Helga Nielsen           Happy Birthday to You Song Facts

January 03. 2003 9:22PM

Centenarian treated like a `big shot' for the day

By Harrison Metzger
Times-News Staff Writer

Helga Nielsen

A few years ago, when Helga Nielsen was only in her 90s, she was riding with some friends when they came upon a motorcyclist who had just flipped his bike off U.S. 25 South.

"We were just past Jackson Funeral Home when we saw the motorcycle wreck," said her friend Ike Olson, 79. "Helga said, `Stop the car.'"

Nielsen, he said, "jumped out of the car like a young woman" and checked on the rider, who fortunately had landed in the grass.

"She came back and said, `He's OK, I checked him, let's go,'" Olson said. "I think she would do that for anybody."

The story wouldn't surprise friends of Nielsen's. A longtime nurse -- and a Hendersonville resident for the past 27 years -- she celebrated her 100th birthday Friday.

Friends say Nielsen has always been concerned with the needs of others, strong-willed, independent and unabashed.

"She says what's on her mind," said Hilda Olson, Nielsen's friend and Ike's wife. "She's not intimidated by normal things."

The Olsons were among about 20 friends who gathered Friday morning at the Van Winkle Law Firm to celebrate Nielsen's century with cake, coffee, fruit and a few gifts. They smiled and laughed as she entertained them with a wit undulled by age.

Someone asked the Denmark native when she first came to America.

"I was 28 years old and I was born in 1903 -- you figure it out," she quipped.

Another friend mentioned Nielsen's habit of walking as something that has contributed to her longevity. An avid hiker, Nielsen still walks from her apartment near downtown to the Grocery Outlet and the law office across South Main Street.

"What can I do? I don't have a car anymore," she said, prompting more laughter.

Nielsen was born near Alborg, Denmark, and first traveled to England at age 14 to work as a housemaid. She also lived in France a few years.

"I tell you, there is nothing more revealing than going to a foreign country and not knowing anything (about the language) other than `yes' and `no,'" she said.

Nielsen said she waited years to come to America, but when the time came for her to travel, her papers were lost between Denmark and England.

"America shut off the immigration. They knew I was right there," she joked. "I cried on America's shoulder, and they let me in."

Nielsen earned a GED and a nursing certificate at New York State University. She married and had two children, a son and a daughter. When they reached college age, she went to Chicago to be certified as an anesthesiologist to earn more money to put them through college. She was also certified as a registered nurse in California, North Carolina and Florida, Olson said.

"You know if you work all the time and you get paid, you don't even have time to count your money," Nielsen said. "I just worked and saved and worked and saved. You know the good God has been good to me because I am financially independent."

Decades later, her hard work and generosity have paid dividends for dozens of mountain students. She established an endowment at Western Carolina University that has put many Cherokee young people through the university. She also established an endowment through the Henderson County Community Foundation and another at Blue Ridge Community College that funds local scholarships.

"Nothing takes the place of education of the mind," Nielsen said.

Mrs. Olson described Nielsen as a "voracious reader who only reads things that are educational."

The Olsons have been friends with her since 1989 when she established the endowment at WCU. Mrs. Olson serves as a "liaison" for Nielsen in Hendersonville and helps her manage her affairs.

Nielsen's attorney is Bob Haggard of the Van Winkle firm. Paralegal Ramona Melton of the office organized Friday's surprise birthday party. Nielsen has no family nearby; her son lives in California and her daughter, in St. Thomas, Virgin Islands.

"We are her family," Melton said. "She is a longtime client and a special friend."

One special friend missing at Friday's celebration was Helen Trumpfheller. The two have been friends for years, and Nielsen helped care for Trumpfheller's second husband before he died about two years ago. Mrs. Trumpfheller, 88, is in poor health and now living with her son in Washington.

More recently, Nielsen has visited with Trumpfheller's daughter, Mary Jo McKee, comforting her and her husband, Tom, as he has struggled with cancer.

"She helped him one week when he had pneumonia, and he helped her put storm windows in her apartment," Mrs. McKee said. "She's really, really wonderful. Her mind is wonderful."

Nielsen thanked all her friends for coming to the party.

"Life has been good to me with the help of people like you," she told them.

She was set to attend another birthday party in her honor Friday afternoon at the office of her doctor, Lateef Abumoussa. Abumoussa and his children organized that party.

"I have always been the least of the least -- today I'm a big shot," she said.

