Helen Frances Phelps Class, longtime resident of the Olympia area, died on May 27, 2022.
Helen Frances Phelps was born in her home on September 16, 1919, in Olympia, Washington, in the small downtown house on 20th Street that still stands. She was the third of 12 children born to Donald and Ethel Phelps. Many happy memories and colorful stories have been told of growing up on a farm in Tenino, Washington with no running water or electricity. The children loved when their mother made taffy, and every Sunday there was fried chicken and apple pie. The children all gathered around the only radio in the house to listen to Fibber McGee and Molly and Jack Benny. Helen would tell her grandchildren how chores were done every day, such as fetching water for bathing and cooking from the spring and milking the cows, tending to the garden and cleaning the barn. Helen graduated from Tenino High School in 1938. She married Lyle Bundy on September 27, 1939 and had three children, Carol Ann, Virginia Lee and John Ray. Helen was a very brave and resourceful woman. She told tales of traveling across the country with a baby on a train and of driving an old Woody with three young children for hundreds of miles without a driver’s side door! She found wooden planks and nailed them to the frame to hold inside the car. Helen would marry Gerald “Bus” Class on November 13, 1948 and have five more children, Glenda Jean, Vickie Doreen, Shirley Ann, Deanna Irene and Edward Jim.
Her children remember that their mother was the glue that held the family together in difficult times. They all gathered around the cramped kitchen table next to a hot wood-burning stove listening to their mother tell stories while she drank her coffee. Each sibling took turns sitting on the wringer washing machine as it rocked back and forth. With her frequently ill husband, she ensured that the family was fed by raising her own meat, and that fresh fruits and vegetables were grown and canned. She loved quilting, which she taught her daughters to do.
The grandkids loved staying at grandma’s house, playing outside and making eggs and bacon on the wood stove. Grandma Class loved taking road trips, especially to her beloved Pacific Ocean, but she’d also be up for a trip to SeaWorld in Florida at age 91! Digging clams and eating fresh oysters and crab on the beach was a family tradition. She loved gardening and the outdoors as well as her cows and chickens. She never missed a wedding, graduation, or the birth of a new baby, no matter where they lived. She loved adventure and even at age 95 she was traveling up the Salmon River in Idaho in a jet boat with several of her daughters and grandchildren.
Helen was a Jehovah’s Witness and always studied the Bible. Christian values were of utmost importance in his life, as was instilling these values in his descendants. She was still active in all her congregations. Her mind was as sharp until weeks before her death as it was throughout her life and she could remember names and dates with astonishing clarity. She used her iPad and emailed and Facetimed her grandchildren to stay in touch with what was going on in their lives. His life spanned from the invention of the very first telephone to the cell phone and from the horse and buggy to the automobile. She took rides in a World War I biplane, then flew in modern jets. She watched silent movies as a teenager and streamed entertainment on her flat screen or tablet later. She loved to drive, and even when they stripped her of her driver’s license at 93, she was rebelliously driving her lawn mower to get her coffee and donut in the morning. She refused to give up her own vehicle so that she could be driven by family members when she wanted to get around.
Helen is survived by four daughters, Virginia (Ginny) Richardson, of Olympia, Vickie Eaton, of Centralia, Shirley Striebeck, of Rochester, Deanna Jackson, of Olympia, and one son, Edward Class, of Centralia; and two sisters, Alice Wyland, of Pendleton, Oregon, and Beverly Haley, of Olympia. At the time of her death, she had a remarkable number of 24 grandchildren, 42 great-grandchildren and 13 great-great-grandchildren, whom she could name with details of where they lived and what ‘They did.
Preceding her in death was her husband Gerald Glen Class; one son, John Ray Bundy; two daughters, Carol Ann Wells and Glenda Jean Baugh; and a great-grandson.