By Jennifer Pauly
Niagara River Region Chamber of Commerce
Village of Youngstown Mayor Raleigh Reynolds and board trustees have chosen Helen Murray as the 2018 Village of Youngstown Citizen of the Year.
Many community members expressed their joy in recognizing a remarkable woman who has a genuine love for people. Helen has made an impact on everyone she comes into contact with - from neighborhood kids, to former students, to her church community.
Helen and her late husband, Donald, moved to Youngstown 50 years ago, when Don's job transferred him to the area. Youngstown has been a wonderful place for Don and Helen to raise their children: Mary Ellen, Ann Marie and their late son, Timothy. Helen is fortunate to still live in the same house when they first moved to Youngstown, and enjoy watching her neighbors' children grow up, attending their weddings and meeting new families who move into the neighborhood.
As the youngest of nine children and the youngest girl, Helen's older sisters entered her into a Shirley Temple contest sponsored by a dairy farm when she was young. She won the contest and her photo was used to promote the dairy farm. One of the prizes was a free year of dance lessons, which led to Helen's love and training in dance.
Helen became a dance teacher in the Akron School District, sponsored by the PTA, starting at age 19. She choreographed 16 high school musicals for the former Bishop Neumann High School in Amherst. Helen also worked with her dear late friend and brilliant dancer, Beverly Fletcher Bellegia, known to many as Miss Bev.
Many know Helen locally as the owner of Youngstown Dance (for over 20 years). Before opening the studio, Helen recalled how the late Anne Gibson, a business owner and active volunteer in the village, created and distributed a survey asking for ideas on programs youth in the community could participate in. Gibson approached Helen, as she knew she was a dance teacher.
Helen began classes at the Red Brick School and, after one year, rented the VFW Post. She continued to teach tap, jazz and ballet two days a week, touching the lives of many children with dance for 23 years. Following her years of teaching children, adults became interested, resulting in an 18-and-over tap class, which named themselves the "Thundering Thighs."
Helen has many former students who continue to express their respect and admiration for the impact she made on their lives. There are former students who have named their children after her. She keeps in touch with many of the former students who send her cards and photos and updates about their lives.
Helen is also known as "grandma" to many in the neighborhood. She boasts she has more grandchildren than anyone in the world! Helen opened her backyard and pool as a safe place for children and families to visit and enjoy for over 40 years. Many neighborhood children learned to swim in her pool. But Helen herself doesn't swim - her husband often refers to the pool as the largest footbath in Youngstown! She enjoys people and, because her neighbors are wonderful and respectful, it is a pleasure for her to have the pool and backyard filled with the laughter of children from the community.
At 87 years young, Helen is active with the Alter Rosary Society at St. Peter's R.C. Church/St. Bernard's and as a sacristan. She enjoys being a part of the church and has made many friends from her involvement, including the Rev. Monsignor David LiPuma. Helen also is involved with the Youngstown Women's Club, and as a volunteer at the Mount St. Mary's Hospital ER.
Helen attributes this award to her husband, Donald, who has been very supportive of her. She received constant encouragement over their 60 years of marriage from Don and says a big part of the award is because of him. They have loved raising their family and enjoying life together in the Village of Youngstown where friends are easy to make and friendships last a lifetime.
The Niagara River Region Chamber of Commerce, Reynolds and the Board of Trustees are proud to honor Helen Murray, the 2018 Village of Youngstown Citizen of the Year.
Awards will be presented to those contributing to the success of the local area when the Niagara River Region Chamber of Commerce holds its annual awards gala on Thursday, April 19, at the Niagara Falls Country Club in Lewiston.
The event begins with a cocktail hour and hors d'oeuvres, followed by a sit-down dinner and awards program. A silent auction will take place throughout the evening.
Tickets and sponsorship opportunities are available through the chamber office by calling 716-754-9500.