Helen Elsie Heel

PORTLAND – Helen Elsie Heel was born in Berlin, N.H. on Feb. 20, 1921, the first child of Matway and Olga (Rusiniak) Heel.

The family moved to South Windham in 1923. Helen was valedictorian and editor of the yearbook of Windham High School’s class of 1938. Helen’s love of music began in her early years singing in the Community Church Choir and playing violin in the Portland Symphony Orchestra, which continued while Helen attended college at Gorham Normal School and played in the Normal School Orchestra. Helen majored in mathematics and literature at Gorham Normal School, graduating in 1942. Throughout Helen’s life, she enjoyed many of Maine’s natural resources and activities including swimming, walking, and skiing.

Helen began her professional career in the North Bridgton two-room school, then she moved to the Augusta School District where she taught mathematics, music, science, and literature. She continued to play the violin and sing. During the summer of 1944, Helen helped with the war effort by working at the Fafnir Ball Bearing Plant in Connecticut. Never without her violin, Helen would practice during the off times for her fellow workers to enjoy. Helen went on to pursue her master’s degree in music at the University of Michigan and graduated in 1948 and began teaching music at Wisconsin State University until 1954. While at Michigan State University, Helen researched the music curricula of the leading schools of music in the U.S. Her research brought Helen back to Maine in 1955, where she returned to her roots, joining many of her former professors at the University of Southern Maine. At USM, Helen was a co-founder with, Miss Miriam Andrews, of a new music degree program, allowing the University to offer B.A. degrees, and, later, masters degrees. Helen’s ongoing contributions helped USM’s Department of Music to become today’s prestigious School of Music. The Helen Heel Scholarship Fund at USM awards scholarships to deserving students of music.

In 1977, Helen retired after 24 years of teaching to care for her mother and to give private lessons to gifted students. Helen’s love of music inspired her to undertake compositions in her retirement years. She was thrilled when several of her works were performed at a local church.

Helen was active in Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox church singing in the choir, teaching in the Sunday School, and helping in the Philoptochos Ladies society.

Helen was an active member of the following organizations: American String Teachers Association, Music Educators National Conference, National Education Association, Maine Education Association, Annie Louise Cary Club, and USM Alumni.

In recent years, Helen has continued to advocate for a program combining the fields of nursing and music, to make Music Therapy a firm reality and a recognized degree program fulfilling a great need. The Good Lord gave Helen a life that was enriched with many, many wonderful friendships, a loving family, and a life full of adventure and laughter.

Helen was truly a beautiful soul whose boundless optimism and faith in God affected everyone around her. Helen believed in displaying love to all whom she met, and was one of those unique individuals who saw God’s grace in even the most simple or difficult of circumstances. She asked for little, gave much, and was always expressing her gratitude for all of life’s blessings. To those who knew her and loved her back, her loss is profound, but the memories of her smiles, laughter, and complete joy in all that life had to give her will be sustaining.

Helen was predeceased by her parents; her two siblings, Henry, Harvey, and wife Polly.

Helen is survived by nephews Matthew and his wife, Susan Heel, Michael and his wife, Brandi Heel; and niece, Paula Heel Runsick and her husband, David Runsick; grandnieces and nephews Pamela Runsick, Christopher Heel, Helena Heel, and Ian Heel.

The family invites you to a time of visitation from 5 to 8 p.m. and a Trisagion will be held at 7 p.m. on Sept. 15 at Jones, Rich & Barnes Funeral Home, 199 Woodford St., Portland ME 04103. A funeral service will be celebrated on Sept. 16 at 11 a.m. at Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church, 133 Pleasant St., Portland. A committal service will follow at Woodlawn Cemetery in Westbrook.

Helen’s original piece, “Prayer”

Lord of Creation, Giver of Light, We bow before you, Great is your might
Angels adore you;
Worlds hear your call:
Holy immortal redeemer of all
Holy immortal redeemer of all
Heavenly Father, grant us we pray
Hope for tomorrow, strength for today
Hold us dear lord, close in your love:
Keep us and guide us to heaven above
Keep us and guide us to heaven above

In lieu of flowers please send donations to the

Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church Portland or the Helen Heel Scholarship Fund at

USM School of Music.

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