Helen Vukelich (left) with Gaddi Ben Dan and Wanda Fullmore in front of the City County Building in 1985

I was truly saddened when my friend Donna Vukelich sent me a private message over the weekend telling me that her beloved mother Helen had passed this weekend. We lost a 31-year friend. a beautiful humanitarian, and a community advocate that will forever hold a place of reverence in our hearts.

Helen was a kindred spirit. We would greet each other with smiles as wide as that of a Cheshire cat. One of the attributes I admired most about my friend Helen was when she inquired about my well-being. She really was sincere. As you know, some folks will ask how you are doing and if you told them they would find all kinds of excuses to tell you, “Look for the hills for help.” But not Helen. She would immediately roll her sleeves up and say, “How can I be of assistance?”

Helen has been a dynamic force for positive change for many decades and decades. Her important work on the Fair Housing Act in 1963 and the peace movement in the late ’60s were just the beginning of a lifetime of public service to Wisconsin. Helen was also actively and tirelessly involved in the passage of Madison’s Equal Opportunities Ordinance during the early 1960’s, too.

Helen had a long history of commitment to civil rights. She resigned from her sorority in protest of discriminatory policy. She was founding member of Friends of the of the South Madison Neighborhood Center. Helen and her late husband, George Vukelich, or Papa Hambone, as he was known on WIBA and Wisconsin Public Radio, were known for decades for their contributions to progressive political and social justice activism in Wisconsin.

She worked as an aide to U.S. Representative Robert Kastenmeier and has been an important supporter of and force behind the Friends of South Madison Neighborhood Center, the Genesis Development Corporation, the Urban League of Greater Madison, and the Wisconsin Coordinating Council on Nicaragua.

Helen mentored children in need and volunteered her time in Madison schools. She provided practical and active support to candidates who espoused justice and equity everywhere. Helen has been a YWCA Woman of Distinction Award winner and the Social Justice Center Legacy Award winner, where she was nominated by Milele Chikasa Anana. She volunteered her time as a UMOJA Magazine proofreader.

When Helen received the prestigious Rev. James C. Wright Human Rights Award in 1999, she was described as “embodying passionate attention to justice and fair play. Her ability to give aid and succor to fellow humans is fueled by an amazing empathy for troubled lives. She has sensitivity and insight — both political and emotional — into the truth of any situation. Politically astute and active. Modest about her own achievements. Generous with time and energy — a giving person. Keen sense of humor. Brings out the best in others. Is a genius at networking on behalf of justice and equality.”

In the Spring of 2006, we at Today Not Tomorrow-Club TNT honored her spirit of service and caring for others by awarding her with our annual Water Bearer Award, dedicated to those who make a tremendous impact on our community..

Helen was truly a “virtuous woman.” There is a proverb that reads, “Never seek friends with time to kill, always make time to live.” If I was asked to describe my friend in a word, I could not.

However, I can sum her up in a sentence, “She was in the heart of God.” I dedicate the 31st Chapter of Proverbs beginning at verse 10 as a monumental tribute to a sweetheart of a woman.

Forever Love. Life. Loyalty. Now she has joined her beloved George in paradise.

God Bless the Vukelichs.