 A more up-to-date ref. to Helga was found in this article

December 25. 2004 8:40PM ---- Just a few days prior to her 102nd. Birthday

Good cheer
Jonathan Rich
Times-News Staff Writer

Just as the first people were walking into the gym at Immaculata Catholic School for the annual Bounty of Bethlehem dinner at 1 p.m. Saturday, Mary and Sam Highberger of Laurel Park were driving away from that location with their van loaded down with food.

"We have to drive carefully because we don't want to spill any desserts," Mary, 64, said to husband, Sam, 78, as their aqua-green Plymouth Grand Voyager pulled onto Sixth Avenue en route to East Winds Apartments near Tracey Grove Road.

This was not Mrs. Highberger's first time as a volunteer at the free non-denominational Christmas dinner. Three years ago, she helped wrap some of the hundreds of toys donated so that local children would not have to go without a present during the holidays.

"She volunteered us and I agreed to join because this is a good cause," said Mr. Highberger as he double checked the directions from Four Seasons Boulevard.

For 21 years, Bounty of Bethlehem has provided food for the hundreds of people on Christmas Day.

This year, more than 650 people were served at the school and 1,200 people in the community received plates of food.

Glenn Waters and seven members of his family were eagerly awaiting their meals to arrive Saturday afternoon.

"This makes me feel good," Water, 66, said before he even had a chance to take a bite of the turkey, ham, beans and potatoes delivered to his doorstep. "This might be the best Christmas present we've ever had."

That sentiment was echoed later back at the gym by 101-year-old Helga Nielsen, who enjoyed both the pecan pie and the spirit of the season.

"I'm so amazed at all of these people doing this for others," she said. "No one here is just for themselves. This is really wonderful. The pie is pretty good too."

While this was Nielsen's first year at the meal, for others it has become a family tradition.

For the past 15 years, members of the Sherrill family have donated their time to help serve drinks during the afternoon meal.

"This is our Christmas," said Christina Sherrill, a nurse now living in Raleigh. "We open presents, then come here. Anything else just wouldn't be the same."

"It's our way to avoid the selfishness of Christmas," added Leigh Sherrill, a college administrator in Kentucky. "We're glad to be a part of it."

Their father, Jon Sherrill, a teacher at Hendersonville High School, couldn't be prouder.

"At first they were hesitant, but now they really love it and it's our way to be together in a special way during the holidays," he said. "It's almost selfish on our part because it makes us feel so good. If you come and do something for someone else, you just feel better."

As volunteers wearing Santa hats and T-shirts with the message "Cook ... and they shall come" motioned for more people to eat, drink and be merry, the people in charge of dispersing the 900 pounds of potatoes, 140 turkeys and 100 hams explained why they had been working on this meal since last Sunday.

"It's not about religion," said Rich Prince, one of three co-chairs of the annual event. "It's about trying to do something for the community."

It took about 600 people volunteering their time to make that happen, but no one seemed to mind pitching in when the results are so immediate.

Stephen Cefalu and his wife, Leila, helped load boxes of donations into cars for delivery Saturday and sort donated toys into the appropriate categories for boys and girls.

"You can see it in their smiles that some of these children would not have much of a Christmas otherwise," he said, "We're glad to be a part of it."

Pauli Cecil of Hendersonville has given freely of her time on Christmas Day at the last four Bounty events and such a sentiment is common among everyone who participates.

"I think it speak about the love and giving among all of us," she said. "It's just an awesome thing for people to come to as well as be a part of."





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   Happy Birthday to You Song Facts


Happy Birthday to You, the four-line ditty was written as a classroom greeting in 1893 by two Louisville teachers, Mildred J. Hill, an authority on Negro spirituals, and Dr. Patty Smith Hill, professor emeritus of education at Columbia University. 

The melody of the song was composed by Mildred J. Hill, who born in Louisville, KY, on June 27, 1859.  The song was first published in 1893, with the lyrics written by her sister, Patty Smith Hill, as "Good Morning To All."

The song was copyrighted in 1935 and renewed in 1963.  The song was apparently written in 1893, but first copyrighted in 1935 after a lawsuit (reported in the New York Times of August 15, 1934, p.19 col. 6) 

In 1988, Birch Tree Group, Ltd. sold the rights of the song to Warner Communications (along with all other assets) for an estimated $25 million (considerably more than a song). (reported in  Time, Jan 2, 1989 v133 n1 p88(1) 

In the 80s, the song was believed to generate about $1 million in royalties annually.  With Auld Lang Syne and For He's a Jolly Good Fellow, it is among the three most popular songs in the English language. (reported in  Time, Jan 2, 1989 v133 n1 p88(1) 

Happy Birthday to You continues to bring in approximately 2 million dollars in licensing revenue each year, at least as of 1996 accounting, according to Warner Chappell and a Forbes magazine article. 



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