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January 22, 2024
11 Trees, Flowers, or Condolences have been shared with support of Helen's family - View on Tribute Wall
“Richer than I, you shall never be, For I had a mother who read to me.”
It was one of Helen Kearly’s favorite quotes and she was a testament to its meaning, having had both a mother who read to Helen and for reading to her own children. And many, many more children in her capacity as a teacher.
Helen passed away peacefully on January 22 at her winter home in Las Vegas after a brief illness. She was 91.
Helen was born in 1932 in Ypsilanti, MI to Lucille (Jacobs) and Thomas Steed. Lucille would be a widow by 23, with three daughters of which Helen was the middle. After Lucille married Austin Manning, he adopted Helen and her sisters and the family moved to Alpena, adding two more daughters.
At the age of 14, while riding the bus from the outlying farms into Alpena High School, Helen met Ted Kearly. He maneuvered his seat so Helen would have to sit by him. He asked her to a baseball game. They have been together ever since. Baseball, as well as other sports, especially football, would be a lifelong shared passion. Married 73 years, they were each other’s best friend.
Months after graduating high school in 1950, Ted and Helen were married and Helen began attending County Normal to get her teaching certificate. Teaching was all she ever wanted to do, she loved spending time with children and helping them learn.
Ted was drafted in 1952 and Helen joined him at Ft. Leonardwood in Missouri. She taught at the base school there. After Ted got out, he wanted to attend Michigan State University on the GI bill. Helen taught as a substitute to help make ends meet. They had several stops with Ted’s coaching career before settling in Hancock in 1967. Not having earned her bachelor’s degree to teach full-time, Helen continued to substitute teach in the Hancock school system for many years. There weren’t many classes who didn’t have Mrs. Kearly for some period of time from the seventies through the mid-90s. She spent many years in the Learning Lab at the EL Wright school, loving the special challenges of those kids.
Once her kids had grown and gotten through college, Helen went back to school to finally get her bachelor’s degree in education to teach full time. In fact, she graduated from Michigan State at the same time as her youngest child.
She then had her own classroom – 3rd grade, the age she loved the most. At the beginning of each year, she’d have the kids fill out a questionnaire where she asked what was their favorite dessert. On that child’s birthday she would have made their favorite dessert and they’d have lunch together, just the two of them.
She always helped her own children make homemade Valentines for their whole class. These were the special touches she constantly thought of that stayed with people, both her students and her family.
After retiring in 1993, but with Ted still working, Helen volunteered with the Elaine Bacon Literacy program tutoring wives of MTU students. She also volunteered at the Keweenaw Home Nursing Hospice Program and at the Barbara Kettle Gundlach Shelter Home.
She was a Girl Scout troop leader for many years and taught Sunday School at the Hancock United Methodist Church for 19 years.
Once Ted retired, another adventure began, with them spending half the year in Las Vegas and half at their home on Grosse Pointe Shores. “The best of both worlds,” she often said. Ted did well in poker, but Helen was also a fine poker player herself. And bridge, playing with several different bridge leagues in Hancock. She loved card games and puzzles of any kind, doing several a day from the newspapers right up until her death.
When blessed with grandchildren, she was thrilled to have more children to read to. And make homemade doughnuts with. And attend various sporting events, school plays and any chance to be with them. Just a few years ago, she taught her grown grandson how to make her famous dinner rolls. A teacher to the end.
Helen is preceded in death by her mother and father, Lucille and Thomas Steed, her sisters Lou (Bob) Bruning and Delia (Jim) Hansen.
She is survived by husband Ted, children Tom (Patti), Tim (Gwen), Tyler and Tammy; grandchildren Jacob (Alex) Kearly, Kyle (DJ) Kearly, Kendyl Kearly, Tyler Andrew Kearly, Tanner (Lauren) Kearly and Taylor (Adam) Epstein. She is also survived by sisters Carole (Gary) Hill and Ardie (David) Phillips.
A service will be held in the spring. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Barbara Kettle Gundlach Shelter Home, PO Box 8, Calumet, MI 49913.
The O'Neill-Dennis Funeral Home of Hancock is assisting with the arrangements. To leave online condolences. Please go to www.oneilldennisfh.com.