This Nurse's Charity began at Home
but extends to the World
Helen McDonnell was born June 2, 1925 in Painesville, Ohio joining an older brother and sister, both now deceased. Helen's mother was from County Mayo, Ireland and her father from County Roscommon.
She attended St. Mary's in Painesville, Harvey High School also in Painesville and then went on to the St. Vincent Charity Hospital School of Nursing. "Since the day I was born I knew I wanted to be a nurse." After graduating in 1947 she took classes at John Carroll University and Western Reserve University.
She remembers her sister being sick all of the time, her father dying when she was 18 and her mother passing on when she was 35. She knew nursing was one way to help other people through medical problems and the emotional times associated with them.
She worked at Charity Hospital before transferring to Painesville. From there a big move came - she moved to Florida ("where the boys are") where she lived and worked in Ft. Lauderdale. There was only one hospital there and she loved it!
As a county employee, Helen, an avid golfer, was able to golf for free. "My friends and I would work 3 to 11 then we'd go drinking. Then in the morning we'd golf before work. What's not to like?"
Before long, however, she moved to California, following a boyfriend who was based on a ship in Seattle. She stayed for about a year working in the North Hollywood Hospital. She came home for Christmas one year, broke up with her fiancée, and went back to work at Painesville Hospital. "It was the best decision I ever made."
While working at the hospital she cared for a woman with a son named William Robert "Bud" Bacon. Helen and Bud fell in love and were married.
Helen and Bud Bacon
at their anniversary party in 1979
Bud owned his own business; a combination gas station, body shop and steel stamping operation. Together they started a home business where they sold everything for a Body Shop for all makes and ages of cars.
"I will never buy a foreign car. The American car business has been too good to me."
Helen loves big cars and at one time "was the only person on the block with three Cadillacs!"
Helen Bacon with her 3 big American cars
As the years went on Bud developed many medical problem including having his leg removed as a complication of Diabetes. As their 25th wedding anniversary approached he became very sick. She remembers him saying he may not make it to their anniversary party and in an effort to keep his spirits up she joked with him the night before the party telling him he had better not be sick for the party they had planned for so long.
Although he made it through the party on Saturday, he died that Sunday with a house still full of guests who had stayed over night. Helen gave him CPR, but there was nothing left to be done. He was buried on their 25th wedding anniversary.
Helen is very active in things she cares about - her Church and her Irish heritage top that list.
Helen Bacon at a St Patrick's Day Parade
Helen was the first woman to be President of the Irish American Club, East Side. She was also on the original board of the Celtic Athletic Foundation. She loves Irish music and basically all things Irish.
Helen has a tremendous faith in God and treasures her Catholic religion. She starts every day with Mass and then puts her faith to practical use as she deals with people.
She belongs to a Mother Teresa group and became chairperson so that she would have the opportunity to meet her. Helen spent three days with Mother Teresa in Minneapolis. In addition to being awe-inspiring, Helen found her to be very funny. "I told her if she ever decided to leave the nunnery she could be a comedienne!"
Helen Bacon with Mother Teresa
Helen says "Hardly anybody really impresses me. I find most people to be on the same playing field, none really more impressive than others and all impressive in some way. But Mother Teresa impressed me immensely. Even with the conditions she lived in she was in love with life. It was such a thrill to meet her."
She volunteered at Mother Teresa's place in Miami feeding meals to the homeless. She also volunteered at St. Paul's Shrine in Cleveland; again, feeding the needy.
She served for many years on the Board of Trustees of Catholic Charities and now that she has retired from it she is still an honorary board member.
She has a close friend, Fr. Devine, who is stationed in Africa. She has worked with him for him for quite awhile, trying to help with the financial needs of a parish in so poor an area.
Helen Bacon with Father Devine and friends
She has been to places in the world that the rest of us just read about. She spends a good part of each year in her home in Coral Springs Florida but has traveled extensively to places like Africa, China, India and all of Europe.
Language has never been a barrier to her even though, other than English, she only speaks "A little Spanish and a lot of Profanity." She traveled for years with her good friend Peg Lanigan, who is now deceased. It was with Peg that she took her cruise down the Panama Canal.
