Helen Frances Brazy was born to William Hallock Coffin and Esther Marre (Esty), very lively and outgoing parents, in St. Louis, MO in October of 1912. A few years later her father was off to training new WWI recruits in rural camp far from home (flu epidemic and all), leaving her mother with three small children (Edward H. b.1911; Helen F. b.1912; Esther M. b.1915) in an era of streetcar adventures. (The last sibling was William H. b.1925)
The family moved to Wauwatosa Wisconsin in 1922, where Helen had wonderful years in high school. She excelled academically and enjoyed extra curricular activities where she earned letters for her sweater in a hiking club and basketball.
In 1929 the family purchased a gentleman’s farm, Hi-Acres, in Germantown Wisconsin. There Helen's father practiced daredevil horseback riding (he was a friend of Tom Mix and performed in Mix’s Trick Riding Rodeo shows) when not working as Circulation Manager at the Milwaukee Journal, while her mother raised and baked bountiful fresh food through the Depression.
Helen started college at Beloit, but returned home to recover from pneumonia in that time before antibiotics. She met her future husband, David Michael Brazy, due to his shared interest in automobiles with her brother Edward. Soon Helen and sister, Esther, joined the Menomonee Falls Rifle Team that David started (David placed 3rd in the regional competitions), and David wooed Helen with the gift of a canoe (which, years after they were married, he traded for hunting gear).
Helen and David married in 1935, and had a gracious stone house built in a residential part of Main St., Menomonee Falls. Helen and her sister, Esther, hosted many holiday parties for the growing clan of nieces and nephews (and, later, their spouses) of the Coffin and Brazy families.
WWII opened up new chapters – David worked at a munitions plant of Falk Industries in Milwaukee, and Helen followed her family tradition of service by enlisting in the Navy WAVES. She was stationed in Charleston, SC, in a unit that provided support for minesweepers that guarded the U. S. southern coast. After the war, Helen attended UW Madison on the GI Bill, graduating Magna Cum Laude with a BA in History in 1949.
After the war, she and David converted the Brazy Meat Market into a sporting goods store (at the intersection of Main Street and Grand Avenue) in Menomonee Falls. Helen shared David’s love for the outdoors - they were among the first people in Wisconsin to have Yellow Labrador retrievers and they went on a fishing trip in rural Canada (David was always looking for a place where the uneducated fish would bite quickly on any lure that was cast their way.)
These years were filled with helping to raise Esther’s three sons, Joe Jr., Peter, and Michael, after her husband Joseph Brazy’s untimely demise in 1950 from stomach cancer. Helen was also a second mother when needed for nieces Barbara, Judi, and Cynthia, and nephew Dale Coffin (and, later, Carolyn's good friends). Her most memorable vacation was to visit WA on the luxurious SS Lurline ocean liner. While in Hawaii, Helen took hula lessons, starting a lifelong passion. After returning to Wisconsin, she expressed her love of the Navy by devoting her time to the Menomonee Falls American Legion Post, where she served as commander from 1953-54, the Legion Auxiliary, and WAVES National.
Business was slow in the winter, giving the family the opportunity to vacation in Florida - first with Helen’s Aunt Ethel and Uncle Jack Curtin in the midst of Geneva orange groves, later in (the then) bucolic Ft. Myers Beach - where they enjoyed walking, biking along the imaginable way, fresh fish and shrimp feasts, and playing canasta and singing around bonfires with friends Mel and Mertle Horton (from Winnebago).
Risks and health concerns notwithstanding, 1956 brought a long desired and much loved daughter, Carolyn. Finally Helen had someone to dress in ruffled eyelet, crinoline, smocking and ribbons! The combined families spent many relaxed weekends boating on Lake Winnebago. Another weekend tradition was visiting David’s parents and sister Rose Lucoff in Milwaukee – a delightful person in spite of her years of suffering with rheumatoid arthritis (The family of David’s other sister, Martha (Tax), were also close neighbors).
Helen continued her hula dancing with lessons in Milwaukee, and taught daughter Carolyn to dance as well, starting Carolyn on her life-long love of all dance forms. With her nephew Michael’s help, Helen planted a huge garden, producing tomatoes each summer before everyone else and with enough raspberry plants to feed the whole neighborhood (while supporting a teeming colony of mosquitoes).
Walks with Carolyn to school along Grand Avenue introduced the Ed and Jeanine Semon family into the fold. Helen and Jeanine communed while the kids (and dogs) played in the Semon’s gorgeous back yard by the river, learned to ride bikes in the driveway, swim in the High School pool, and eventually, to sail on Cedar Lake.
