Sentimental Sunday: Mary Theresa (Helbling) McMurray

Mary T. Helbling and "Honeychow," the family's beloved cocker spaniel, c early 1940s.
Mary T. Helbling and “Honeychow,” the family’s beloved cocker spaniel, c early 1940s.

This is really a ‘Sentimental Sunday’- a day that causes memories, regrets, happy thoughts, and a whole mix of emotions to weave through my consciousness throughout the day. It is the birthday of Mary Theresa (Helbling) McMurray.

Born in St. Louis, Missouri, to G. W. Helbling and Anna May Beerbower Helbing, Mary never knew that she was named for her paternal great-grandmother, Mary Theresa (Knipshield) Helbling. She always thought her family was of poor German and Irish origins, but it turns out that they were early pioneers, upstanding community members, and good, hardworking people. (See previous Helbling posts.)

Mary Theresa Helbling as a baby, 1925.
Mary Theresa Helbling as a baby, 1925.

Mary was the last of the seven children born in the family, with her nearest sibling eight years older. So she was the ‘baby’ of the family, and often felt like she had a number of mothers and fathers, since her oldest sibling was 17 years older. Her father was stern with her, but her mother doted on her, and she loved her mother so intensely that it was very hard for her to leave home even when she fell in love and married.

Mary T. Helbling playing chess as a child, c1930s.
Mary T. Helbling playing chess as a child, c1930s.

Mary’s father, G. W. Helbing, was extremely intelligent, even though he had not completed more than the eighth grade; her mother completed two years of high school. Her older brothers and sisters were very intelligent too- she sometimes had the same nuns for teachers as they had at St. Mark’s Catholic School, and the nuns would expect so much of her, because her older siblings had done so well. She was very good at spelling and loved to play chess, which her father and siblings taught her when young, and was a whiz at schedules and plain old arithmetic. She never really liked school though.

Mary T. Helbling as a young teen with one of the family's cocker spaniels, c late 1930s.
Mary T. Helbling as a young teen with one of the family’s cocker spaniels, c late 1930s.

Mary loved to play with paper dolls and read movie magazines, though the magazines were considered scandalous back then. She would sometimes cut out the pictures of the movie stars, and use them as paper dolls. She loved the ‘glamour girls’ of the 1940s and wanted to look like them- there are many pictures of her in similar poses. She loved singing- even sang on the radio once as a child or young teen. Her mother’s cousin was Elsie Janis- a famed comedienne/singer/actress  of the early 1900s and “The Sweetheart of the A.E.F.”  (more on Elsie in upcoming posts) – and Mary wanted to be like her. The family had cocker spaniels which Mary dearly loved. One died in a fire in the family home, and Mary was always so sad about that, even 50 years later.

"The Merry Macs" as she labeled this photo. Mary T. Helbling and her husband, Edward A. McMurray, September 1948.
Mary T. Helbling and her husband, Edward A. McMurray, September 1948. “The Merry Macs” as she labeled this photo in her album. 

 Mary was a very fast typist and knew shorthand. She worked at Gardner’s Advertising and then a government group (maybe AFEES?) during the war. Mary met US Army/Air Corp veteran Edward A. McMurray on a blind date at a picnic in a park in 1946. The two fell madly in love, but did not want to marry, as Ed was in pharmacy school. Love won out, however, and they married on June 5, 1948. They lived with her parents until Ed graduated, found a job, and they purchased a house in north St. Louis County, in a new subdivision during the booming 1950s.

Mary (Helbling) McMurray holding their first child, 1954.
Mary (Helbling) McMurray holding her first child, 1954.

Although Mary would have loved to have the glamorous life of a singing star, as her mother’s cousin Elsie Janis had, she mostly just wanted to be a wife and mother. She did both, and always said that was her greatest accomplishment.

Mary Theresa (Helbling) McMurray passed away April 3, 2008, of Alzheimer’s Disease.

Happy Birthday, Mary Theresa. We love you and miss you.


Notes, Sources, and References:

1) G.W. Helbling, head of household, 1940 US Federal Census- Source Citation: Year: 1940; Census Place: St Louis, St Louis City, Missouri; Roll: T627_2208; Page: 2B; Enumeration District: 96-670.

2) Family photos and oral history.


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