Beloved longtime local Madelyn Helling has died at 95

Madelyn Helling, a beloved resident who helped create a “sense of place” in our community, died Tuesday. She was 95.

“If you are a lover of Nevada County’s libraries, you owe a debt of gratitude to Madelyn Helling,” as KVMR once summed up. “She came here from San Francisco in 1974. Under her leadership as county librarian, Truckee’s library became a reality, the public voted to finance the county library system with three tax measures, and the sumptuous Nevada County Library that carries her name was opened in 1991.

“For decades she has volunteered for scores of nonprofits and is a champion of the Nevada County Narrow Gauge Railroad Museum, where she is president emeritus.” (A wonderful interview with Madelyn on KVMR, which sums up her ebullient personality and numerous contributions, is here).

Madelyn’s volunteerism included leadership roles with the Narrow Gauge Railroad Museum, the Nevada County Historical Society, and Nevada City Chamber of Commerce, as well as involvement with the League of Women Voters of Western Nevada County and local American Association of University Women, The Union recounted in its report that she had passed.

Madelyn also was a recipient of the distinguished Col. William H. ” Bill ” Lambert Award, presented annually by the Famous Marching Presidents of Nevada City to recognize outstanding contributions to Nevada City and its way of life.

A special place in our heart

When my parents died in 2007, in their obituary in The Union and San Francisco Chronicle, we asked that donations be made to “their grandson’s” (AKA, our son’s) favorite charity — the Railroad Museum — to help build a real “Little Engine that Could.” That “little engine” (known as Engine 13) was built in 2007-2009, thanks to community-wide contributions.

As the sophomore class president at Ghidotti Early College High School, our son decided to combine some of his favorite childhood memories as a class outing: A showing of the movie “The Polar Express” in Caboose #1, a replica of a 1937 caboose that is located in the rail yard of the Museum.

All the teenagers enjoyed the “journey.” They also toured the museum, thanks to curator Grover Cleveland, Madelyn and the staff. It was a memorable local experience for all of them, and a reminder of the “sense of place” that comes with living in our community.

According to The Union, Helling mentioned to a friend years ago that she did not want a funeral, as she felt she had been recognized and honored enough during her life. There are no plans for any public memorial service.

Rest in peace Madelyn, and thanks for your immeasurable contributions.

This photo of Madelyn, holding a stack of library books, was submitted to The Union.

Author: jeffpelline

Jeff Pelline is a veteran editor and award-winning journalist - in print and online. He is publisher of Sierra FoodWineArt magazine and its website Jeff covered business and technology for The San Francisco Chronicle for 12 years, and he was a founding editor and Editor of CNET News for eight years, among other positions. Jeff has a bachelor's degree from UC Berkeley and a master's from Northwestern University. His hobbies include sailing, swimming, and trout fishing in the Sierra.

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