Robert Lee Helwig
May 24, 1926 – June 19, 2020
On Friday, June 19, 2020, Robert (Bert) Lee Helwig, loving husband, father, grandfather, uncle, son, and brother passed away at his home, surrounded by his family and caregivers.
Bert was born on May 24, 1926 in Maurine, MO to Charles and Ruby (Smith) Helwig. On August 24, 1952, he married Rita Jean Harwell in Clinton, MO. They moved to Kansas City where they raised four daughters, Donna, Karen, Marcia, and Lisa, and supported the upbringing of nieces Cindy (Harwell) Miller, Kim (Harwell) Scorza, and nephew, Martin Harwell.
After Bert retired from Delco Battery, a General Motors subsidiary in Olathe, KS, where he worked as an injection molder and a welder, he turned his attention to his hobbies - rock collecting, lapidary arts, and jewelry making. These hobbies eventually led to retail shops, The Owl Tree at the Renaissance Festival and Ace’s Gems and Minerals in Westport. Bert was an active member of Show-Me Rockhounds, the Sterling Guild, and the Association of Earth Science Clubs.
Bert’s talent as a craftsman and artisan were tremendous. He excelled at silversmithing, fabricating many award-winning and fabulous designs. He had an extraordinary eye for detail and a progressive sense of design in jewelry pieces. He was also an exceptional artist, carving intricate freehand designs on scrimshaw pieces. He was equally talented in restoring fossil specimens, always using a delicate and deft hand to expose the hidden treasure.
Bert’s interests were vast and spanned beyond that of rocks, minerals, fossils and jewelry making. He could do anything that he put his mind to, always amazing his family and friends with his ingenuity and fierce determination. Whether singlehandedly building a three-story outdoor stairway or sheet rocking a ceiling without any fancy tools or assist gadgets, he figured out ways to get things done. His unending patience and talent were legendary. Even through the hardships of his Parkinson’s disease and diminished vision, he found ways to continue inventing and working on his projects – most notably his rolling leaf vacuum/shredder/repository that he named The Thing.
Bert’s daughters have fond memories of their father, a few of which they have shared below along with the lessons each taught them.
Being the youngest of four girls I [Lisa] grew up watching sports with my Dad. Actually, I am pretty sure he wanted a boy. But, I didn’t mind. I still remember eating Mom’s chili and watching the Chiefs. He taught me at an early age how to be committed to a football team…. that finally won a Super Bowl after 50 years of faithful viewing…Dad taught us Loyalty!
Every year we would take a two-week vacation, usually to Colorado or some beautiful part of the country. Dad drove our Chevy pick-up truck pulling a pop-up tent trailer over some of the scariest mountain roads – Independence Pass in Colorado, being one of them, where there was no guard rail and each year the highway stripe was painted further inside the crumbling roadside to denote the edge. The scenery was stunning yet it was not uncommon for us to shout at Dad, “You can’t look Dad!…keep your eyes on the road.” He was as cool as a cucumber during these perilous driving maneuvers but we all thought the tent trailer was going to swing off the side of the road as we traversed a curve and pull the truck and us over the precipice with it. But, of course, Dad knew everything was just fine. Dad taught us Trust.
On a July camping trip to Colorado, we awoke to ICE on our tent trailer. Honestly, to us kids, it was just another day because we knew to deal the hand with which we were dealt. We started our morning camping ritual of firing up the camp stove and getting breakfast ready. Soon we looked over and Dad was feverously knocking ice off the canvas and packing the tent trailer. This is a big NO NO with canvas. Dad had always taught us you don’t pack a wet tent! We said, “Dad, what are you doing...where are we going?” All he said was, “SOUTH!” We never knew if Dad was aware the weather was going to get worse or he just knew he didn’t want to deal with ice in July. Either way, Dad taught us how to Make Quick, Defining Decisions and Act on Them!
Pouring the concrete floor in the detached garage was an enormous feat of physical labor which took all four girls and mom, directed by Dad and assisted by future brother-in-law, John, to accomplish. It likely never crossed Dad’s mind that he was relying primarily on four girls, unskilled in the art of concrete work, to accomplish this task. There was no advance discussion or direction; we just got on the job training as he showed us how to mix the concrete, push the wheelbarrow full of concrete up a sloped drive, pour it and level it. And, it turned out great! At an early age, Dad taught us Love, Respect and Girls Can Do Anything Boys Can Do!
