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“I would like to get more involved in my community, but I do not have time.”

“I’m just too busy with life to volunteer.”

“Life is too hectic for me to make a commitment to volunteering.

How often do we hear those words? I used to say them. Then I met Freeda Helmuth.

Monday through Friday, 93-year-old Freeda (Schwietert) Helmuth babysat for her two-year-old, 4-year-old and her 6-year-old great-grandchildren. She also gardened, kept house and made quilts. The last time I talked to Freeda she had made grape jelly and grape juice that day from her homegrown grapes. She also gave me her recipe for a cucumber and onion mix. Freeda ALWAYS had time to give.

My friend, Freeda Helmuth.

An active member of Salem Mennonite Church, Nappanee, Freeda was involved with the Nappanee Missionary Church’s Sewing Circle and attended Nappanee Care Givers. But, Freeda’s “giving” wasn’t limited to church or missionary service work.

In 1936 Freeda married Eli and by 1959, they had eight children. Then they further expanded their family by taking in foster children needing a home. Over the next 25 years Freeda and Eli took in 46 children including those with handicaps and serious illnesses.

“Several children came that were so undernourished,” Freeda told me, “one girl was hit on the head by her daddy and was blind and paralyzed because of it. She had surgery on her head and was able to see and walk again. She was soon adopted after that.

“It’s hard to give up children in foster care. They never left without tears and a prayer, knowing that God would take care of them wherever they are.

“After 25 years we quit foster care. Five years later they wanted us to start up again, but in the meantime, friends and neighbors had started bringing in their babies and I started daycare. I did not realize it would last until now, over 20 years later.

“I just thank God for my health so I can continue to have the children since it helps pass the time and the days are not so long.”

In 1981, Freeda and Eli traveled to Germany, France, Switzerland, Holland, Belgium and Denmark. In 1987 they took a 6 week trip to Alaska. They went up to see the pipeline. While in Fairbanks, they saw an Eskimo lady sweeping the sidewalks.

Freeda grew up in North Dakota during a time of dust storms and the depression. She was the fifth child from a family of eleven. Her nearest neighbors were a mile away. This is a picture of the farm where she lived.

She said, “Are you what we call Amish?” She told Freeda and Eli that she had read about the Amish and that there were just a few left. Freeda told her there were Amish in almost every state in the United States.

Says Freeda, “She had the Shaker people in mind. There are just a few of them left.”

In 1990, when Eli was 80 years old, he and Freeda went to Paraguay, South America for two weeks for a wedding. In 1993, Eli had flu symptoms and a pain in his side.

Eli’s first horse and buggy.

Only it wasn’t the flu. Eli had had an abdominal aneurysm. Freeda and Eli had been married 57 years when he died. Together they had bought and paid for their farm. They had traveled around the world. They had raised 8 children and fostered 46. In addition, Freeda has 20 grandchildren and 24 greatgrandchildren.

“We had a good life,” said Freeda, “It was a busy one, I’m still busy and I have no regrets. The Lord has been good to me and for that I am grateful and truly at peace.”

Freeda Helmuth, 95, died Thursday at 3:30 p.m., March 3, 2011 at IU Health Goshen Hospital. Today, I believe that Freeda is caring for children. She is also encouraging each and every one of us to do ALL that we can to help those less fortunate.

I am grateful to have met Freeda Helmuth and blessed that she shared her story and friendship with me.

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