Ellie Heller cared for children
Ellie Heller, who cared for more than 60 foster children, including many with disabilities, died April 18 in Pelican Rapids. She was 89. She was a strong advocate for children and co-founder of the Minnesota Foster Care Association. Daughter-in-law Georgia Heller Duncan, said that many children she cared for had autism, fetal alcohol syndrome and other disabilities.
Heller served as a foster parent until two years ago. She and husband Einar and their family lived for 40 years in Spring Lake Park.
Heller also was a volunteer advocate for what was then called the Association for Retarded Citizens (ARC), said her son-in-law, Mel Duncan. In 1985, Heller and her husband moved to Akeley, to be near their son Terry and help run his resort. Her husband preceded her in death. She is survived by her son, foster children, and many grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Services will be held in June in Pelican Rapids.
Helmerichs was a pioneer
Activist Sally Graner Swallen Helmerichs died April 28 after a one-vehicle accident near her Edina home. She was 80 and was recently honored by The Arc Minnesota as one of its heroes and pioneers. Disability rights became the focus of her life because of the severe developmental disabilities, including Angelman’s syndrome that her two oldest sons faced.
Helmerichs was one of the first women to lobby the Minnesota Legislature, dedicating herself to raising awareness of developmental disabilities and the need for support. She directed the Community Health Education Network for The Arc, an E-library of resources to help people with disabilities expand independent living skills. She also did workshops for direct care staff, medical professionals, and police officers to work more effectively with people with disabilities.
Helmerichs received the 2002 ARC Minnesota Betty Hubbard Family Advocacy Award, in recognition of her lifetime of dedication. She is survived by her husband Robert, three sons and seven grandchildren. One son preceded her in death. Services have been held.
Thorson was first ‘Handiham’
Edna “Eddy” Thorson, 75, was Courage Center’s first “Handiham.” She pioneered use of amateur radios by people with disabilities. She died April 13.
Thorson, a Grand Meadow native, had muscular dystrophy. She stopped attending school in sixth grade, when she began using a wheelchair. She stayed home, running a phone answering service, using ham radios and making dolls. Nuns from Rochester helped her move to the Twin Cities in about 1985.
Thorson earned the top license for ham operators and could easily tap out 30 words a minute in Morse code. She was nationally recognized as one of America’s outstanding young women for her volunteer work with the American Red Cross.
She was a longtime resident of the Cunningham, a Minneapolis residence for people with disabilities.
Thorson asked that she have no funeral services. Instead a tree will be planted at the Cunningham in her memory.