Obituary of Helen Marie Hoffsommer
Helen Marie Hoffsommer, beloved mother, grandmother, sister, friend, was born April 10, 1930 in Topeka, KS to Raymond and Irene (Slavens) Hoffsommer. She passed away on March 23, 2020 at peace, at home in Tucson, AZ, from complications of congestive heart failure. Helen lived in many places where she made lifelong friends who shared her love of nature and reading.
A natural storyteller, Helen grew up on a family farm in Stull, KS prior to rural electrification. She truly lived the Little House on the Prairie life learning how to cook, bake bread and can provisions on a coal fired stove. Water came from a nearby spring; winter ice was kept in a stream fed ice-house where the crawdads lived and they cooled summer watermelons. She considered herself a tomboy, and with her long pig-tails and blue jeans, loved wandering in the woods alone, hiding in a lilac shelter, bringing home birds-nests and other treasures, fishing in the creek. She walked to a one-room school house and brought the cows home at night. She remembered that her mother bought her an upright piano with her egg money. As a schoolgirl, she played piano for her church and in class. Her children have fond memories of listening to her playing Chopin on her baby grand piano in the evenings.
She graduated Valedictorian from Berryton High School in 1948 and remained life-long friends with her classmate Phyllis Worthington of Tecumseh, KS. She moved to Topeka, KS, bobbed her hair and started her first job with the Acheson, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad in the typing pool. She was living at the Topeka YMCA with her girlfriends and fellow co-workers when she met Louis Fanning, a soldier on leave during the Korean War. She and Louis married in Tokyo, Japan where their daughter Jeanne was born in 1952. While in Japan, Helen studied ikebana and Japanese cooking.
Helen and Louis’s son Kurt was born in Berwyn, IL in 1954. She and her young family lived for many years in Farmingdale on Long Island, New York where Louis taught History at SUNY Farmingdale. Helen worked as a typist for accountants during tax seasons so she could enjoy summers with her children in her garden and at the beach. Neighbor children always knew there would be home-baked cookies at Helen’s house. Having made her own clothes as a young woman, she sewed her daughter’s clothes too. Her beautiful garden tomatoes were fiercely fought over, her roses, iris and annual flower gardens were a wonder. She went to yard sales to add to her collection of green depression glass and Southern Pottery which she used every day. An avid reader, she grew up with limited access to books. She loved to talk books and writers and passed on the love of reading to her children and grandchildren. Willa Cather was a favorite writer, Green Mansions a favorite book.
Helen and Louis moved to Northport, LI where she enjoyed walks to nearby Crab Meadow Beach and planted a woodland garden of azaeleas and hostas in the back, with gooseberries and tomatoes in the front yard. She loved the changing seasons of backyard birdwatching. She worked in several flower shops and really enjoyed working in the gift shop at the Vanderbilt Museum in Centerport. At the age of 58, Helen began her breast cancer journey. After recovering from surgery, on the recommendation of close friend and former NY neighbor Betty Dehler, Helen and Lou retired to Tucson, AZ. This was around the same time her first grandchild was born. Not long after, Helen and Louis divorced after 40 years of marriage.
Helen made many friends through her breast cancer support group Winning Together at University Medical Center. She volunteered for close to 30 years and well over 1,000 hours at her beloved Tucson Botanical Gardens. She was very proud of being a TBC docent, working on Luminaria Nights and helping at what became the TBC Annual Butterfly Exhibits. She crafted lovely cards with her own garden flowers and picked fresh lettuce from her raised bed garden in the cool growing season. She loved hiking in the desert in Sabino Canyon and visiting with her children and grandchildren in Michigan and California..
Survivors include daughter Jeanne Santangelo (Jim) of Novato, CA; and son Kurt Fanning of Grand Rapids, MI; grandchildren Jesse of Fremont, CA and Jenna Santangelo of Arcata, CA, her brother Donald (Lynda) Hoffsommer of Topeka, KS and her dear friends Linda Vogel, Armena Franks and Krystyna (Krysia) Serkowski of Tucson. She was pre-deceased by her brother Harold Ray Hoffsommer, sisters Anna Louise and Judith Ann Hoffsommer.
Helen’s family is deeply grateful for the hospice care she received in the last months of her life from Agape Hospice of Tucson.
Donations In Memory of Helen Hoffsommer may be made to The Tucson Botanical Gardens, 2150 North Alvernon Way, Tucson, AZ 85712 or the Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona, 3003 S Country Club Rd, Tucson, AZ 85713