Helen Bacon at the Taj Mahal in India
She spent 17 days in Africa, five of which were in the bush. Her home base was in Nairobi. From there she traveled to other spots. She was fascinated by the difference in the culture. "At 7 a.m. children are singing in the streets because they are excited about going to school. You don't have to set an alarm, you always know when it's 7."
She was also impressed with the respect of the people for the Church. "Even the tiniest child respects the Church and acts appropriately when they are in or even near a Church."
When she went to Rome she stayed in the Cardinals Room at the Seminary. She was able to get tickets to the Closing of a Conclave where she sat 4 rows behind Mother Teresa and "so close to the Pope I couldn't believe it!"
She walked about a mile on the Great Wall of China. It was a Chinese holiday and she was amazed at the size of the wall and the huge number of people walking it. She remembers a trip down the Li River. They were served dinner on the ship and the women then leaned over into the river and washed the dishes!
People would come up to the ships in boats of their own and try to sell you things. There were "ice cream cone shaped" mountains everywhere. While there she also went to Tieneman Square and visited the tomb of Mao.
She saw snow covered Mount Kilimanjaro, in Tanzania. "There are so many clouds many people never get to see it, but I was lucky."
Helen Bacon with the cruise ship captain
She has seen 49 of the 50 states, Alaska being the missing one. She would still love to go to Alaska, Russia and Australia someday and no doubt she will.
Helen has belonged to numerous nursing association organizations and worked in Private Duty nursing near the end of her career. She would not hesitate to recommend nursing to anyone with an interest.
"It was truly the best years of my life. There are some patients I will never, ever forget." She remembers a man telling her "If I wasn't going to die I could really go for you!"
She's also an animal lover. At one time she had three dogs. One was Hamlet, The Magic Puppy. "He was a crazy boxer; the worst dog ever made." The other two were Pat and Mike. Bud's father lived with them for awhile and bought the dogs in a bar for $1.00 each.
Helen loves to read - usually reading three or more books at a time. Her reading list at the time of this interview included Presumed Innocent by Scott Turbow, Who's Looking Out for You? by Bill O'Reilly and Big Russ and Me by Tim Russert. She loves all kinds of books and will read anything "that's not just junk."
Somewhere in all of this Helen also finds time to cook, something else she loves to do. Irish stew, Scalloped Potatoes and Pork Chops, all of the comfort foods are what she feeds to friends who come and stay with her.
Aloha! Helen Bacon in Hawaii
Helen is happy with her life and likes to think of it as simple. "If I get up in the morning and I'm not in the obituaries I know it's going to be a good day."
"We had a wonderful childhood. We were happy just being kids. We had nothing and everything. Today kids have everything and nothing." She remembers playing in the streets with an old purse being used as 2nd base in the middle of the streets. They would yell at cars if they ran over the "base" but "not like kids yell at cars today."
Like so many growing up at that time, Helen says they never had to lock their house. Her mother used to feed what where then called hoboes who would knock on their door during the Depression.
She also remembers as a young child during the Depression wondering why her father was so sad when he lost his job. She couldn't understand why he would want to go to work when he could stay home and play with them.
"Of course the Depression was tough - for everybody. But we survived it, all of us, together as a family, a neighborhood, a city, whatever. We pulled together and we survived."
She is concerned by the moral and ethical decay of the country. "Abortion is running rampant. We are surrounded by obscenity and trash and we have come to accept it as the norm. People don't want to work to make their lives better. People can have anything they want - anything. But they have to work for it and to many that is too high a price to pay."
But for all of this, Helen, a devout Catholic, is not concerned with the future. "Hope? Do I have Hope? Of course I do. We already know how it is going to end. It's just the getting there that is a struggle."
There is nothing fake or put-on about Helen Bacon. She is a genuinely good person with a heart of gold. There are a lot of evils in this world; a lot of tragedies and a lot of sorrow. Helen Bacon is one of the good guys that makes you realize there is also a lot of good, a lot of kindness and a lot to be thankful for.
She walks her talk and will help you walk it too. She is the kind of person everyone should have as a friend. A world filled with more Helen Bacons would be a much, much better place.
Profiled by Debbie Hanson
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