October 11, 1999
Helen McMahon was named the Bothell High School 1999 Alumna of the Year.
by Deborah Stone, features writer
Helen Andersen McMahon's life in the Northshore community has been characterized by hard work, dedication to family, and a concern for the needs of others. These qualities have helped earn her the title of 1999 Honored Alumna for the Bothell High School Alumni Association.
Helen has lived in Woodinville since 1923, after moving here from Iowa at the age of five. Her parents, the Andersens, chose property near the Hollywood farm and lived in a cottage on the Hollywood poultry farm while her father built a house for the family. As a young girl, Helen was busy with gardening and farm chores, and one of her responsibilities was walking to the neighbor's house to purchase buckets of milk.
"Life in Woodinville during the 1920s and '30s revolved around trading and sharing with others," Helen said. "I remember when we got a cow that my mother would trade milk and butter for eggs. We had to make do with what we had or find someone to trade with to get things we needed." The family even shared a telephone party line with nine other households.
Helen attended Bothell Grade School and enjoyed spending time with her special friends Betty Moen, Sarahbell Chase, Alice Funai, and Eleanor Ernest. They played paper dolls together, and Helen used her budding artistic talents to create doll outfits for her friends to color.
After Bothell Grade School, she went to Anderson Junior High which had just been completed, and then in the ninth grade, she moved over to Bothell High. There she took what were then called "commercial classes:" typing and shorthand, along with English, history, and other standard subjects.
"I loved school," Helen said, "and I took it seriously, but I also had lots of fun, participating in theatre and playing baseball."
Her special friends in high school included Thelma Thorpe and Rose George. Helen remembers sleigh rides in winter, an occasional movie at the only theatre in the area, and dressing up to go shopping on Saturday in Bothell. "Back then, our interests centered around family, and we did many things as a family," McMahon said.
Occasional babysitting jobs netted fifty cents a night and working at a strawberry farm for one season earned her fifteen dollars, which was enough money for her to purchase school clothing.
After graduation in 1936, Helen eventually landed a job running the household of the vice president of Seattle First National Bank. She saved her wages and after a year, she entered Wilson's Business College in Seattle, where she learned keypunch and switchboard operation. These skills, along with her typing and shorthand, got her a job as secretary to the owner of the Metropolitan Laundry in Seattle.
There she met John McMahon, one of the firm's delivery drivers, and they got married in September of 1941. The couple eventually had three sons, Johnny, Jim, and Jeff, and purchased a small farm next door to Helen's parents' home. In the early 1950s, they were able to buy the original family farm, where they raised their children while enjoying life on the farm.
The couple has six grandchildren and eight great grandchildren, and keeps busy with volunteer work in the community. Their son Johnny passed away in 1998 of complications of multiple sclerosis, but they were thankful he was able to spend the last years of his life living next door to them.
Helen continues to use her artistic talents, making posters for brochures and painting scenic depictions of Mt. Rainier and other natural splendors of the Northwest.
"I am thankful for my artistic abilities," comments Helen. "My father and grandmother were artistic and I think I inherited some of their talent. I love drawing and painting; it is so satisfying to me." She also is a writer, and was the Hollywood Hill-area reporter for the Bothell Citizen years ago.
John and Helen pick up surplus bread and pastry for delivery to needy seniors and food banks, and in conjunction with the Lions Club, they've organized pinochle games. For many years, Helen drove for Meals on Wheels and operated the Redmond Senior Center van, chauffeuring passengers to appointments.
She is in charge of rentals at the Grange Hall and continues her work with the Woodinville Historical Society. Helen particularly enjoys sharing her historical knowledge with the young people of the community, visiting area schools to give demonstrations of oldtime household skills, such as churning butter and doing laundry with washboards.
For over thirty years, Helen and her husband have volunteered their time, portraying Mr. and Mrs. Claus for nursing homes, daycare centers, the YMCA, and the City of Woodinville.
"This has been so much fun," Helen said. "John and I love dressing up and helping to make the holidays special for people. It is so rewarding to see others happy."
This type of selfless service comes naturally to Helen. She believes that the philosophy of helping others stemmed from her parents.
"Both my parents were always helping neighbors, and they served as role models, showing me how important it is to give of oneself," Helen explained.
Helen was also instrumental in forming the Bothell High School Alumni Association. Association members are hosting a program to honor her as the 1999 Honored Alumna on Oct. 19 at 7 p.m. in the Bothell High School cafeteria. The public is invited.