Born Helen Rosalind Nager to parents Samuel and “Bubu”, in Bronx New York, Helen was one of four children. Sister Eleanor, and brothers Larry and Bernie. Helen renamed her father Jamesie, after a personal trait of his, and the name remained throughout his life. An excellent student in high school, Helen graduated from Hunter College in New York City. She excelled at singing, and eventually met her husband, Sy, when the two became members of Earl Robinson’s Chorus For America. Sy was discharged in Los Angeles from the Army Signal Core after World War 11, and the couple settled in Hollywood.
Helen worked as a secretary for several film executives, held a staff position at The Eagle Lion Film Studios and was an assistant at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Library. Eventually Sy and his partner started a small film production company, and Helen became a homemaker, raising two boys.
Helen's many interests led her to organic foods, painting, yoga, meditation, weaving and constructing jewelry. She attended UCLA extension classes, crafting rings, small tapestries and collages. The simple rings she made for herself were fabricated from silver, and she hardly ever took them off for next 50 years. They were adjacent to her prized wedding ring, which she liked to say cost Sy $23, but the important number was 63 years of marriage.
When Sy started his own medical film production company, Helen handled the secretarial chores, and occasionally appeared in the films as the unknown mother, generic nurse, or heard as a melodious voice over. Later in life she took painting classes from several renowned teachers, including Sueo Serisawa. Her prolific work includes canvases of oils, watercolor, charcoal and collage. Many framed originals were stacked in the attic and her workroom, and several won ribbons at local showcases.
Helen was an avid nature lover, and marveled at the colors of a flower or the beauty of a sunset. She spent afternoons caring for her collection of home grown orchids and cymbidiums. She walked the Yosemite High Sierra loop trail twice, carrying her own back pack, and together with Sy enlivened the nightly campfires with ballads rich with practiced harmony.
She frequently walked the neighborhood at a brisk pace for exercise, took yoga classes at the local Y, practiced headstands, tai chi and meditation. Her daily affirmations from Science of Mind were comforting in later years.
Health foods and organic gardening were an interest, and Helen prepared many brown bag lunches for her sons. Frequently the unique and healthy sandwiches were the talk of the schoolyard. An early believer of alternative health care, she investigated and tried acupuncture, herbs and various fasts, but seemed to always receive great pleasure from a cup of hot water with a squeeze of lemon.
Her bookshelves were lined with self-help books, painting references, anatomical renderings and collections of famous quotations. She read the Sunday paper entirely, clipped articles of interest for sons and grandsons, and tested herself on the crossword puzzle. Her closet was sparse, preferring scarf’s, sweaters and a few neatly embroidered blouses with an occasional dramatic piece of jewelry. She usually had her hair done on Thursdays, so she would look “svelte” for whatever might happen on the weekend. Guests were frequent at the house, and Helen always had unique offerings to nosh on. Together with Sy they attended film openings and museum screenings, and preferred foreign films and documentaries of social importance.
She frequently donated small amounts of money to socially conscious organizations helping to protect the environment and end world hunger. She supported local artists and crafts people. She had a unique compassion for the under privileged and oppressed people of the world, and gave cash to some, silently and anonymously. Her contributions were neatly logged and dutifully reported, and she found pleasure in using her Selectric typewriter to address envelopes.
Helen spoke Yiddish, German, French and English. Her pronunciation was impeccable, but frequently led her to refer to a dictionary in the middle of a conversation. She embraced people of all colors, nationalities and backgrounds, and made an effort to say hello, good-by and thank you in at least a half dozen languages. Helen could tell a riveting story repeatedly, always with the same emphasis and love for the situation and it’s meaning to her. If interrupted, she had a unique gift to continue the tale without dropping even a syllable.
Birthdays and other special family days were often greeted with a hand painted card and personalized poem for the occasion, sometimes sung in harmony with Sy over the phone.
In her later years, she selflessly attended to Sy and his health needs, driving him to doctor appointments, specialists, and shopping. She insisted that he ware freshly laundered clothes, and if a spot appeared on a shirt, she immediately changed it. She was always optimistic about illnesses, diagnoses and opinions, and applauded even the most minor improvements. She sometimes was despairing when confronted with Sy’s declining condition, but bravely only showed her pain in private. When it came time to include Care Givers in their daily living, Helen made sure Sy came first, but continued to prepare treats, surprises and offer loving support. Her selfless attitude and love for Sy was marveled by all around her.
Helen had long nightly phone calls with her surviving sister Eleanor, living on the East Coast. The Care Givers sometimes gently reminded her that it was time to call, and if she missed it for some reason, she softly uttered “damm, its too late to call’, and made a “shucks” gesture with her hand. The two sisters were close, and remained supportive of each other for over 80 years.
Helen was born in 1916, as was Sy. The home they purchased had the address 1616. Helen died 116 days after Sy.
On the day before she was disabled by a stroke, Helen was planning a variety of activities. Uncharacteristically, she called many friends, excitedly telling them how good she felt, how many things she wanted to do, needed to do, and sharing plans for the future. Her euphoria on that day was a breakthrough and perhaps a signal that she was preparing for another journey.
Helen is survived by her sons Howard of Los Angeles and David of Santa Barbara, grandsons Aaron and Ian, and granddaughter Melainie.
Like her husband, she willed her body to science, for use by the next generation of artists, doctors and students, who, like Helen, are fascinated by the wonders and beauty of life.
Helen did not have a “favorite” charity, instead we request a home or garden plant be honored in her memory. Contributions can also be made in her name to Amnesty International, The Audubon Society, UNESCO, The Alzheimer’s Foundation and Green Peace.