Helen Derr

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Helen Elizabeth Clark Derr
Helen Derr.jpg
Helen Elizabeth Clark Derr
Born (1918-12-17)December 17, 1918
Clarks, Merrick County
Nebraska, USA
Died June 21, 2011(2011-06-21) (aged 92)
Alexandria
Rapides Parish
Louisiana
Nationality American
Alma mater Iowa State University
Occupation Journalist; Religion writer
Religion Presbyterian
Spouse(s) Harold J. Derr (married ca. 1941–1992, his death)
Children

Russell Edward "Russ" Derr (deceased)
Mary D. Sharkey
Allan Derr

Seven grandchildren
Parents Edward and Bessie Clark

Helen Elizabeth Clark Derr (December 17, 1918 – June 21, 2011) was a nationally recognized journalist, religion writer, and editor during a career at the Alexandria Daily Town Talk that spanned from 1955 to 1977. She later co-founded the adult day-care center Friendship House in Alexandria, the largest city in Central Louisiana and the seat of Rapides Parish.[1]

Early years and family[edit]

Derr was born to Edward and Bessie Clark in Clarks, a village in Merrick County near Grand Island in east central Nebraska. She graduated from Rinard High School in Rinard in Calhoun County in western Iowa. Thereafter, she graduated from Iowa State University at Ames.[1]

Helen Clark married Harold J. Derr (September 7, 1917 – February 7, 1992),[2] later a forester with the United States Forest Service in Pineville, Louisiana. The couple had three children.[1]

When their older son, Russell Edward "Russ" Derr (March 27, 1947 – October 13, 2010),[2] was born, the Derrs were living in Jackson, Mississippi. A landscape designer, Russell Derr died of lymphoma at the age of sixty-three in Burbank, California.[3] His widow, Tina Derr, resides in Altadena in Los Angeles County. Harold and Helen had a daughter, Mary D. Sharkey of Ball north of Alexandria in Rapides Parish, who is married to Richard Powell Sharkey, the managing editor of The Town Talk. Another son of Harold and Helen Derr, Allan Derr, and his wife, Betsy Derr, live in Villa Park, Illinois. Derr had seven grandchildren and a great-grandson. She had one sibling, a sister, Margaret Louise Dorr of Cedar Rapids, Iowa.[1] The sisters had similar married surnames, one with an "e" and the other with an "o".[4]


Journalism career[edit]

Derr also reported on educational developments for The Town Talk, including school. desegregation issues in the latter 1960s. She covered an address given in 1966 at the Rapides Parish Coliseum by Martin Luther King, Jr. In 1969, she covered former U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson's visit to the First Baptist Church of Minden, Louisiana, where Johnson's maternal great-grandfather, George Washington Baines, had been the founding pastor in 1848. In the spring of 1976, Derr interviewed former Governor Jimmy Carter of Georgia in his presidential campaign stop in Pineville. He kissed her on the cheek as the interview closed.[5]

In 1967, Derr won the national award for "Excellence in Religion Reporting" from the Religious Public Relations Council. Only two newspapers in the country were recognized by the group for their religion coverage that year, The Town Talk and The New York Times.[5] In July 1977, Derr retired from The Town Talk at the age of fifty-eight. She then taught journalism at Baptist-affiliated Louisiana College in Pineville and wrote for the Roman Catholic publication, The Church Today.[5]

Church and civic affairs[edit]

Derr herself was a Presbyterian. In 1972, she won the national Presbyterian Church award for religion reporting. She also earned awards from the national and state Federations of Press Women. In 1977, the Alexandria Ministerial Alliance honored her as "the Cenla [Central Louisiana] Prophet with the Bible in one hand and a newspaper in the other." During that ceremony, Jim Cole, the editor of the Baptist Message, praised Derr for helping to "break down the walls between denominations. Helen Derr has been a 'Johnny Unite-us' in Central Louisiana."[5]

The retired Catholic priest August Thompson said that Derr was a positive force to spur area churches to recognize racial injustices and to promote civil rights. "She was someone I really respected, and I felt she had all kind of empathies and sympathies. A true lady, she was so sensitive to the fact of what was going on and what needed to be done to change things," said Father Thompson.[5]

Derr served for more than a decade on the board of directors of the local Family Counseling Agency. She was president and chairman of the group called Church Women United in Central Louisiana. She was the first female deacon at First Presbyterian Church of Alexandria[5] and served on the task force that organized the establishment of her subsequent congregation, the Woodland Presbyterian Church in Pineville[5]

Friendship House[edit]

As the co-founder of Friendship House in Alexandria in 1982, she served as the first president of the organization.[5]

In 2002, in an interview for the twentieth anniversary of Friendship House, Derr said the center was "an idea before its time, really. Not many people understood it. We hoped it would be successful, but we really didn't know." Derr said that Maxine F. Watkins (1906–1997)[2] initiated the idea of an adult day-care center in Alexandria, before such enterprises became common nationwide. Julie Morris, the former executive director of Friendship House, said that Derr and Watkins "really were visionaries" who spurred life into the center, which is still functioning.[5]

On December 22, 1996, Alexandria Mayor Ned Randolph declared "Helen Derr Day" for her contributions to the community.[1]

Derr had resided most of her life with her husband in the Paradise community in what is now Ball north of Pineville. Some years after his death she relocated to Regency House in Alexandria, where she died at the age of ninety-two. Services were held on June 25 at Woodland Presbyterian Church. She is interred beside her husband at Greenwood Memorial Park in Pineville.[1]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e f "Helen Elizabeth Derr". Alexandria Daily Town Talk, June 24, 2011. Retrieved June 26, 2011. 
  2. ^ a b c "Social Security Death Index". ssdi.rootsweb.ancestry.com. Retrieved June 26, 2011. 
  3. ^ Russell Edward "Rusty" Derr Obituary, Alexandria Daily Town Talk, published November 3, 2010
  4. ^ Net Detective People Search
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i "Helen Derr, co-founder of Friendship in Alexandria, dies at 92". Alexandria Daily Town Talk. Retrieved June 26, 2011.