Helen Mae Wheeler of Oak Bluffs died peacefully on Feb, 25 in New Port Richey, Fla., with her daughter Pamela at her side. She was 96.
She was the embodiment of joy and vitality and was blessed with a magnetic sense of wonderment about life, which inspired many.
Helen was born on Vineyard avenue in Oak Bluffs on Sept. 12, 1917, the daughter of Joseph Rose and Caroline Correia. She grew up on New York avenue and called Oak Bluffs her home. She held fond memories of her childhood on the Island and loved to share stories of its rich history with everyone.
Helen was forever active and never short on friends. Her fondest memories of a childhood spent on the Island included playing the game Ring-a-levio with the neighborhood children and sharing ghost stories. She recalled Island winters filled with snow forts and joyous snowball fights, as well as days of ice skating on the ponds and riding her sled near Crystal Lake.
Throughout childhood she loved walking on the beach with her brothers, baking Portuguese sweet bread with her mother, and clamming or crabbing with her father in the Vineyard’s waters. Come Saturday night, she would enjoy a ride on the Flying Horses, and maybe a treat of some frozen pudding ice cream. Every Wednesday night, without fail, she could be found singing at the Tabernacle. For Helen, life on the Island was “a tremendous experience; a constant vacation!”
She was inexhaustible as a little girl and was involved in every activity Island life had to offer; the 4H supper clubs, spelling bees, sewing, basketball, Girl Scouts, acting the lead in school plays, learning piano and bugle were all the hallmarks of a youthful vibrance that would carry her well throughout her life. Her favorite subjects were English, history and geography and her favorite teacher was Charles Dawns, whom she said made every book “come to life.” In June of 1935 she presented her speech to the other six graduating students in Oak Bluffs as the valedictorian of the class of 1935.
After graduation, Helen took a job in the Oak Bluffs town office, under Joseph A. Sylvia, and then entered her nurse's training at St. Luke’s Hospital in New Bedford. She became a registered nurse after receiving her state board license for nursing in Boston. She returned to Martha’s Vineyard and practiced private duty nursing, during which time she was proud to work for some notable people, including Charles and Anne Morrow Lindberg’s son, Land; Madame Chiang Kai-Shek’s sister, and Miss Madeleine Dinsmore of Edgartown.
In the fall of 1939 she worked on the mainland at Taunton State Hospital, a mental institution. After two years she moved to New York city and continued to work as a registered nurse. Eventually her career led her to McAlester, Okla. There she would meet her husband, Charles Wheeler, a soldier in the Army and the love of her life for 54 years
Charles’s career as a civil engineer meant a life of travel for Helen due to his frequent transfers. In 1958 they settled in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, with their two children, Charles Casper Jr. and Pamela Rose. She continued her nursing career there at Green Cross Hospital.
In 1981, Helen retired from nursing. She and Charles traveled as far as Hong Kong and Europe, while taking in the rich cultures and adding to their art collection. On returning to the U.S., they continued their travels, and found Florida to be their new favorite destination. New Port Richey became their final home as they lived out their retirement years there in winter, returning to the Vineyard every summer.
Helen remained as active as ever, enjoying the theatre, playing cards, swimming and paddle boating. Her greatest joy of all, though, was her role as loving wife, mother and grandmother to three doting grandchildren who affectionately referred to her as Mia.
Every summer she returned to her childhood home on New York avenue in Oak Bluffs. Her brother, Henry Joseph Rose, was a year-round resident, and the two of them became “peas in a pod” on the Island. Even after Henry’s passing in 2010, Helen took up many new friendships with the newer generation on the Island. She could often be found at Offshore Ale enjoying a cup of chowder, or at Nancy’s enjoying the water view while sipping a Dirty Banana. She loved to people-watch, and was never too shy to strike up a conversation with someone who started out as a stranger, but left as a friend.
Helen inspired many people with her inimitable sense of wonder about the world, even up until her final days. She watched every fireworks display the Oak Bluffs fire department put on like it was her first, and sang every Community Sing verse at the Tabernacle as enthusiastically as when she was a little girl.
Helen was predeceased by her son Charles (Chuck) Casper Jr.; her husband Charles (Charlie) Casper Sr.; and her two brothers, Joseph C. Rose and Henry J. Rose. She is survived by her daughter Pamela Wheeler Peckar of Alexandria, Va.; her three grandchildren: Caroline Ward, of Highland Park, N.J., Erik Peckar of Vineyard Haven, and Helena Peckar of Alexandria, Va.; her four nephews Brian Rose of Lakeville, Jeffrey Rose of San Francisco, Joseph Rose of Alexandria, and Bruce Rose of Melbourne Beach, Fla.; her three great-nieces Kelsey and Michaela Rose of Lakeville, and Amandine Rose of San Francisco.
A celebration of her life is being planned for this summer in Oak Bluffs. Her final resting place will be in the Correia family plot at Oak Grove Cemetery in Oak Bluffs.
Donations in Helen’s memory may be made to Martha’s Vineyard Community Services, Island Counseling Center, either online at mvcommunityservices.thankyou4caring.org/give or via mail at 111 Edgartown Road, Vineyard Haven, MA 02568. This organization was chosen as Helen was a friend of the late Christopher Sears, a counselor at MVCS.