Helen Spencer Schlie, who died Christmas morning, at 94, was herself a lover of words. Yet, words hardly sufficient to describe the legacy she left, the good that she did, and what she meant to all who met her.
Somewhat of an icon as a published poet, music lover, artist, businesswoman and bookstore owner, she was known for her ready smile, listening ear, tidbits of knowledge, skills for networking and bringing people together, love for her family, strong testimony of the restored gospel, enduring energy, unending stream of ideas, and overwhelmingly positive attitude.
At 90, after a full day’s work at her Old and Rare Bookstore, Helen had said, “I feel I want to accomplish more, to wrap up everything I’ve been dreaming of doing.”
Born in Dearford, Michigan, she was the oldest of six girls and one boy. As a young girl, because her mother was not well, she lived with her grandparents and Aunt Belle, where her love for books began nearly nine decades ago.
“I’ve been reading all my life,” she said. “At five, I’d sit on a stool in the barn and read books while my grandfather was milking.”
Music also became important. All through junior high and high school, she played the piano and clarinet and sang in the school chorus and various church choirs. In her later years, one of Helen’s favorite things was to walk the “224 steps” from her front door to the Mesa Temple to play the organ there.
Helen also took pride in being invited several times to participate in the Mesa Veterans Day parade as one of the last living World War I widows. She and her husband, Walter, were married in 1955.
Helen joined the Church in 1961, after she and Walt took a cross-country trip and stopped at Temple Square in Salt Lake City, where, Helen said, “I got answers to questions I’d had for so many years.”
“Joining the Church gave focus to my whole life,” she added. “My testimony still brings tears to my eyes.”
Walt joined the Church five years later, after retiring and moving to Mesa, where they opened the Mesa Temple View Book and Supply. They ran the bookstore together until 1990. During that time, they came into an original copy of the Book of Mormon that they let bookstore patrons hold and read from. Later, when the Church indicated they didn’t want it, Helen sold individual pages from the book, encased in museum-quality glass.
Helen’s love for words was evident to the end—in the hundreds of books that lined her shelves, the moving and insightful poetry she wrote and often quoted and in her sharing the scriptures she loved, including passing out more than 300 copies of the Book of Mormon.
However, more than words, Helen loved the people they were meant for—especially her daughter, Alnita, her 4 grandchildren, 16 great-grandchildren and 7 great-great-grandchildren—and her many friends and admirers.
“People are so wonderful,” she said. “Life is so wonderful. I just love every minute of it.”