Centenarian doesn’t miss much

Published 11:29 pm Thursday, December 24, 2015


Sports, music and ceramics lead to a rich life

By Mark Schmerling

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When Helen Heater of LaurelWoods in Columbus turned 100 on Nov. 10, she was honored at a party.


That’s no surprise. But, when a man jumped out of one of the decorations and offered her a beer, she gladly accepted, and drank it. Maybe that wasn’t so typical for a centenarian, but maybe she isn’t so typical either.


“You can’t waste beer,” she emphasized.


“My husband (the late Frank Heater) said he married me because I drink beer. It was a cheap drink.”


Helen Heater is a funny lady. That’s no surprise, either, considering her father, Jack Donnelly, appeared in Vaudeville with the legendary George M. Cohan. Donnelly also directed a number of shows. Helen Heater remembers her family gathering and singing when she was growing up. Her sister Betty played the piano.



A 1933 graduate of St. Peter’s School in New Brunswick, N.J. (where she played for the 1931 women’s state championship basketball team, and attended from Kindergarten through twelfth grades), Helen went on to serve as a secretary at Rutgers University, the state university of New Jersey, and play lots of golf and tennis.


Her husband, Frank, worked for Mack Truck, so the couple moved to Mack locations in Allentown, Pa., and Hagerstown, Md.


In addition to her sporting background, she also played the violin.


“I took violin lessons for 17 years,” she remembered, but admitted, “I wouldn’t know how to play now.” Her violin teacher was Frank Hart. Helen was good enough to play in concerts in New Brunswick.


While living in Hagerstown, she joined the golf club, and got to play with the girls, and got to know people, she said. She remembers that for many years, “I played tennis every morning, and golf every afternoon. In fact, I could beat my husband in golf, and that didn’t go over very well.”


Frank died in 1975, but Helen continued to golf into her 80s.


Now, Helen Heater’s focus is more on making her prize-winning ceramic figures and enjoying lunch and ceramics at the senior center near Columbus.


Before moving to Polk County from Florida in 2002, Helen sang in a senior chorus to entertain in nursing homes. She also volunteered and found ways to help others.


“I did a lot of things when I lived in Florida,” she said. “I was a lot younger.”


These days, Helen’s niece, Barbara Belthoff, a young-looking and sharp-minded 80, spends much time with Helen. When Helen Heater lived in Florida (from about 1974 to 2002), Barbara’s mother Betty Hagen lived next door. Belthoff has lived in Polk County since 1992.


When she moved to Columbus, Helen resided at LaurelHurst, but five years later, after breaking a hip, she moved a short distance to LaurelWoods.


Does Helen feel that her tennis, golf and using her brain regularly help her reach 100?


“Yeah,” he replied. “I don’t think I do too bad for my age . . . As long as we’re still here.”