Obituary: Helen Gancarz, 80, Free Soil.

August 31, 2018

Helen Gancarz

Obituary: Helen Gancarz, 80, Free Soil.

Helen Kathryn Gancarz, 80, of Free Soil passed away on Thursday, August 30, 2018 in Grand Rapids.  Helen was born in Ludington, Michigan, on the eastern shore of Lake Michigan in Mason County on April 8, 1938, the daughter of Walter and Kathryn (Savich) Gancarz, and sister of Robert and James.  Her family lived on a farm near Free Soil until moving to Muskegon which enabled her parents to work in a large defense factory during World War II.  Her first contact with the Grand Rapids Dominican Sisters was in the first grade at St. Mary’s school in Muskegon with Sr. Francis Borgia as her teacher.  Her second and lasting contact with the Sisters was at Sacred Heart School in Muskegon Heights.  Some of her teachers included sisters Camillus, Nicholas, Jean Catherine, Mary Feona, Peter Verona, Marie Ida, and Agatha.

Growing up with two brothers taught Helen to be competitive in everything including baseball, basketball, and especially deer hunting.  Helen spent many years playing amateur fast-pitch softball which led to her being inducted into the Mason County Softball Hall of Fame.  Her school years offered her the opportunity to be a Civil Air Patrol Cadet (auxiliary of the Air Force) and she received training in search and rescue missions, military drill, navigation, and radio-telephone operation.  Helen graduated from Free Soil High School as valedictorian of the class of 1956.  She furthered her education, earning a master’s degree in education from Western Michigan University and school social work from Michigan State University.  Helen retired following a 25-year career working in education, health, and welfare fields throughout Michigan.  While attending Western Michigan, she was selected for the position of dormitory staff assistant twice, and also as assistant house mother for 380 students at the age of 21.  Taking responsibility was never a problem for Helen, attributed to the fact her mom was a working mother most of her life and was always eager to help with the household and yard work tasks.

Living in a rural area provided many opportunities to become involved with others in the community through volunteer and parish work.  Some of Helen’s professional activities included high school social worker, certified social worker for State of Michigan, counselor, drivers education instructor, and serving as agency liaison to schools, courts, hospitals, mental health services, and police.  She was often a guest lecturer on social work and welfare issues.  At her church, she taught high school CCD, special education CCD, Eucharistic minister, lector, Rosary Society officer, and on the Pastoral Council.  Helen also volunteered with Right to Life for over 30 years, was an antique car club officer, a member and officer of the Retired School Personnel, volunteered countless hours with the Mason County Sheriff’s Office Victims’ Assistant Unit, Catholic Daughters of Americas, Diocesan Council of Catholic Women  plus several professional organizations.

Helen enjoyed history and traveling having taken trips abroad to the Holy Land, Italy, Austria, Germany, and just returned from her fifth trip to Poland visiting relatives.  She was currently working on family history of relatives in Poland and the United States.  Many years ago, Helen began recording videotapes of the “Early Days of Free Soil: 1840-1940” and thoroughly enjoyed working on this project, assembling hundreds of photos she gathered.  She looked at those projects as a way of giving back to the community whose ancestors were the pioneer lumberman and farmers of the area.  Helen also enjoyed landscaping and working in the yard of her childhood home.  She felt very strongly about the influence of the Dominican Sisters in her life.  After living with them for a year in Grand Rapids, becoming an associate, her many years of Catholic education, and her longtime involvement with the Sisters, they helped shape her entire life and was very thankful for their presence.

Helen was preceded in death by her parents Walter and Kathryn, her brother James, and 15 Gancarz and Savich aunts and uncles.

Helen will be remembered by her brother Robert Gancarz and his wife Deanne of Fountain; her sister-in-law Bonnie (Vance) Henretty of Ludington; her niece and godchild Jacqueline (Tom) Ameluxen of Texas; nieces, Kathryn (Ken) Cerabona, Susan Niederkorn; and nephew Gabriel (Michelle) Gancarz all of Chicago; and numerous cousins and great friends.

The Mass of Christian Burial will be celebrated for Helen at 11 a.m. on Wednesday, September 5 at St. John Cantius Catholic Church in Free Soil.  Burial will follow at St. John Cantius Cemetery.  Friends may visit with her family on Tuesday evening from 6 to 8 p.m. at Wyman Funeral & Cremation Services – Stephens Funeral Home in Scottville.  The Rosary will be prayed for Helen Tuesday evening at 7:00 pm at the funeral home. Friends may also greet her family on Wednesday morning from 10 a.m. until time of Mass at the church.

Those who wish to remember Helen with a memorial donation are asked to consider Lakeshore Animal Friends, St. John Cantius Church Cemetery improvement fund, or the Multiple Sclerosis Society.

Please visit her memory page at to leave a tribute of Helen for her family, or to light a candle in her memory.

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