Helen Louise O’Kane Adams was born at home on a farm outside of the town of Holly, Colorado. Before moving to town, she enjoyed farm life, riding her horse Buddy, riding her bicycle to and from town, and raising chickens and selling eggs. She told stories of blizzards and dust storms and the community of close friends in Holly. She graduated first in her high school class, winning a biology medal, and chose to study nursing. She attended the University of Colorado School of Nursing, receiving her degree from one of the first nursing programs in the country to offer a BS in Nursing. Along the way, she was introduced to Ray Adams by his older sister, who worked as a dietician at the hospital.
Ray and Helen were married in 1950 in Holly Colorado, and spent 65 years together until Ray’s passing in 2016. Not long after getting married, Helen followed Ray to his new job in Oak Ridge Tennessee, where they subsequently lived for 60 years. Helen came to feel at home in Oak Ridge, where many others came from all over the country, and many others didn’t have family close by. In Oak Ridge, she made and kept many friends: neighbors, her church community, Ray’s work colleagues and their families. They had close friendships—playing bridge, square dancing, singing in the choir, spending time with church friends–first at the Chapel on the Hill, an interdenominational church, the first in Oak Ridge, and later at the First Methodist Church. They also developed lifelong friends in the Oak Ridge neighborhoods of Woodland and the West End of Outer Drive. In 2012, Ray and Helen moved to Erwin, where they were a part of the loving community at Centenary Methodist Church, and made many new friends.
Helen was a very good friend to many. She stayed in touch with those who lived or moved far away, writing real letters and birthday cards with beautiful penmanship, not just to relatives, but to girlhood friends from Holly, nursing school colleagues, former neighbors, and many others, including ORAU students that Ray brought home to get to share meals and company. She always welcomed visitors, carefully planning meals or snacks, and keeping conversations going as a good host. She was sincerely interested in each individual’s life, and lived and taught empathy by example.
While she didn’t work for pay after moving to Oak Ridge, Helen was a professional volunteer, and used her nursing training to good effect. Her longest volunteer allegiance was to Planned Parenthood, where she did postpartum visiting with new mothers at the hospital to talk about contraception and family planning, and made home visits throughout Anderson County. Helen also volunteered for Recording for the Blind, visited and conducted current events discussions at the nursing home, and was active at her church—as a behind the scene’s volunteer for work days, kitchen work, etc. She also worked with the League of Women Voters (she was particularly proud of a statewide healthcare initiative) and was a proud member of the American Association of University Women.
Helen’s three children were all born in Oak Ridge. The oldest child, Paula, is a physician at Stanford University; Julia is a real-estate agent in Elizabethton, TN; and Roger is an attorney in Denver, CO. Her five grandchildren live in California, Colorado and South Carolina. She had one great granddaughter.
Donations in Helen’s memory can be made to Planned Parenthood of Middle and East Tennessee, to the United Methodist Church Global Health Ministry, or to the League of Women Voters of Tennessee. A memorial service will take place at the Centenary Methodist Church in Erwin, TN on February 17th, at 11 am.