Miss Helen Ruth Carlson
Helen Carlson was born about 1913 or 1914 and was the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Arthur B. Carlson. She entered Multnomah School of the Bible, in Portland in 1936. Has served as teacher and registrar at Multnomah since graduating in 1939. In her later years she lived in a nursing home and went to be with the Lord on July 10, 1997 at the age of 83.
The following account is copied from the Winter 1997 issue of the "Multnomah Alumni Quarterly."
MISS CARLSON JOINS "GREAT CLOUD OF WITNESSES" by Diana Meadowcroft
If Multnomah is a family, with over 13,000
alumni tied to a community of faculty, staff, and students, it's due in great
part to the life and work of Helen Ruth Carlson, Multnomah's first alumni
secretary. She defined the essence of what it means to "stay in
touch." We remember her now because, on July 10, 1997, thirteen years
after her retirement from Multnomah, Helen Ruth Carlson passed into Glory, the
frustrations of Parkinson's disease behind her. She was 83.
"She belongs on the honor roll of Multnomah," said Dr. Willard Aldrich, a fellow faculty member when Miss Carlson was hired after graduating in Multnomah's first class in 1939. Dr. Aldrich, Multnomah's second president, worked with her in originating the annual missions conference, an event she oversaw until her health began failing in the early 1980's. Established to encourage missions through an alumni home coming, Multnomah's annual missions conference continues as a week long immersion into missions, about 60% of participating missionaries being alumni.
"I don't know if anyone could have done as much in the alumni area and in missions," Dr, Aldrich added, "She had all the alumni in her mind and in her heart." Miss Carlson taught missions, child evangelism, Bible history, and child and adolescent psychology. In addition, she over saw the production of Multnomah's yearbook during her 45 years of employment at Multnomah. But her impact is best seen in her service as Alumni Secretary. Gifted with a sharp mind and a knack for detailed record-keeping, Miss Carlson kept track of hundreds of alumni without the aid of a computer.
Her first official secretary, Sherrill (Heeren) Grimes, recalled the energy she and Betty Stevens invested in assisting Miss Carlson. Mrs. Grimes would spend hours at the typewriter with a rather awkward Dictaphone, and then work more hours changing addresses and filing every single letter. "It was funny, my husband and I spent half of our dating time licking stamps and envelopes," she said, remembering many personal letters and mailings of the Alumni World. Of course, long hours were standard for the determined Miss Carlson, dedicated to her task of keeping alumni informed and prayed for.
Mrs. Grimes described one night when she worked on the Alumni World at Miss Carlson's parents' home, staying well past midnight. "Her father stood at the foot of the stairs and boomed, 'Helen, it's time to go to bed.'" Another secretary, Eilen Kennaugh, echoed the memory of hours transcribing dictation for the "always busy, always active, always selfless," Miss Carlson. Mrs. Kennaugh recalled more than once listening to a transcription tape and hearing Miss Carlson's voice fade as she nodded off. "She worked into the wee hours of the night," Mrs. Kennaugh said. "You know, she gave her whole life to the school."
Whether Miss Carlson ever dreamed of another form of ministry when she completed her studies with Multnomah's first graduating class, we will never know. She had enrolled at Multnomah after working a year or two setting type for her father's printing business in Portland. One of six children born to Christian parents, Miss Carlson, grew up working in her family's strawberry fields on a farm in Boring, outside of Portland. She learned the value of hard work as she saw her father lose their home and business during the depression and then rebuild. When she began working for Multnomah, she continued to reside in her family's home in N.E. Portland. According to her brother-in-law, Cliff Gustafson, Miss Carlson enjoyed a large bedroom on the third floor and freely entertained guests in the home's living areas, cooking special meals for family and friends.
Miss Carlson may have been her parents' favorite missionary. She traveled often, investing many summers in children's ministry in addition to three "world tours" to Multnomah alumni and prospective students. "She always wanted to go to Bible conferences with us," said Martha Spencer, referring to her husband Lester's work with the American Sunday School Union.
In the late forties and early fifties, she worked with them at Trout Creek Camp. "She just had a way with kids," Mrs. Spencer said. "They just lover her." And she loved them. One night, she earned the name "Two-gun Carlson." Sensing her female campers were out boy hunting, she carried two flash lights and caught the girls out after bedtime. "For a wonderful gal, raised in a lively home, used to nice things, she could put that all aside and handle whatever, be it a dirty place or unruly children," Mrs. Spencer said. "She'd just roll up her sleeves and pitch in to do whatever needed to be done."
Her love for children's ministry included teaching at her church, Temple Baptist in Portland, and traveling to camps like Artic Mission's Victory Bible in Alaska. She made sure her enthusiasm for children touched Multnomah students as well. Her Christian education students couldn't just know about the songs children loved, they had to sing them along with her in class.
Miss Carlson's passions extended to photography, travel, and books, but her mind always rested on people. Terry Dirks, Multnomah's vice president for International Renewal Ministries, recalls the mail he received from Multnomah as a recent graduate. "I was amazed to receive regular prayer lists from the school and almost always a personal, hand-written note from Helen Carlson," he said. "It wasn't like I had a close, personal friendship with her. Then it began to dawn on me: she must do this for all the alumni."
It wasn't only her personal correspondence that kept alumni in awe. It was her mind. She knew all about every alumnus at Multnomah and she kept track of them and prayed for them," said Mr. Dirks. "She had a mind like a computer."
That helped in planning the trips she made to visit Multnomah alumni. During her world tour in 1956, she visited 35 countries and saw more than 150 missionary alumni. She also encountered non-alumni missionaries like Norm and Muriel Cook who, because of her time with them in Taiwan, enrolled in Multnomah's Grad program in 1959. Twenty years later Norm would return to Multnomah as a missions professor, working with Miss Carlson on the annual missions conference and the taking it over when her health began to fail.
Her efforts also brought other back to campus. As a Multnomah staff member who did photography for Miss Carlson when he was a student, Stan Hansen got to know her well. "She had a green recliner in her office for people to sit back and just talk," he said. "Many people sat in that chair over the years, from missions directors to 'common alumni,' you might say. Over the years I noted alumni coming to campus; and she was probably the one person they felt obliged to visit and give a report."
Mr. Hansen worked with her as director of alumni affairs when she had to cut back her role in the early eighties. He also made sure she was honored with a special tribute by alumni when she retired in 1984. Two large books with 1700 alumni letters were bound and presented to her at that year's alumni banquet, in addition to a love gift of $15,000 to purchase a replacement for her 1973 Ford. "The response was just spontaneous," he said.
As Miss Carlson's illness forced her to release more of the work she coveted regarding her Multnomah family, those personal tributes became even more meaningful. They were evidence of a life of giving.. As she said to Mr. Hansen one day when he asked her how she felt about her lifestyle in contrast to that of her successful family's, "I just mad a decision to go another way, and the Lord has been good to me. I have family all over the world."
Indeed she does. And imagine the reunion there must have been in heaven when she arrived.
"Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about
with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin
which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set