Longtime Lillie ad rep dies

Helen Longfellow, a classified advertising representative for Lillie Suburban Newspapers, died Aug. 9 at age 92.

Born Helen Rampart in North St. Paul Dec. 3, 1912, she attended village schools, graduating from North St. Paul High School with Ben Longfellow, who she later married.

After raising four children, she held a number of jobs, including work at a consignment shop, at longtime downtown anchor store Springborn Hardware, and with the City of North St. Paul. She joined Lillie at an age most people would long be past thinking about new jobs.

“She was 70 when she started working here,” her supervisor, Robin Nisswandt remembers. “She left us for a while because of conflicts with Social Security, but we convinced her to come back and worked her schedule around it.”

Both Classified staffers and customers benefited, Nisswandt says. “She was a wonderful lady, and her customers just loved her. We still have people who ask about her, and at least one visited her while she was in the nursing home.”

“She had a whole gaggle of daycare customers who worked with her,” Flaherty adds.

Although Longfellow’s arthritis kept her from being able to type in the text of ads on a typewriter, Nisswandt gladly typed her ads in for her. However, new technology actually solved the problem. Longfellow was 83 when the Classified Department converted to a computerized ad-entry and billing system, and found a computer keyboard much more comfortable for typing. “She was nervous about the computer, but she was able to master putting her ads in,” Classified Manager Virginia Flaherty says.

Longfellow’s love for children and sense of fun united on Halloween, when she used to dress as a witch and greet customers and youngsters at Lillie’s front door, distributing homemade goodies.

Longfellow worked at Lillie until age 87, and only retired on doctor’s orders, Nisswandt says. “That’s the only reason she left - the doctor told her she had to. She was living alone at the time and loved coming here and being with people. She had such a great attitude, even really being crippled by arthritis in her hands. I just give her so much credit for everything she did.”

Longfellow’s eldest child, Joan Themmes, says it’s not a surprise her mother was so hardworking; she graduated as valedictorian of her class at North St. Paul High School. She and her husband were both North St. Paul natives and were happy to stay and raise their family in the town where they were born, she added.

Themmes recalls her mother greatly enjoyed garage sales, and Nisswandt agrees, adding that Longfellow was often as interested in the ads she was placing in Classifieds as Lillie’s readers were.

Longfellow was a devoted member at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church, Themmes says, and will be remembered fondly. “She was just a wonderful lady.”

Before she retired from Lillie, North St. Paul Mayor Bill Sandberg declared “Helen Longfellow Day” in North St. Paul. Longfellow also distributed some of the many teacups she’d collected in her long life to Lillie staffers, and they held a tea party for her to thank her for the gifts.

As the family-only funeral Longfellow had requested began at the Johnson-Peterson Funeral Home, employees gathered from every department at Lillie to drink a cup of tea in her memory.

Longfellow is survived by Joan (Chuck) Themmes, Doug (Mary Lou), Craig (Julie) and Joyce (Duane) Jahn; 12 grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren. She was preceded in death by husband Ben H. Longfellow and her children picture her joy at being reunited with him.

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