Shortly after Lisa moved to Chicago, Mom and Dad went for a visit. A perk of working in a hotel is being able to treat your family to the nicest rooms. Mom and Dad were in the premiere suite in the hotel on the top floor. Dad was so impressed. They had a special elevator key that afforded them access to a special hospitality room. This gave Dad a special feeling of coolness, especially when other hotel guests riding on the elevator asked him how he was able to access the special hospitality floor. A stroll down Michigan Avenue’s Magnificent Mile was part of the adventure during the trip. To Lisa’s astonishment, Dad wanted to go into all the fancy stores. She will never forget being inside the formal dress section of Neiman Marcus and Dad looking at the price tags on all the fancy dresses. He would call to her, “Lisa, come look at this one!” Dad taught us to Always Be Yourself! At a Houston rodeo event where it was military appreciation night the evening started with a dramatic entrance of a para-trooper sliding down a rope onto the floor. I [Lisa] looked over and Dad had tears coming down his face. There were not many times in my life when I saw tears in Dad’s eyes. I can’t even imagine what World War II memory was coming to his mind. Dad taught us Emotion is Powerful.
Driving privileges came with responsibility – one of which was parking the car in the garage. The garage was accessed via a narrow easement drive, up an uneven hill that was bordered on both sides by concrete retaining walls that were having difficulty retaining the earth they were designed to hold in place, making the drive even narrower. Once up the first part of the drive, two perilous drop offs had to be navigated to pull forward and then backward, making a 90 degree turn, to get the car into the garage. Rain or shine, sleet or snow, if you took the car out of the garage, you were responsible for traversing this obstacle course and backing it into the garage. Well, one of us had a mishap and overshot a drop-off. There was no way to hide it and dad had to be brought in to rescue the vehicle. He was angry about the mishap, but never spoke a harsh word. He miraculously navigated the car to get all four wheels on solid ground and parked it in the garage. Dad taught us Patience and that You Can Do Anything You Have to Do.
Mom was always the grocery shopper and cook in our household. When her illness prevented her from accomplishing these tasks, to our surprise, Dad took over! He assumed responsibility for grocery shopping and wanted to learn how to cook and bake. He studied the cooking channels and learned to play the part. He put the towel over his shoulder, just like Emeril. Now, to be honest – sorry Dad – he didn’t cook like Emeril; but he did have the look! Definitely, Dad taught us You Do What You Have to Do!
Dad was a hard worker and maintained a rigorous schedule for himself, even after retirement. He was fiercely determined to maintain purpose in his life and always found projects to make himself useful. Dad often emerged from his bedroom to announce, “I was just lying in bed thinking of everything I need to accomplish for the day!” This, from a 94-year-old man who was afflicted with Parkinson’s Disease and navigating life in a wheel chair. While most of us lay in bed dreaming of the days we won’t have to accomplish anything and can just go with the flow, those days never happened to Dad; he worked in his workshop nearly every day until he left us. Dad taught us to Never Stop Working and to Accomplish Something Every Day!
Finally, when our maternal cousin, Cindy, who had been raised alongside us as close as if she were a sister, lost her father, she reached out to Dad. She asked him if he would be her Dad. He replied, “I have always been a Dad for you.” Dad taught us that Family is Everything!
These, and so many other memories, allow us to part with our father, knowing that he is now reunited with mom, and that he has left us with a lifetime of lessons on which we will rely to guide us and by which we will remember him.
Bert was preceded in death by his wife of 64 years, Rita; his father, Charles, and mother, Ruby Helwig; two sisters, Roberta Hurt and Lydia Graham; two brothers, Charles Helwig and Lewis Helwig; and son-in-law, John Park. He is survived by his brother, Lyle Helwig of Appleton City; four daughters, Donna Park, Karen Helwig-Marchand and husband Chuck, Marcia Helwig of Lee’s Summit, and Lisa Green and Charles Green of Houston, TX; three grandsons, Nathan Park and wife Kelsey, Taylor Park and wife Lauren, and Phillip Helwig; several loving nieces and nephews, and his devoted caregivers, Sharla Davies and April Hatch. The family wishes to thank our wonderful family physician, Todd Fristo, MD, who provided support during the lengthy illness of their mother and father and gave both parents the most amazing care possible. The family suggests donations be made to the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research (michaeljfox.org/donate) in honor of Bert.
No public services are scheduled at this time. Receive a notification when services are updated.
Robert Lee Helwig
June 21, 2020
It has really been too many years since I was once related as a sister-in-law but I still have many fond and happy memories and will never forget. May blessings and peace be with all the relatives and comfort be felt and accepted that he is now with "The Father" and away from pain and suffering.