Retired Faculty Spotlight: Helena Smith

Editor’s Note: The following story, which originally appeared in the Summer 1993 issue of IUP Magazine, is included in this online addition in light of Helena Smith’s death on October 6, 2011. She was a faculty member in the English Department from 1958 to 1984.

Helena Smith is in many ways a true Indianan. She was born in Livermore, a small town in Indiana County. The daughter of a farmer and an elementary teacher, she majored in English and biology, earning a bachelor’s degree in 1947 from Indiana State Teachers College; the fourth generation of her family will soon enroll at IUP. Helena’s mother attended Indiana Normal School during summer sessions from 1905 to 1912, and thirteen of her grandchildren and several of their spouses graduated from IUP, earning a variety of degrees. Three of Helena’s siblings made careers of teaching.

Helena Smith

After her graduation, she earned her master’s and doctoral degrees in English from Penn State and began her teaching career at Heilwood High School in Indiana County. Later she taught at Kittanning High School and Mansfield State College, where she was a member of the faculty for five years. In 1958, she returned to Indiana County to become a member of the English faculty at Indiana State College. She remained a faculty member, through the college’s evolution into a university, until her retirement twenty-six years later in 1984.

An avid traveler, Helena has pointed out that revolutions seem to occur whenever and wherever she travels. In the early ’70s, she was in Buenos Aires, Argentina, during the attempted coup. She visited Grenada after its coup in the early ’80s, and in 1989, she was in Beijing when the Statue of Democracy was set up. She was in Leningrad (now St. Petersburg) and Moscow less than two weeks before the attempted coup in 1991.

Helena taught English I and II, Literature I and II, American Literature, and Classical Literature. She also taught graduate courses in American Literature from 1850 to 1920, American Renaissance, American Realism, and courses dealing with particular authors including Whitman, Emerson, Thoreau, Melville, and Hawthorne.

In 1982, she received a Distinguished Alumni Award, which recognized, among many things, her professional activity out of the classroom. She served on the President’s Cabinet, served as treasurer of the Faculty Association, was a frequent member of the Faculty Senate, and was a member of at least two search committees for the selection of a new university president. One of her fondest memories is when she served as hostess for the investiture of John Worthen as president.

Other special memories include the days when attendance at convocations was required and homecoming parades during the years she lived on Maple Street. Even today, Helena hosts an annual homecoming gathering that usually ranges from twenty-five to forty friends and relatives.

Since her retirement, Helena has remained active, participating in reading and discussion groups, serving as president of the local chapter of the Pennsylvania Association of Retired State Employees and as a member of the Indiana Free Library Board. She also is involved with the Indiana County Historical Society and her church and enjoys gardening and travel.