85, passed away Feb. 11 in St. Louis, Mo., with family by her side.
Helen had an extraordinarily rich life. She loved nothing better than walking through the woods outside her Glen Carbon home, identifying spring flowers and fall leaves. She was committed to improving the environment, supported many causes and was a master naturalist. Helen was a lifelong birder who, even in retirement, kept a diary of birds at her feeders. She adored travel and trips to New York City for theater experiences. She loved the arts, was a certified scuba diver and took flying lessons as a retiree. Helen was blessed to find true love twice in her life, reconnecting with her high school sweetheart after her first husband’s death.
/nHelen was preceded in death by her parents, Carlisle and Wildred (Billie) Ouimette; her older sister, Phyllis Dunn; and her husbands, Dr. Joseph Gruber and Robert Damon.
Helen was born in Chicopee, Mass., on June 6, 1934. She graduated from Springfield (Mass.) Commerce High School. After graduation, she began a clerical job with the school district and met her future husband, Joseph Gruber of Boston. The two married on Oct. 25, 1954, moving to Kankakee, Ill., where Joe, a psychologist, worked at a state mental hospital. Helen was busy raising their family – five children in 10 years.
In an era when homemakers tended their brood at home, Helen began working toward the first of her three degrees – all at Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville (SIUE). She earned a bachelor’s in biology in 1972, a master’s in biology in 1975 and a master’s in environmental studies in 1981. After studying the hard sciences, she oversaw a chemistry lab on the SIUE main campus, then at the Alton dental school. In 1981, she joined the Illinois Department of Health as an environmental health sanitarian. She was an expert in safe water and mosquito control. In 2004, Helen received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Waste Water Professionals of Illinois. It’s now called the Helen Damon Award.
Nature and the arts were her passions. She supported 23 charities, including local and national environmental and artistic organizations.
In retirement, Helen focused on leaving a legacy. She was one of the founding members of SIUE’s philanthropic Meridian Society and a supporter of a music scholarship in the name of her late husband, Dr. Joseph Gruber. Helen was a committed supporter of SIUE, serving as the president on the board of directors of the of the Alumni Association. In 2015, she received the thrill of a lifetime when she was named to SIUE’s Hall of Fame as an outstanding alumni.
Helen is survived by her children, Holly Gruber (Richard Ulkus) of Duluth, Minn.; Laura Thompson (Jim Bellenger) of St. Louis; Linda (Rod) Musser of Bellefonte, Pa.; Andrew (Brenda) Gruber of Florence, Ky.; and Daniel Gruber (Tracy Grandstaff) of Los Angeles; grandchildren Joseph Thompson; Benjamin, Ian and Zachary Musser; Eric (Alison) and Kelly (Justin Anderson) Gruber; and Zoe Gruber; great grandchild Tobias Anderson; sister Joan (Roger) Cole; sister-in-law Esther Brown; sister-in-law Claire Damon; many nieces and nephews; and special friends Gay Josse, Julie Babington, Sue Cummings and Michelle Ziebol.
Services: Memorial services will be postponed due to public health concerns. Helen was laid to rest in Jefferson Barracks Cemetery. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the Treehouse Wildlife Center (Dow, Ill.); the SIUE Foundation in support of the Meridian Society Endowment; or Missouri Botanical Garden. Hyperlinks for online obituary:
Donating to Treehouse Center: https:////www.treehousewildlifecenter.com//donate
Donating to SIUE Foundation Meridian Society: https:////siue.edu//give// click “Give Online Now” use “Other” and indicate Meridian Society/nDonating to Missouri Botanical Garden: https:////www.missouribotanicalgarden.org//donate.aspx