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Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Gray Matter: Last of Heline trilogy

Monday, August 14, 2006

Today I want to bring you one more piece of the Heline story. It would not be complete without an account of the third generation now living on that land. The older daughter of Oscar and Polly Heline, Halcyon Botkin, and her late husband John "Jack" retired there from Tulsa, OK where he had been a consulting geophysicist in the petroleum industry. Since Jack's death in 2001 she has divided her time between Oklahoma, where two of her children live, and her beloved Iowa.

The younger of the daughters, Nancy Hier, following a successful teaching career in Colorado, came back with her late husband, Robert "Bob," also a teacher, when they both retired. Bob passed away in 1997. Nancy seems to have been "born to teach," though it was almost a second career for her. She attended Iowa State, where she majored in agriculture, intending to follow her father, Oscar, and brother John, in tilling the land. In time, finding herself a single mother with two sons to raise, she changed directions. After completing certification courses, she began teaching fifth grade. What most of us would consider the high point of her remarkable career came when she was nominated Teacher of the Year for the state of Colorado in the early seventies. But, according to Nancy, the real "highs" were the times when students, parents, or fellow teachers expressed appreciation for her efforts.

In order to improve the quality of their teaching, Hier and a colleague requested a sabbatical year to travel across the country exchanging ideas, on methods and experiences, with their peers. Their travels took them to the East Coast and back and resulted in volumes of notes and photographs. From these materials they were able to augment the upper elementary American history curriculum for their entire district.

Though supposedly retired, Nancy is still available as a resource person for area educators. In appropriate costume, she visits classrooms to demonstrate a number of early-day activities, giving her young audiences insights impossible to gain from the best of texts and videos. This seems most appropriate for, as I have been telling her, she is actually the curator of the "Heline Living History Farm".

I was touched when Nancy confided that, much as she enjoys those historic presentations, she's even more enthusiastic about tutoring three youngsters with learning problems, which she did in the MMC Middle School this past semester. Her eyes really lit up as she told me what a joy it was seeing their reactions when things started falling into place and they began to realize their own potential.

Now, just one more thing before I close. I've learned that the unique Heline heritage is not ending. The next generation, Halcyon's and Nancy's offspring, includes a space scientist, an international businessman, a medical doctor, and a film maker who recently came back to the states from far-off New Zealand. It sounds to me as though there are still a great many stories out there, just waiting to be told!