HELEN MARIE MORRIS
1948 – 2021
A wonderful, quirky smile
Helen Marie Morris—loving sister of seven, whose wonderful, quirky smile was as indelible as her passion for the Vineland High School Football team and helping others—died at home after a lengthy battle with Alzheimer’s disease on Thursday, January 21, 2021. She was 72.
A lifelong resident of Vineland, New Jersey, Helen was a study in overcoming hardship with grace and optimism. Injured at birth due to anoxia (oxygen denied to her brain), she defied the diagnosis of the times, mental retardation (now known as intellectual disability), and grew into a joyful young woman who held down a job, loved to dance, and took an active role in assisting in her own health needs.
Cheerful, with the sweetest disposition, she was thoughtful, funny, kind and always eager to lend a helping hand to family. Because of her disabilities, it was Helen who united her many siblings, through good times and bad (no easy feat, they say), in the shared goal of concern and care for her. For that, her family will always be grateful. She gave much more to them then they could possibly have ever given to her.
She thrived amidst siblings
One of eight children, Helen Marie was born October 7, 1948, in Vineland, NJ to Joseph T. Morris and Bessie M. Morris. The little beauty with curly blonde hair and a loveable grin thrived in the sprawling, Protestant family amidst a rowdy mix of three brothers and four sisters.
Since there were no social workers, no advocates of any kind for the developmentally disabled until Eunice Kennedy Shriver pressured for social acceptance and special programs for them in the late 1950s, Helen’s only recourse was to attend “Special Education Classes” that stopped short of allowing her to graduate.
Still, she benefited greatly and learned to read at a first-grade level. It was not until much later that Helen’s mother, Bessie, and her eldest sister, Ruth Ann, researched sources and found an Easter Seal Society program that trained those with disabilities for appropriate jobs.
Her job was a huge deal
Helen took tremendous pride in her various jobs at The Easter Seals Society of Millville, NJ, where she worked for 27 years. The paycheck she took home each week gave her an enormous sense of self-esteem. Her “career” was a huge deal to her, and she was dedicated to the point of refusing to believe the seriousness of the situation when she became ill enough to require hospitalization and argued fiercely with Ruth Ann to go to work instead.
Normally, she was fastidious about assisting in her own healthcare routine. If her schedule required medicine, a blood pressure check, or any other medical related activity at 5pm, she was prepared at 4:45, sitting at the kitchen table to get it done.
But what stood out to her family had absolutely nothing to do with disability. It was Helen’s sunny disposition and willingness to help any and all. Even as a youngster, she would assist her mother by helping the youngest children wash their hands. Following her mother’s passing, Helen lived with and was cared for by her brother Jim and sister Ruth Ann, respectively. At Jim and sister-in-law Nancy’s house, Helen happily performed routine chores. For big sister Ruth Ann, she set the table, folded laundry and de-weeded an ant infested garden.
Even if visiting one of her siblings for a holiday, weekend, or week, she would volunteer to pitch in. When at sister Bettie’s, she shared dish washing duties after meals, taking turns on who would wash, and who would dry. Her sister Diane remembers showing Helen drapes she intended to hang. Helen instantly offered to help and suggested they do it here and now. And they did. Sister Sandi recalls Helen dusting furniture and how much she loved to clean.
First Place for Best Dressed
A beautiful woman with flawless skin and thick, shiny, silver-gray hair later in life, Helen had an innate sense of fashion, a way of selecting colorful, coordinated outfits and accessories. She never went out without a brooch, earrings or a bracelet. When, at age 69, she won First Place for Best Dressed at The Annual Spring Fashion Show held by her Adult Day Social Group, her excitement was palpable. Hearing the audience applaud loudest for her, hence declaring her the winner, she lit up, her quirky smile beaming from ear to ear as she accepted the ribbon and flowers.
For fun, Helen adored sports. If watching her favorite NFL team, the Philadelphia Eagles, she could be heard in every room in the house, yelling at the television if the team fumbled or made a bad play. The same happened when she watched World Wrestling Foundation (WWF) matches or Phillies baseball.
But even those events paled in comparison to when Helen listened to her beloved Vineland High School Football games on the radio. It didn’t matter that she never got to attend high school herself. Heaven forbid if the running-back fumbled or the quarterback threw an interception. Everyone in the entire house heard when a touchdown was made, who made it and the score.
She did the Twist & Mashed Potatoes
Music was a constant in Helen’s life, as was dancing. Even when she could dance no more, she would continue to take a step or two with the help of sisters Bettie and Sandi. During summers, the record player hauled out to the driveway, she would gather with her sisters to practice dances, the Bristol Stomp, Limbo, or Jerk. Or the Twist, Loco-Motion, or Mashed Potatoes. Dancing outside was necessitated by Mom’s insisting the noise level be kept down in the house.
Listening to music—from 60’s to country to pop—was a prerequisite for Helen when doing puzzles, coloring or crafts. She also found pleasure in little things: a walk around the block, ice cream, shopping, or a comfortable rocking chair made her day. If given a tiny change purse, an inexpensive cat figurine, a tee shirt with a cat design, or a cat anything, she was euphoric. Where others may have found such gifts inconsequential, to Helen they were priceless. And she displayed her gratitude with enthusiastic fervor.
You were our treasure, darling, and we will never forget!
Predeceased by her parents, Joseph and Bessie Morris, and brother Joseph E. Morris, Helen Marie is survived by brothers, John T. Morris of Ft. Lauderdale, FL, and James Morris (Nancy Seyler) of Newfield, NJ; sisters Ruth A. Benowitz , Bettie M. Rayford (Roy Rayford), Diane Warren (Paul Berger), and Sandra Sterchele (Kevin), all of Vineland, NJ, and 12 nieces; 6 nephews; 35 great nieces and nephews, and one great-grand-nephew.
The family will receive friends from 10:00 to 11 AM, on Monday, February 1, 2021, at DeMarco-Luisi Funeral Home, 2755 South Lincoln Avenue, Vineland, NJ. Burial will follow at Greenwood Memorial Park in Millville, NJ.
The family would like to express our thanks for the wonderful help and care given by our RN Jerri and the entire staff at Holy Redeemer Hospice of Runnemede, NJ. In lieu of flowers, friends may, if desired, make memorial contributions to The Funny Farm Rescue & Sanctuary at 6908 Rail Road Blvd., Mays Landing, NJ 08330.