Helen Theresa Pellerin was born on August 17, 1927 to Michael and Elizabeth Tighe in a house on Bergen Street in Harrison, NJ to Michael and Elizabeth Tighe. The eldest of four children, Helen came upon her name by accident. Her parents wanted to name her Ellen, after her maternal grandmother. The priest who baptized the baby apparently misunderstood Elizabeth, who emigrated from Paisley, Scotland and spoke with a heavy Scottish brogue. He christened her Helen instead! Helen was a quiet child, content to stay out of trouble and help around the house. Her mother taught her to sew, and Helen eventually became an accomplished seamstress. (Years later, she would sew her sister Mae’s wedding gown as well as her own.). She attended Holy Cross Elementary School and Sr. Cecilia’s High School in Harrison. After graduating from high school in 1945, Helen took an administrative position at McKiernan and Terry, a manufacturer of catapults for aircraft carriers. Her father Michael also worked there as an assistant machinist. The company was within walking distance from their home, and the two always passed each other on the street as Michael walked back to work after eating his lunch and Helen headed home for hers. On June 8, 1949, Helen passed her father on her way home, and he said his usual “Good bye and God bless you.” Those were his last words to her. He died of a massive heart attack when he returned to work. Helen stayed on at McKiernan and Terry and was the primary breadwinner after her father’s death. It was through her brother Jerry that Helen met Jules Pellerin, her future husband. Jerry served in the Air Force and had been stationed in Louisiana. Red Myers, a buddy of Jerry’s, wanted to go to Philadelphia while on leave, so he asked his friend Jules Pellerin, who owned a car, if he’d drive up with him. Jules, who was of French Cajun descent and eager to see the Northeastern part of the country, happily agreed. While in Philadelphia, Red’s brother, James Myers (who wrote the Bill Haley hit “Rock Around the Clock”) asked Red and Jules if they’d continue up to New York City and deliver a song to a publisher. They agreed and took a fateful detour through Harrison, NJ to visit Jerry Tighe. When Red and Jules arrived at 719 Warren Street, Jerry was not home, but his Mother invited the men in for biscuits and tea. Helen met Jules during this visit. She was captivated by his pleasant nature and movie-star good looks - he was tall, had dark hair, green eyes and spoke with an appealing Southern accent. Red and Jules stopped by the house again on their way back from NYC. Helen and Jules exchanged phone numbers and mailing addresses. After a two-year long-distance courtship, Jules sent Helen a ring in the mail! She doesn’t know why, but she put the ring in her purse and carried it around for three weeks before accepting the proposal. The couple married on August 31, 1957 at Holy Cross Church in Harrison. They moved down to Lake Charles, LA where Jules returned to his job as a supervisor at City Service, an oil refinery. Their first child, Michael, was born the following year. In the upcoming years, they had two more sons, James (’59) and John (’61). Early in their marriage Helen must have told Jules that her plans did not include keeping a permanent residence in the hot and humid Deep South, because he enrolled at McNeese State University to pursue a degree in early childhood education with the intention of looking for a job up North. He took a full course load during the day, worked full time at night, and finished a four-year program in three years. After five years, the family left Louisiana and relocated up north. Helen always said that the best thing she took away from those years in Louisiana was the Cajun food. Her mother-in-law was a fantastic cook, and Helen quickly became a fan of Cajun cooking - she especially loved shrimp gumbo. The Pellerin’s settled in Willingboro, NJ in June of 1963 and their fourth child, Elizabeth, was born at the end of the year. Jules was head of the math department at Abraham Levitt Junior High School until it closed. He then served as Vice Principal of Garfield East Elementary School and, at the same time, was the evening division Principal at JFK High School. In the upcoming years, Helen’s children kept her extremely busy. All four of them played soccer, swam competitively and took up musical instruments. Many meals were eaten in the car in those days! In the early 1970’s, Helen sought work outside the home and was hired as a secretary for the building inspector’s office in Willingboro. She held the job for eight years and left after her youngest child finished high school. After her retirement from the Municipal Department in 1982 Helen developed her creative talents. She took lessons in porcelain painting from the accomplished artist. Helen created hand-painted pink and blue booties, which were in great demand. She gave these as gifts for newborns and would paint the date of birth, weight, & length of the baby. She took an upholstery class and reupholstered all of the furniture in the living room and her dining room chairs. In 1988, Jules died from colon cancer at the young age of 59. She and Jules had been inseparable so Helen was, understandably, at a total loss for motivation and direction. She joined a support group for widows and widowers, which was a great source of comfort and confidence as well. Within a few years, she was the group leader. She also served as secretary for the Willingboro Friendship Guild and helped plan and coordinate trips for its members. Her compassion for the vulnerable and less fortunate also enabled her to assuage her own grief and find a sense of purpose. Helen spent hours crocheting baby blankets for poor children and hats for cancer patients who lost their hair from chemo treatments. She was thrilled to give her children porcelain painted plates and jewelry, crocheted hats, blankets, and scarves. Helen suffered a stroke in September of 2017 and finally had to leave her Willingboro home for a longterm care facility. Helen always met everyone with a big smile and bright eyes. She was eager to chat and loved to pass the time in Barnes and Nobles where she would buy a cup of tea and pour through magazines and books. Her favorite thing was her family, spending time either talking to or visiting with her five grandchildren, followed closely by her profound love of food! She thoroughly enjoyed every bite and never left so much as a crumb on her plate. As any self respecting Irish woman, she loved to drink a beer. She also enjoyed a glass of wine and would ask “So what are we having?” As incredibly sad as it is that she is now not with us, we should feel happy knowing she is finally back together with Dad and her family who have gone before her. She spoke of her parents, aunts, uncles and her siblings Jerry Tighe and Betty Nankivell very often and now they are back together. If she were able to tell you herself, I know she would say she loves you, be good to each other and good bye and God bless you.
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