Helen Colby Holcombe

Honored by:Sandra Beckwith
Brick location:E:19  map

Helen Maude Colby Holcombe (1898-1974) was my grandmother. While I was a student at Iowa State University, I was fascinated to learn that in 1920 she had taught public speaking at what was then called Iowa State College. I heard stories about riding the little train from Ames through the corn fields to get out to the campus. I heard about how she stood her ground and nearly lost her job because she refused to pass an athlete with failing grades.

I hadn't always fully appreciated my grandmother. When I was young, all my other female role models were full-time mothers. Grandma Helen was a busy career woman. She had made it as a single parent during a time when society offered little support and she was a very confident, independent woman. By then she was assistant director of child study and service for the Madison, Wisconsin, public schools. I always got the feeling she loved her job and I know she took a very special personal interest in all the students she worked with. As I got older and began to broaden my horizons and share her interests, I began to appreciate her abilities and her accomplishments, her lifelong fascination with learning, and her willingness to give to others. Besides her accomplishments in education that benefited so many of the handicapped youngsters she served, she loved the arts, was an avid gardener, a voracious reader, and active traveler. She always took a leadership role in the many organizations she was a part of. She was the only one of her companions who drove and was always eager and willing to provide transportation on their many outings to a park, a play, a museum, or to visit a friend. She died the year I graduated from college. I really would have enjoyed the opportunity to know her and share things with her as an adult.