Madison House resident Helen Haberkamp turns 105

Helen Haberkamp and her husband Luis on their wedding day.  - Contributed photo
Helen Haberkamp and her husband Luis on their wedding day.
— image credit: Contributed photo

Kirkland resident Helen Haberkamp is a woman ahead of her time.

Born on June 29, 1909, she is set to celebrate her 105th birthday Sunday. Put in perspective, Haberkamp was born three years before the Titanic sank, five years before the first shots of World War I were fired and only one year after Henry Ford introduced the Model T. The daughter of a carpenter, she married her neighbor and high school classmate who also ended up going into carpentry. A window at 60, she traveled extensively all over the world up until her 90s.

“I never thought I’d be this old,” she said.

Born in Arlington, Il, Haberkamp grew up in Roselle, the oldest of a family with three girls and three boys. Luxuries, she said, were few and far between. The house, which their father built himself, had no running water or electricity. It was before the days of baseboard heaters and central heating, so the family relied on a coal stove to heat the house and a wood stove to cook their food. To travel, they relied on horses and carriages, and Haberkamp said she didn’t see her first automobile until she was 16. They also had no radio, only a piano for entertainment.

Raised in the Lutheran-Missouri Synod, Haberkamp learned German and eventually graduated from a local business college where she learned shorthand and typing. When she was 16, she went to work as a typist for Butler Brothers Wholesalers to help support her family. Without a car, Haberkamp commuted to Chicago, which was around 20 miles away, by taking the train. Everything was manual and mechanical. She described much of her work, such as creating carbon copies of orders and shipping invoices, as difficult and occasionally painstaking.

Working as a local carpenter, Haberkamp’s father built many of the houses in their area. While working on the roof of their house one day, a young man named Louis, who was a little bit older than Haberkamp and attended the same church, approached her father and asked to help him out, and ultimately Louis became a carpenter as well.

Haberkamp said she and Louis remained friends throughout high school. Then, after she graduated in 1927, they started dating. Three years later, they got married in 1930.

“All of a sudden, we loved each other,” she said. “That’s the way it goes with love.”

Haberkamp’s husband also came from a big family, where he was one of 11 children. During the early years of their marriage, they helped take care of many of his siblings after both his parents had died.

“He was wonderful, very good to his sisters and brothers,” she said. “He couldn’t have been better.”

During the Great Depression, many of their neighbors and friends lost their homes due to foreclosure, though the Haberkamp’s managed to hold onto the home they had purchased for $14,000.

Haberkamp’s husband later went on to build houses for several of his siblings. She remarked, ironically, he never built one for them and she’s glad he didn’t, as the house she lived in for decades eventually was torn down after she sold it. During her career as a typist, Haberkamp said she had the privilege of writing the first letter for Ben Franklin Crafts and Frames and eventually got a job as an auditor at the Post Office in Hindahl, IL.

In 1969, her husband died from cancer. In the years that followed, Haberkamp said although she dated no one seemed right. Also, the men she dated tended to be widowers who kept remarking how they needed someone to cook and clean in their homes.

“I kept telling them, ‘for crying out loud, get a maid,’” she said. “One of them actually did.”

After retiring at 65, Haberkamp had the opportunity to travel to various parts of the world, including China, where she was able to visit the Great Wall. She also took a train ride on the Trans-Siberian Railroad a few years after the Soviet Union dissolved, where she celebrated her 90th birthday. On the train ride, she said she saw the degree of poverty the common people lived in. Alaska Airlines had to fly in food for the trains and the poor in the area were given the leftovers.

“There was absolutely nothing,” she said. “We got to the stores and the shelves were empty.”

Haberkamp lived in Illinois until 2009, when she fell at her home. Because the bedroom and bathroom were both upstairs, it was decided it was time for her to move. She now lives in Madison House in Kirkland, and still enjoys herself with a good scotch on the rocks during happy hour.

Since she retired in 1974, the same year Nixon resigned from the presidency, she said she hasn’t concerned herself much about keeping up with technology. As a typist, she worked with an Underwood her entire career, though her company gave her an electronic typewriter to test. Haberkamp said she has never used a computer. Nevertheless, she still manages to stay in touch with her family, which includes 20 nieces and nephews and her daughter Janis, who lives in Kirkland and works as a CRA consultant, while her son Willard is retired.

Apparently long life runs in the family. Haberkamp’s younger sister Margaret, 102, lives in Kentucky, and the two of them still talk daily.

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