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Beloved, veteran Blaine teacher passes away

December 21st, 2011 · 10 Comments

Karen Helweil, a beloved teacher who has taught students at Catharine Blaine K-8 for more than 20 years, has died.
Blaine principal Heather Swanson has written a letter to Blaine families expressing her heartfelt condolences to the Helweil family and concern for students. Swanson also included a link for parents on ways to help children cope with death.
Helweil has taught primary grades at Blaine for more than 20 years and this year taught third graders. She earned her teaching degree at the University of Washington and a degree in English literature from the University of Utah. Helweil was an avid reader and traveler. She recently visited the Rocky Mountains.
Below is Swanson’s letter:

Over the past several years I have, as the Principal, been able to communicate with you the triumphs, successes, and achievements of our students and staff. The letters, emails, and individual communications regarding the wonderful things happening at Catharine Blaine have always left me inspired, energized, and committed to providing each and every family with the best social, emotional, and educational experience possible.
I now find myself having to communicate to you in a different way, one that leaves my heart heavy, my spirit dampened, and the Catharine Blaine community in a state of mourning and grief. I am extremely saddened and heart-broken to inform you that Karen Helweil, a beloved 3rd grade teacher, peacefully passed away on Sunday, December 18. Karen’s commitment to inspiring students and her enthusiasm for teaching will be deeply missed by the students, families and staff she encountered each and every day. Our deepest sympathy and our heartfelt wishes go out to Karen’s family and friends.
As we navigate the days and weeks ahead together, I want you to know that I am committed to continuing the best possible experience for our children. I understand that this is not easy news to share, I have included some Guidelines for Helping Children Cope with Death, and when school resumes on Tuesday, January 3, there will be additional support staff on site to provide assistance to students, families, and staff to ensure that our emotions, concerns, and well-being are addressed and attended to.
As we move forward from this unexpected tragedy we will begin planning a memorial service to be held in January, a memorial service that will celebrate and give thanks to Karen’s life, her dedication to the Catharine Blaine community, and her gift to teaching.

Peace be with you,

Heather Swanson


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  • The Brown Family

    She will be greatly missed. My daughter will remember her fondly as one of her favorite teachers.  Our heartfelt condolences to her family and friends.

  • Karakroontje

    I am so sad she was my kindergarten teacher!
    -Kara k.

  • Scotchjacket

    Ms. Helweil was my mentor teacher during my student teaching experience 17 years ago.  She was a class act and a supportive, gentle soul.  Godspeed, Karen.

  • Sarah Baker

    This is such sad news. We loved Mrs. Helweil and will miss her.

  • julie

    A fantastic woman and teacher, she had a positive impact on so many children and their parents, we will miss you Ms. Helweil.

  • Jil

    Karen was an incredible teacher who was able to inspire and engage the kids she taught. She was a lovely light who will be dearly missed.

  • Lisa R

    I was a student teacher with Karen in 2001. We hit it off and we had been good friends ever since. She was always up for a good time and a laugh. She was a natural born teacher. I will miss her emails and phone calls and there will always be a place in my heart for Karen.

  • Schwab Kristin

    I was lucky enough to have Karen as my colleague and the
    teacher of my daughter Emma.  She was an extremely loving and caring
    person. Emma bonded with Ms. Helweil even before she was in her class. 
    Karen would share her tadpoles and Emma shared her saltines.  Emma had Ms.
    Helweil for 3rd and 4th grade.  Karen understood my daughter.  She nurtured
    her and allowed her to be who she was.  Karen is my daughters favorite
    teacher.  I have read many an essay about Karen and how important she was
    in Emma’s life.  It is tragic that Ms. Helweil cannot share her gift and
    love with students she might have taught in the future.    I
    will miss Karen.  I am so grateful that she loved my daughter. 
    Thank you Karen for sharing your life and love with my family.  I will miss you very much.

  • Kathleenl

    I taught Kindergarten at Blaine when she had been teaching 3rd for a number of years.  Later, when she taught kindergarten, we got to team teach.  Karen was an innately compassionate person who gave so much more than was expected, without need of recognition.  She was a teacher to be admired and emulated.  I was fortunate to know her for that short time.  I learned much from her.  Peace, Karen.  Kathleen Lentgis