Helen Dobbelaere, a lifelong resident of Shawnee, has just celebrated her 100th birthday.
Dobbelaere enjoyed her birthday celebration with family and friends on Oct. 19 at Shawnee Town 1929. A long-time member of St. Joseph Catholic Church, Dobbelaere leads an active life, spending time with family and indulging in a few comforts.
For instance, in the past two years alone, she’s crocheted at least a hundred blankets for family and friends. She always has a jigsaw puzzle on the table. She’s always up for trying new things. And it’s no secret that if a bus went by her house, she would take it the casino every day.
“I always tell her, her favorite things all start with C,” said her daughter, Kay Stitz. “She likes to go to church, that’s her big thing. She likes to crochet. And she likes to go to the casinos.”
“Somebody come pick me up, I’m always ready,” Helen joked.
Helen has also enjoyed dancing all of her life. In fact, she first met the love of her life, Adolph Dobbelaere, at a dance hall. They went together for about a year, and then he left to serve in World War II. They wrote many letters back and forth during the war for a few years, and when he returned, they got married in 1945.
Also that same year, they built their house on Quivira Road in northern Shawnee; she has been living at that address ever since. Helen recalls big wheat fields and farmland surrounding their home before the neighborhood began growing.
And 1945 was also the year the couple alongside Adolph’s sister and her husband, Florene and Eddie Meyer, opened M-D Market on the corner of Monrovia and Johnson Drive. Stitz said the grocery store was a staple in the community, as the starting point for the St. Patrick’s Day parade and a popular hangout, before it closed in the 1980s.
Born on Oct. 19, 1919 as Helen Klein, she grew up as one of 10 children to parents John and Rose Klein on 75th Street. She earned her eighth-grade education at St. Joseph Grade School. Her family has had deep ties with the church’s history; her father hauled some of the stones from a nearby quarry to build the church’s first stone buildings.
Life is quite different now than it was back then. She recalls cold nights sleeping with her siblings upstairs where the only heat came from irons they had warmed on the potbelly stove. Growing up, their home had no indoor plumbing; the only source of water was a well several hundred feet from the house.
Later in life, she did housework for the Kenneth Smith family who lived across the street from her. Several of her brothers and her father worked at the Kenneth Smith Golf Club factory, and she eventually began doing office work there as well. And for at least 10 years, she worked as a fry cook at her brother’s drive-in, A OK Burger, in Lenexa.
Otherwise, Helen also spent quite a bit of time at home growing produce, especially strawberries, and their children would sell them on their road.
“One day, I picked a hundred quarts,” she said. “I can remember that.”
Helen and Adolph enjoyed 50 years of marriage before he passed away in 1995. Together, they’ve had four children, 10 grandchildren and 20 great-grandchildren. She said getting along with others, being patient and keeping her temper have been key to a pleasant and happy life. Her daughter agreed with her.
“She’s just always been a really great example for the whole family, of living a good life and taking care of her family,” Stitz said. “I think family always comes first.”