A wonderful, quirky smile
Helen Marie Morris—loving sister of seven whose wonderful, quirky smile was as indelible as her passion for the Vineland High School Football Team and helping others—died at home after a lengthy battle with Alzheimer’s disease on Thursday, January 21, 2021. She was 72.
A lifelong resident of Vineland, New Jersey, Helen was a study in overcoming hardship with grace, optimism and determination. Injured at birth due to anoxia, she defied the diagnosis of the times, mental retardation, now re-named intellectually deficient, and grew into joyful young woman who held down a job, loved to dance, and took an active role in assisting in her own health needs.
Cheerful, with the sweetest disposition, she was thoughtful, funny, kind and always eager to lend a helping hand to family. Because of her disabilities, it was Helen who united her many siblings, through good times and bad (no easy feat, they say), in the shared goal of concern and care for her. For that, her family will always be grateful. She gave much more to them then they could possibly have ever given to her.
She thrived amidst siblings
One of eight children, Helen Marie was born October 7, 1948, in Vineland, NJ to Joseph T. Morris and Bessie M. Morris. She loved her sprawling, Protestant family, a rowdy mix of three brothers and four sisters, a little beauty with curly blonde hair and a loveable grin.
Since there were no social workers nor advocates for the developmentally disabled until Eunice Kennedy Shriver pressured for social acceptance and special programs in the late 1950s, Helen’s only recourse was to attend “Special Education Classes” that stopped short of allowing her to graduate. Still, Helen benefited greatly and learned to read at a first-grade level. It was not until much later that Helen’s mother, Bessie and eldest sister, Ruth, researched and found an Easter Seal Society program that trained those with disabilities.
Her job was a huge deal
She took enormous pride in her job at The Easter Seals Society of Millville, NJ, where she worked for 27 years. The paycheck she took home each week gave her an enormous sense of self-esteem. Her “career” was a huge deal to her, and she was dedicated to the point of disbelieving the seriousness of the situation when she became ill and required hospitalization, arguing fiercely with her sister Ruth to take her to work instead. She was fastidious about assisting in her own healthcare routine. If her schedule required medicine, a blood pressure check, or any other medical related activity at 5pm, she was prepared, sitting at the kitchen table at 4:45 to get it done. But what stood out to her family wasn’t her disability, it was Helen’s kindness, sunny disposition and willingness to help any and all. Even as a youngster, she would assist her mother by helping the youngest children wash their hands. For many years following her mother passing, Helen lived with and was cared for by her brother Jim and sister Ruth Ann, respectively. At Jim and sister-in-law Nancy’s house, Helen happily performed routine chores; for her big sister Ruth Ann, she set the table, folded laundry and even help de-weed an ant infested garden. Even if just visiting one of her siblings for a holiday, a weekend, or a week, she would volunteer to pitch in. When at her sister Bettie’s she shared washing dishes after meals, taking turns on who was to wash, who was to dry. Her sister Diane remembers showing Helen drapes she intended to hang, Helen instantly offering to help and suggested they do it here and now, and they did. Her sister Sandi recalls Helen dusting furniture and how much she loved to clean.
First Place for Best Dressed
A beautiful woman with flawless skin and shiny, thick, silver-gray hair later in life, Helen had a her sense of fashion, choose colorful coordinated outfits and accessorized. She never went out without a brooch, earrings or a bracelet. When, at age 69, she won First Place for Best Dressed at The Annual Spring Fashion Show held by her Adult Day Social Group her excitement was palpable. Hearing the audience applaud loudest for her, hence declaring her the winner, she lit up, her quirky smile beaming from ear to ear as she accepted her ribbon and flowers. For fun, Helen adored sports. If watching her favorite NFL team, the Philadelphia Eagles, she could be heard in every room in the house yelling at the television if they fumbled or made a bad play. The same happened when she watched World Wrestling Foundation (WWF) matches or the Phillies. But even those events paled in comparison when Helen listened to her beloved Vineland High School Football games on the radio, although she never got to go to high school. Heaven forbid if the running-back fumbled or the quarterback threw an interception. And of course no one in the house lacked knowing the score or when and who made a touchdown.
She did the Twist & Mashed Potatoes
Music was a constant in Helene’s life, as was dancing. Even when she could dance no more, she would continue to take a dance step or two with the help of her sister’s Bettie and Sandi. During summers, the record player was hauled out to the driveway, she would gather with her sisters to practice the Cha-cha, Limbo, or Jerk. Or the Twist, Loco-Motion and Mashed Potatoes. Outdoors was necessary to keep the noise level down in the house, Mom insisted. Listening to music—from 60’s to country to pop—was a prerequisite when doing puzzles, coloring or crafts. Helen also found joy in little things: a walk around the block, ice cream, shopping or a comfortable rocking chair made her day. If given a tiny change purse, an inexpensive cat figurine, a tee shirt with a cat design, or a cat anything, she was euphoric.
Where others may have found such gifts inconsequential, to Helen they were priceless. And she displayed her gratitude with genuine fervor.
You were our treasure, darling, and we will never forget!
Predeceased by her parents, Joseph and Bessie Morris and brother Joseph E. Morris, Helen Marie is survived by brothers, John T. Morris of Ft. Lauderdale, FL, and James Morris (Nancy Seyler) of Newfield, NJ; sisters Ruth A. Benowitz , Bettie M. Rayford (Roy Rayford), Diane Warren (Paul Berger), and Sandra Sterchele (Kevin), all of Vineland, NJ, and 12 nieces; 6 nephews; 35 great nieces and nephews, and one great-grand-nephews.
The family will receive friends from 10:00am to 11:00 am, followed by funeral services at 11am on Monday, February 1, 2021, at DeMarco-Luisi Funeral Home, 2755 South Lincoln Avenue, Vineland, NJ. Burial will follow at Greenwood Memorial Park in Millville, NJ. The family would like to express our thanks for the wonderful help and care given by our RN Jerri the entire staff at Holy Redeemer Hospice of Runnemede NJ. In lieu of flowers, friends may, if desired, make memorial contributions to The Funny Farm Rescue & Sanctuary at 6908 Rail Road Blvd., Mays Landing, NJ 08330. Memories, thoughts and prayers may be extended to the family by visiting dlfuneral.com.
Published in The Daily Journal from Jan. 29 to Jan. 30, 2021.