“When I die, I am going to heaven, and I am going to have a great big party,” Helen Marie Graf would often tell her children. On the morning of Monday, Dec. 28, 2020, she passed over to begin her party plans.
She had lived a life of 97 years that began Oct. 12, 1923, in Stephen, Minn., when she joined this world as the eldest child of Milne (“Mel”) and Celine Robertson. She grew up in Argyle, Minn., where she graduated with honors from Argyle High School in 1941. Already expressing a deep appreciation for education, she enrolled at St. Teresa College in Winona, where she majored in chemistry and mathematics.
It was while attending college that she went on a blind date with a soldier who was on leave. She maintained a correspondence with him and after she graduated and the war ended, she married that soldier, John Milton Graf, in a private ceremony in Torrance, Calif., in 1946. After first making their home in Caledonia, the newlyweds purchased a grocery store in Lime Springs, Iowa, in 1949. There, Helen embarked on her teaching career while Milt managed the store. They also began their family that would eventually grow to five children: Tom, Celine, Joe, and Jim, all born in Cresco, Iowa, and John, who was born in Caledonia, soon after the family moved back to Milt’s boyhood home.
In Caledonia, Milton purchased Henry Blexrud’s grocery store on Main Street, and Helen secured a teaching position with the Caledonia Public School system. For the next 25 or so years, Helen taught mathematics to the community’s children. At one point, one of her children “did the math” to estimate she had taught more than 4,000 kids during her tenure. Coincidentally, that same child estimated that Helen had cooked about the same number of chickens for Sunday dinners.
Helen was homemaker, a mother, and a teacher. Only her faith superseded her worldly commitments. As a devoted member of St. John’s and, later, St. Mary’s Catholic Parish, she was active in Catholic Daughters and the Rosary Guild. In retirement, she continued to tutor students, engaged with the Caledonia Study Club, made rosaries, and tended to her husband who had been disabled by a heart attack in 1976. Their life together ended after 69 years, when Milt passed away in 2015.
For the last few years, she has resided at Claddagh Senior Living, where she still enjoyed playing cards, eating chocolates, and visiting with family and friends.
Helen is survived by her five children, Tom (Lisa), Celine (Alan), Joe (Carla), Jim (Joan), and John (Diane); seven grandchildren, three great-grandchildren, her sister, Margaret Hunt; and sisters-in-law, Arlene Robertson, Mary Robertson, and Martha Robertson. Her party in heaven will be attended by so many loved ones who preceded her including her husband, Milton; her parents, Mel and Celine Robertson; and her brothers, Bill, Jim, Denny, Joseph “Ed,” Ken, and Keith.
Out of concern for everyone’s health and safety during this tragic period of Coronavirus, a small, private family ceremony will be held prior to internment at Calvary Cemetery. If anyone would like to commemorate Helen’s lifetime of teaching and community service, the family asks that it be done in the form of donations to St. Mary’s.