Archive for Wednesday, January 26, 2000

As time goes by

Area woman looks back on her life in the 1900s

January 26, 2000

As Helen Funkhouser looks back on the 96 years of her life, her lips frequently turn upward in a girlish smile.

Like the 20-something-year-old cat, Ira Gershwin, who purrs by her side, Funkhouser seems younger than her age.

She recently moved from Tonganoxie to a retirement center in Baldwin so she could be closer to her son.

It has been a good life and a busy life, she says.

The years cloud one into another as Funkhouser recalls her early days. She may not always be able to remember the exact year personal events occurred. But much of that information is readily available in a book of her family history that she wrote 10 years ago. She reaches for the book on the coffee table, flips through pages, and within seconds finds the date of her marriage.

With the beginning of a new century, Funkhouser reflected and said much of her life had been a party of one sort of another a party of survival, a party of success, a party of health and a party of a marriage that spanned more than a half-century.

Born in Dayton, Ohio, in 1903, Funkhouser was a doctor's daughter.

She recalled visiting patients with her father when she was a child.

"My father would talk to me about the cases and would even ask my advice," she said.

She married James Funkhouser on Aug. 14, 1925.

He was a musician and a scientist, she said, and she had earlier saved his life when traditional medicine failed, by using her grandmother's remedy of bringing down a fever.

Funkhouser was active in politics throughout her married life. In her 20s, she fought for clean water in New Hampshire. Following World War II, she traveled to England and assisted families in moving out of their basement bunkers. Later, in California, in 1980, her conservation efforts earned her an award from the California Soil Conservation Society.

When James and Helen Funkhouser moved to Tonganoxie in the late 1980s they rode in a convertible in the Leavenworth County fair parade, named the longest-married couple in the county. They had moved here from California so they could be near their son, James, who lived in Lawrence at the time, and somewhat closer to their daughter, Elsa Mae Jensen, who lives in Cincinnati.

Today, Funkhouser chuckles when she recalls traumas that she survived early in life. Before she started school, she managed to put her hand into a fodder machine. Two fingers, amputated, were sewn back on, with success.

When in her late 20s, she went through the windshield during an automobile accident. Recovery was slow and the cold New Hampshire weather made it worse. So the family moved to southern California where Funkhouser eventually regained her strength.

Her travels from one side of the country to another and her experiences with family, life and politics provided her with stories to tell from sunup to sundown.

She speaks with lightness, with a positive attitude that has helped her through tough times and inspired her throughout her life.

"I don't know why I've lived such a hard, busy life," she said. "I can't imagine why I'm still here. Everybody says it's because there's something that I still have to do yet."

Funkhouser pauses, puts a hand on her cheek, and says quietly,

"But I can't figure out what."

Friends who would like to stay in touch with Funkhouser, may write to her at Vantage Park Retirement Center, 321 Crimson Ave., Baldwin, 66006.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.