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Helen Hanscam is Azalea Festival Pioneer Citizen

Helen Hanscam began her teaching career in Brookings in 1938. The Pilot/Marjorie Woodfin

Helen Hanscam, the 2012 Azalea Festival Pioneer Citizen, began her teaching career in Brookings Harbor in 1938, armed only with a diploma from Southern Oregon Normal Teachers’ College, (currently Southern Oregon University) and a teaching certificate.

As she began her teaching career, she never imagined that, except a few short breaks, she would be teaching for more than 40 years. She retired in 1982.

“I taught from 1938 to 1982, with some time out to raise my kids,” she said.


 During the interview, following the announcement of her honor as this year’s Pioneer Citizen, Helen said, “I’m 95 years old and I’m too ornery to give up,” 

Currently, as independent as ever, she continues to enjoy the freedom to make her own choices, including on the highway with a current Oregon driver’s license. 

The interview at the Chetco Valley Museum was attended by a number of family and friends, almost all former students. It was obvious from the conversation that those who sat in her classrooms are glad that she never gave up.

All agreed that they are looking forward to her reign as Pioneer Citizen, including her appearance as a reigning celebrity in the Azalea Festival parade and at the Pioneer Citizen’s Reception at the Chetco Valley Historical Society Museum at 4 p.m. Saturday, May 26.

 The reception is always well attended by the “old-timers” who enjoy sharing memories of the early days on the Oregon coast, and early life in Brookings-Harbor. This year many are looking forward to hearing about Helen’s early association with the Brookings-Harbor educational system. 

“I taught the first four grades in Harbor for the first two years and then grades two to four at upper Benham Lane before the school moved down the hill to the Rod and Gun Club building,” she said.

Her classroom experience over the years included teaching grades five through seven in Harbor and also at Upper Chetco School, where she taught grades ranging from one to eight. About her experience at Upper Chetco, she said, “I had five kids in four grades.”

During that first trip to Brookings with her parents to inspect her proposed living accommodations,  Helen Marjorie Welch was also introduced to one of the area’s celebrated retail establishments, the E.E. Hanscam and Sons Market  

When her father stopped at the market for directions, Helen noticed that the attractive young man behind the counter was very helpful. The young man behind the counter was Vernon Hanscam, who went home that evening to tell his family, “We just hired a good looking new teacher.”

Helen said that Vernon, who had just graduated from the University of Oregon when he came home in 1938, and had been thinking about opening a new store in the Eugene area, but dropped the idea when he had second thoughts about still really being needed in the Harbor store. She added, with a chuckle, “I think I may have had some influence on that decision.” They were married June 19, 1940 and were sweethearts until his death in 1993.

There were some breaks in Helen’s 1938 to 1982 teaching career. “I took time out to start a family,” she said. Terry Clifford was born in 1946, Timothy Roy in 1949, and Pamela Sue in 1951.

During World War II, Vernon served as a U.S. Navy First Class Store Keeper stationed in New Guinea. When he came back to the United States he was based at the separation center in San Francisco until his release from the military.

Helen remembers those days in San Francisco in “late ’45 or early ’46” fondly. “I wouldn’t live there now, but I had a fantastic time,” she said. “We were living in a small two-room apartment, so I had nothing to do at home, and I traveled all over and visited every store.”

Helen said officers tried to talk Vernon into staying in the service, but he resisted the suggestions. She said the officers even tried to get help from her to convince him to stay in. “They told me that he was a fantastic storekeeper,” she remembered.

Helen resumed teaching as a substitute in about 1960. Terry remembered that his mother was recruited to replace a new a teacher who had run screaming from the classroom and refused to return.

When asked about teaching over the years, she said,  “I guess it runs in the family.” She explained that she has a niece and a nephew who are both teachers, She paused and then added. “And I remember when asked about my future plans at high school graduation. I said I was going to be a teacher.”

A former student, Julie Payne, said, “She was a very nice teacher and I remember that she was also the Mother Advisor for our Rainbow Girls.” After a pause, Payne added, “And I remember her ruler too. Terry (Hanscam) says that she probably still has it.”

Terry said later, “I know she still has it. And she has every paper from every kid she had in school.”




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