The Norma Bilak Research Room at the Frontenac provides access to many tools and sources of information for genealogists. Due to the generosity of the Bilak family and the foresight of Norma, the collection is large and available to anyone free of charge.
One of those sources is a modest red box situated on top of a filing cabinet which is labeled "Helen Pike - Catholic Church Records." Inside the box are index cards containing Helen's transcription of the baptismal and marriage records of St. Patrick's Parish, including both Aurora and Union Springs, for the 1850's and 1860's. What a valuable source of information Helen left the Frontenac as early church records, particularly those of Irish parishioners, can be rare. This is also true for census records as many Irish immigrants of that era, due to their experiences in their homeland, simply did not trust government.
Helen Melvin Pike was active in many local organizations and served as president of St. Patrick's and St. Michael's Parish Council, as well as the President of the Altar and Rosary Society. She was also a lay reader and was installed as an Extraordinary Minister of the Eucharist by Bishop Joseph Hogan of Rochester. At the time of her passing in 1980, she was a member of the Finger Lakes Genealogy Society and Treasurer of the Frontenac Historical Society. Helen also earned a BS in History and Genealogy from Empire State College the year prior to her death. All of these interest no doubt merged into a desire to assure the records of her church would be available to future generations.
Helen had other interests as well. In 1926, she graduated from the Columbia College of Expression in Chicago, a school founded in 1890 and named in honor of the 1893 Columbian Exposition. Columbia was a private institution teaching elocution, oratory, physical culture and the then growing fields of radio broadcasting and dramatic arts. The school continues to this day as Columbia College Chicago. Following graduation, Helen returned to her hometown of Auburn where she began a career in parks supervision in Auburn.
As a young girl, she had a passion for Girl Scouting which resulted in her receiving the Golden Eaglet, at that time Girl Scouting's highest award. She was one of the first two Girl Scouts in the United States to receive this award, which required her to be a First Class Scout with a minimum of 21 merit badges. A 1923 article from the Auburn Citizen announced her earning 19 badges that year, some of which were athlete, flower finder, citizen, dressmaker, economist, first aid, health guardian, child nurse, laundress, swimmer, journalist, dancer and craftsman. As an adult, Helen continued to serve as a Girl Scout executive for 20 years including stints in Boston and Philadelphia. One of her most memorable experiences in scouting was when she personally conferred a Scouting award on famed American flyer Amelia Earhart.
Sadly, life did send tragedy to Helen. In 1976, while asleep in the home she shared with her husband Richard at 3 Park St. in Union Springs, Helen was awakened to fire by the barking of her dog and the cries of her husband. Richard, a double amputee, was trapped in his bedroom and despite Helen's repeated efforts and those of the local fire department to reach him, he died in the fire. The house sustained heavy damage but this did not deter this community. The volunteer efforts of students from the village and the Union Springs Academy, the fire department, the village DPW, the Lions Club, as well as many area residents, resulted in the re-building of the Pike home. Church organizations and local businessmen raised funds for the re-build while businesses in Auburn volunteered to provide skilled services. At the time of the fire, Helen was employed as a teacher at A J Smith School. She stated that from this experience, she "discovered that the spirit of generosity still flourishes in Union Springs." This spirit continues to this day making this community the very special place that it is.
Upon reading the latest Hidden Hero Helen Pike, Marge Gibbs sent an email asking to add a little to the story. Here are the words from Marge. "During the time I was a guidance counselor at Union Springs, probably in the late seventies or early eighties, Helen asked me if I would be willing to proctor and certify some examinations she was to take in genealogy from Brigham Young University. She was working on a degree by mail from that institution. Her course work was long distance, and she needed someone certified to administer and proctor her exams. I remember going to her house and watching her write at least one (and I think more exams), seal it in an envelope and mail it to the assigned address. I think she earned some kind of degree or certification form Brigham Young. She was always trying to improve her educational expertise and qualifications. She was a dedicated teachers' aide at A. J. Smith elementary school, of which my youngest son Brian was a beneficiary."
Thank you Marge for sharing your memories. The Frontenac Museum encourages others to do the same.