DRAPER, SD – Helen (Bruce) Cromwell, 91, of Draper SD died January 28, 2019 at Mary House in Pierre SD. Memorial Service will be 10:00am, Friday, February 8 at Draper Auditorium with burial at 2:00pm, MST Friday at Black Hills National Cemetery
Arrangements have been placed in the care of Isburg Funeral Chapel. Online condolences may be made at www.isb urgfuneralchapels.com
Helen Marie Bruce was born December 11, 1927 to Maude and Luther Bruce in Connersville IN. She was the youngest of six and the only girl.
When Helen was two years old her father died in a construction accident. Helen’s earliest memories were of a single parent family as the Great Depression was taking hold. Everyone was struggling to survive hard economic times and some encouraged Helen’s mother to consider an orphanage for her children. Neighbors and strangers helped each other in the ways that they could. The train that ran near the back yard would dump coal for people to pick up. People would trade food and work. Later on Helen’s brothers were able to get work with the WPA projects. The family struggled together and everyone did whatever they could.
Helen enjoyed school and teachers encouraged her to think about what she could do with more education. The economic struggle was still a force to reckon with though so when Helen turned fourteen she decided to quit school so she could work. Helen started work at the Woolworths Department store stocking shelves. She worked her way up to bookkeeper and then to assistant to the regional manager. It was during this time that a friend of Helen’s was in the Army serving in Korea. The friend encouraged Helen to write to his buddy who was from South Dakota and who had received one of those “Dear John” letters. Helen’s friend said his buddy and Helen shared a similar kind of humor and that he could use a friendly letter to raise his spirits. That was all the motivation Helen needed to write to this stranger. Helen and Don Cromwell exchanged letters with each other throughout the rest of Don’s deployment in Korea. In August 1954, it was time for Don to leave the Army and head home to the family farm. Helen wrote Don to tell him that she enjoyed their friendship and she understood his need to go home to see where life would take him. Helen wished Don well and said goodbye.
About three months later, Don Cromwell showed up at Helen’s home in Connersville IN. Don asked her to marry him. They married on January 3, 1955. Don found a job building refrigerators at a plant in Connersville. A short time later, Helen was asked if she would consider making a move to the corporate offices along with the manager who was just promoted. At the same time, Don’s family in South Dakota was encouraging them to come back and take over the family farm. Helen loved the idea of raising a family on the farm and considering that Don and Helen just found that they would be parents in the fall, moving to South Dakota won out.
Helen and Don pulled together what they could to buy a farm truck and headed to South Dakota in the spring of 1955. As they rolled into eastern South Dakota, Helen thought the landscape was not too different from Indiana and she would be happily settling into farm life shortly. On a dreary, windy March day Helen and Don made their way west on Highway 16, crossing the Missouri River at Chamberlain. Climbing up from the river bottom to the west side and now fully exposed to the big gray March sky with winds pushing truck and car sideways, Helen said she found herself thinking “Oh my, this is not what I was expecting. What have I gotten myself into”.
Their first child was born that fall and with that birth, Don promised that they would go back to Indiana to visit family after the following summer’s wheat harvest. The following summer a hail storm wiped out the wheat crop and there would be no trip back. It was almost four years after moving to South Dakota that Helen, Don and now two daughters would finally travel back home to Indiana. Helen said that it only took a few days after she caught up with family and friends that she felt like she needed to get home to South Dakota. She felt like all the trees and flat land were closing in on her. It was time to get back home to the farm.
Helen and Don raised seven children on that farm. Seven. Helen was seven mothers to her children. Each one needed something different and she was that mother to that child.
One of Helen’s most common phrases was “have you ever noticed?”. This tended to be about people and the way people got along with each other. Sometimes it was about bigger things and what was going on in the world. Helen had no patience for hatred, racism, or judging others. With this she taught us to be better people.
It is with “have you noticed?” that Helen also encouraged her kids to be curious about how things worked. She encouraged us to be curious and learn things. She said it is a big world out there and there is so much to learn. Be curious and explore. Helen would say that she did not have money to travel the way she might have but she found that meeting people was like traveling and she enjoyed hearing their stories. Be curious and embrace our differences.
Helen had a quick wit and because she was on the quiet side, well, as compared to her husband, people might not know that about her. She was not so much like the mother from Father Knows Best but more like a Dorothy Parker. We will miss her and her wit.
As Helen’s health started to fade, she commented that she was thinking of her end time and that she was happy. She said she had a good run of it. She said life throws a lot of challenges up and it can be hard but she had no regrets. She said she was most proud of her big sprawling family. It was what she wanted and more than she dreamed.
Helen is survived by her children: Pat Cromwell (Skip Fossen), Rapid City SD; Robin Cromwell, Draper SD; Valerie Moore (Rick), Chamberlain SD; Mike Cromwell (Dawn), Butternut WI; and Chris Cromwell (Erika), Brandon SD; nineteen grandchildren and eleven great-grandchildren.
She was preceded in death by her husband Don and her daughters Deb Haka and Donna Westhoff.