Bud Gerken, who she was with for eight years before he too passed away.
“I don’t understand why they chose me as Grand Marshal, but I do feel honored to be chosen,” she said.