A chat with a World War II veteran before her 105th birthday

Franklin Township resident shares her story that takes us back a whole century

By Todd Travis

Hellen Guthrie was born on April 30, 1917. That’s not a typo. She will be celebrating her 105th birthday this month and is holding an open house at her home at 6221 Acton Road to celebrate this year. In 105 years, there are more stories to be told that could fit in just one article. Guthrie shares some of her more memorable ones with us as she looks back at the last century.

She begins by describing her job in the most eloquent manner. According to her she was doing “Practically nothing. I was working for the government.” She would go on to elaborate later though. Going back a bit, she mentioned attending Hunter College for her indoctrination into the U.S. Navy. Afterward she went to Yeoman School in Oklahoma, which is the Navy’s equivalent to secretarial school. Again, Guthrie described her reasons for attending matter-of-factly. “I was bored and had nothing else to do,” she said.

After finishing Yeoman School Guthrie would move to Washington D.C. to work with the Military Intelligence Service. As she put it, she was “banging on a typewriter.” Her job was typing messages that were intercepted and decoded by the U.S. government which were sent to the Office of Naval Intelligence. After finishing her time serving in the Navy, she moved back to Indiana where she would soon meet her future husband.

Hellen Guthrie served in the Navy during World War II. (Submitted photo)

About six months after returning, her brother brought a friend to visit for the weekend and he had a spill off his motorcycle. That gave Guthrie the opportunity to get to know him as she helped clean him up. “He fell off the motorcycle and got covered with dirt, so we had to get him back inside from where they were,” she recalled. She would go on to marry that man. Although she described herself as a housewife, she would go on to work for IPL as the secretary to the vice president of industrial sales. She worked there for six years before getting pregnant with her son Gene.

“I didn’t have any more interests than any other housewife,” she said. “I was a person who liked to do all kinds of handwork. Crocheting and knitting and things like that.”

Outside of the house, however, she stayed pretty busy. “I became township chairman for Franklin Township. I would make and draw the maps and make sure that there were 500 voters to each precinct and that sort of thing,” she explained. She served this position for 20 years and was able to rub shoulders with some prominent people during that time. One of whom was Republican William “Bill” Hudnut III, the 45th mayor of Indianapolis from 1976 to 1992.

Guthrie at her home in Indiana. (Photo submitted by Helen Guthrie’s son Gene)

As township chairman, Guthrie was invited to a reception for Nancy Reagan, First Lady to former President Ronald Reagan. “I was at the reception, and I was standing there, and I had a black suit with a white blouse and red polka dots. Red was the president’s favorite color, and Nancy always wore red. And so she saw me and came over and said, ‘Well hello, Hellen, let’s go have our picture taken,’” Guthrie remembered. Her son Gene is working on locating that photo for memory’s sake, but it was certainly a cherished memory for Guthrie.

To add to her activities, Guthrie was also the worthy matron for the Acton Eastern Star Chapter, which is a Masonic appendant body open to men and women. She served this responsibility in 1988, 1990 and possibly 2006, but she doesn’t remember the final year she served for certain. She described her responsibilities simply as, “One heck of a lot of work.” She used to attend Acton Methodist Church, but she hasn’t gone recently since it is too hard for her to get up the steps.

Most of us are still freshly feeling the after-effects of the recent pandemic, but Guthrie is one of the few that has lived through two pandemics. Although she was only 1 year old at the time, she lived through the Spanish Flu as well as the Covid-19 pandemic.

Smiling during a hospital visit. (Photo submitted by Helen Guthrie’s son Gene)

But how did she make it to 105?

“Heaven only knows,” she said. “I’m here and I’m there and I didn’t do anything special to get there.”

Seven things to know about Helen Guthrie

Favorite color: Orange

Spirit animal: Tiger. She’s been told that she has the tenacity of a tiger and keeps tiger photos around her house

Childhood pet: A chicken named Chicken

Favorite song: “Rhapsody in Blue” by George Gershwin

Favorite TV shows: “Jag,” “NCIS” and “Blue Bloods”

She is a huge fan of Westerns

Quote to live by: “Don’t complain about things you can’t change. Just keep moving along.”