Archive for Wednesday, October 3, 2001

Schilling set example to follow

October 3, 2001

The life of Helen Schilling, said to have been one of Tonganoxie's most patriotic women, came to a close on Friday.

"She was a patriotic person every day not just after there was a problem," said Larry Meadows, a member of the Tonganoxie VFW Post 9279. "You might say she wasn't a rainy day patriotic person."

Throughout her life, Schilling, who had served in the Spars during World War II, took the military seriously.

"She was quick to wear her uniform, she was quick to salute," Meadows said. "She'd get teary-eyed when she thought about the sacrifices the country had to make during World War II, and of course she was proud of the time she had served."

One of her favorite places was the VFW park in Tonganoxie.

"When she took a ride, she liked to come down to the park, she sure did," Meadows said.

When Schilling moved into Tonganoxie Nursing Center almost five years ago, she gave away her possessions to her friends. One of her most treasured belongings was a Steinway piano she had inherited from an aunt. This, she specified, would be kept in storage until the Tonganoxie VFW constructed a post home.

Meadows said that the VFW building, which is under construction, will house the piano.

"Around the piano we're going to put her memorabilia, including her 48-star flag and things she had saved from World War II," Meadows said.

Schilling was a cousin to David Schilling, a well known military name.

"He was one of the most highly decorated fighter pilots during World War II," Meadows said. An Air Force base in Salina at one time was named after him. It was from David Schilling's mother that Helen Schilling inherited the Steinway piano.

Even after she moved to the nursing center, Schilling read newspapers to stay abreast of world news.

"One of her greatest joys was her subscription to the Lawrence Journal-World, so she was able to keep up on current events," Kay Soetaert said.

Just last week, Schilling, at 91, was clipping articles about the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks to put in a scrapbook, Soetaert said.

A former feature writer and columnist for this newspaper, Schilling began writing for The Tonganoxie Mirror when she was in high school. At that time, Walt Neibarger owned the newspaper and lived with his family above The Mirror office.

Walt Neibarger's son, John Neibarger, 78, who owned The Tonganoxie Mirror from 1950 until the late 1980s, recalled his experiences of working with Schilling.

"It was always a question of whether she worked for me or I worked for her," he added.

The two would sometimes cross paths.

"I probably fired her 10 or 15 times and she quit 10 or 15 times and then in a couple of days I'd call her and say come on down here and get to work and she would say, 'I'm already working,'" Neibarger said.

Soetaert recalled that the nickname, "Scoop Schilling," was attributed to Schilling because she hit up everyone for news. Readers knew her to be relentless.

"But what they didn't know was that she was paid 25 cents for every column inch, and that that was how she earned her spending money, her Coke money," Soetaert said.

However, she was satisfied with her pay, and turned down offers of a raise, Neibarger said.

To the end of her days, Schilling was exceptionally patriotic, said Soetaert, who reiterated a comment made by Larry Meadows:

"She wasn't a rainy day patriot," Soetaert said. "In the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorism, she put a bumper sticker on the back of her wheelchair."

This week, as the community says goodbye to this interesting, enthusiastic and patriotic woman, it might be said that the bumper sticker's words, "God Bless America" could indeed serve as an epithet for Helen Schilling's life.

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