Helen M. Korpela

Apr 26, 1918 – Feb 15, 2015

Helen M Korpela obituary image 1



Helen M. Korpela


Helen was born as Helen M.  Synder on April 26, 1918 in a home in the Ballard neighborhood of Seattle to Clara A. Bolesta Synder and Stanley J. Synder.  Stanley was a Chief Engineer on merchant ships and was regularly at sea.   After the family home burned and Helen’s brother was born, Clara took ill and was institutionalized when Helen was six years of age.  At that time, Helen was separated from her brother and was sent to live with her maternal grandmother, Pauline Bolesta Rinkeson of Ballard.  When Helen was 16 years of age, Pauline passed away and Helen was taken in by an aunt, Jean Janecke and her husband Walt.  Jean and Walt had two sons, Dave Janecke and George Janecke.


After living with the Janeckes, Helen for various periods went to live with an uncle, then family friends and then her father and step-mother.  Before graduating from high school she went to work to support herself which isn’t surprising considering the times and that Helen started driving at the age of 11 when her grandmother, who didn’t drive, bought a car.


Helen attended both public and as a Catholic, Catholic schools.  At the age of 19, after introductions by friends, she married Richard D. Korpela, a marriage despite being outside her faith, lasted until his death in 1984.  During these 46 years of marriage, they raised Richard (Dick) A. Korpela and Kathleen (Kathy) A. Korpela and Helen was completely absorbed into Richard’s extended family and their Finnish culture.


Richard and Helen lived in the Georgetown area of Seattle which was close to Richard’s employment based in the SODO district as a truck driver for the U.S. Postal Service.  Helen was a stay-at-home mother until her children were old enough for her to go to work during the school year as a school cook and later for a firm whereby she maintained the aquariums at the Olympic Hotel and other notable sites.  Her favorite and last job was managing and staffing the Summit Branch bookstore of Seattle Community College for several years.


Regular visits were made several times a week with three of Richard’s sisters and their families living nearby in Seattle and vacations were spent in Montana where Richard, and Helen, would help his two brothers and their families during haying and harvesting seasons on family farms.   


Helen was dedicated to her family.   When Kathy attended Cleveland High School, Helen was once honored at the annual Girls Club Mother-Daughter Banquet as the Mother of the Year.  In recognizing through Dick’s and Kathy’s college educations, the importance of education to them, she obtained her G.E.D. as a surprise welcome home gift for Dick when he returned from military service in Vietnam.  Surviving Helen are her son, Dick (Harriet); daughter, Kathy Korpela (Gary Niemann); grandsons Matthew A.  Korpela, Nathan Korpela,  Garrett Niemann, Marc Niemann;  greatgranddaughter, Kaisa Korpela; and cousin Dave Janecke.


Helen was a lifelong learner speaking not only English, but Polish and Finnish.  She enjoyed crafts such as tailoring, crocheting and leather crafting.  She also enjoyed cooking, gardening and pets, particularly cats.


Helen always had a very positive “can do” spirit and regularly reached out with a helping hand.  She was very social, a leader and the very experienced and responsible driver for her friends and others.  As an example, for years she drove a number of lady friends to regularly scheduled Hawaiian hula lessons and cultural events at a local Catholic church.  Helen's dedication to her family and outreach to others will be felt forever.


Patricia Larson
Lincoln, Ca
Feb 23, 2015

I just wanted I to send my condolences on the loss of your mother Kathy and Richard. I don't know if you remember us but we grew up together there in Georgetown we were the Larson family lived at 306 Orcas st.I remember you all very well. And I remember your mother being very nice to me.I have lived most of my life in California recently retired after 41 years as an ICU nurse. Barbara lives in Maple Valley. Bonnie in Portland. We loss our mother Cora in December 2010.

David Loud
Seattle, WA
Feb 23, 2015

My condolences to Helen's loved ones. I knew Kathy and collaborated with her in the community health movement in the 1970's and beyond, but have not been in contact for many years. I would like to know how to get in touch with Kathy.

I lost my mother in 2004 and my father in 1999.I know this is a very hard time for the family I still think of them every day. My grief has long since given way to gratitude for their lives and all they made possible.

I hope you will get to this place before too long.

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