Helen and David had many beloved dogs, including Cappy, who performed in High School plays (1920’s), and Polly, a self-trained Yellow Labrador, who successfully competed in local field trials (1940’s). The 'ultimate,' Kip, could often be seen at his post in the front bay window watching for "SQQQQQuirls", when he wasn't pulling family members madly through the enchanting Lime Kiln Park on walks. When Carolyn was in second grade a chance meeting brought Roberta Crum into the mix. Helen hosted many an over-nighter for Carolyn's friends, graciously allowing the Brazy flat (including the back porch, which was magical even for adults) to be converted into a stage for the girls’ fantasies and skits.
David’s flagging health due to a motorcycle accident in his youth prompted Helen and David to sell the store in 1972. Helen’s concerns also turned to the care of her revered Aunt Frances, who could no longer live alone in her home in historical Moorestown, NJ. Helen attended various classes as breaks from caregiving, including ones on belly dance and the Dead Sea Scrolls, but things really took off when she attended (the indomitable) Freda Gratzen’s country dance classes. As with hula, Helen had found both a dance form and an outlet she could really enjoy for years to come.
Freda and Helen went to Scottish balls south of Philadelphia as well as Pinewoods Traditional Dance and Music Camp in Mass., among others. Their adventures continued after Helen moved back to Menomonee Falls following both Aunt Frances’ and David’s deaths (and Freda moved to Iowa). Helen, Freda, and a new friend, Marie Wolf, attended many (Square, Round, and Contra) dance conferences throughout the region, and one in Hawaii. Delightful cousins Jack and Letty Curtin had retired to Hawaii,and Helen repeatedly visited and studied at the marvelous Polynesian Cultural Center over the ensuing years.
Helen was delighted to move into a lovely 'greenhouse' condo with beautiful views of treetops and part of the Menomonee River Parkway, filled with canary singing (Ariel took the stage previously occupied by Melody and Mario). She invested herself in the leadership of the Country Folk Dancers in Milwaukee, and built an extensive, diverse repertoire, with a full schedule of performances for the group.
In the winter of 1999, Helen realized that she needed to be closer to family, so she moved to Madison, finding an apartment within walking distance from the homes of Carolyn and Raul, and nephew, Drs. Peter and wife Jane Brazy. Although the apartment's “boring beige” decoration scheme left a lot to be desired, she, with the help of Roberta, Carolyn's life-long friend, transformed it with peach-colored accents. Fortunately, it also had the eastern and southern sunlight, as well as tree-top views she loved, so it became a warm and welcoming home for the last 14 years of her life.
Helen regularly attended the social events in her new apartment building, leading the exercise class, and becoming good friends with JoAnn and Mariann. She also enjoyed the events of the Fitchburg Senior Center, was an active member in their Singers, and became a fixture in the adjacent community garden, which Carolyn and Raul have continued. Raul, her devoted son-in-law, made sure he always planted pink or peach-colored flowers for Helen among the tomatoes. Fate brought them in touch with Kathy Englebretsen, who led a hula group. The members of Hula Ho'oli welcomed Helen and her dancing with much Aloha (deep love and respect), and together they had a full schedule of rehearsals and performances for years.
Even the healthiest of bodies finally slows down. Helen’s last years were infinitely enriched by the expert loving care, listening and singing of Lou Ann Mabry, Cindy Harrington, Sherry Birchall, and Breanne Kilgore. They, along with Carolyn and Raul, made sure that she was comfortable and engaged. Nieces and nephews, as well as Ed and Jeanine, visited throughout the year and Roberta brought Helen homemade treats.
Everyone merged talents and gave Helen three memorable birthday parties in her final years, when she turned 98, 99, and again this year for her 100th birthday. Family and friends gathered to honor and fete a woman who shaped and enriched their lives.
Helen passed peacefully at home in Fitchburg, surrounded by family and friends, on Tuesday, Jan. 29, 2013.
Helen Frances Brazy was a woman of strength, character, and graciousness, who exercised a lively intellect. A woman ahead of her time, she was an adventurer who lived her life to its fullest, did the things she wanted to do, traveled to the places she wanted to go, and exemplified that it's never too late to start something new.
She, and her family, shared love with many, many people during the century of her life. From the words of one of her favorite songs "I'll be loving you, Always, with a love that's true, Always . . . not for just an hour, not for just a day, not for just a year, but Always."
A Memorial is planned for this summer - we’ll contact those who post condolences on this site.
Donations may be made in Helen’s name to any of the following organizations: