Reminisce: Helen Schoonover’s generosity

Helen Wemmer was born into one prominent Lima family, was about to marry into another and, seemingly, devoted much of her time in the weeks preceding her April 11, 1917, wedding being elaborately entertained by friends.

On April 3, 1917, the Lima Times-Democrat reported on a breakfast at the Elk’s home for several young women, including Wemmer.

“The table was placed in the private dining room of the club and was uniquely decorated with a miniature barnyard enclosing with its fence of yellow climbing roses, several live little chicks,” the newspaper wrote. “A cherry tree and an apple tree in full bloom added to the attractiveness of the idea.”

Her marriage to Thomas R. Schoonover eight days later, on her 22nd birthday, was described by the Times-Democrat as “one of the social events of the seasons.” The reception was held at the palatial Wemmer home in the 300 block of South Cole Street.

“The bride’s table was placed in the dining room and was beautifully decorated with roses and valley lilies,” the newspaper wrote. “Pink sweet peas were used for decoration of the smaller table, and house decorations were baskets of American beauties and Easter lilies. After the dinner dancing was enjoyed in the ballroom, and at midnight Mr. and Mrs. Schoonover left for the East, where they will spend several weeks.”

Helen Schoonover returned from her honeymoon and settled into a life of club meetings, dinners and euchre tournaments in the homes of well-to-do friends.

However, she also went to work for the common good, using her social clout to push for the expansion of Lima Memorial Hospital and for a new building for the Allen County Historical Society, for which her family donated land. She was active in organizing the Girl Scout movement in Lima and was a leader in Community Chest fundraising. During World War II, she volunteered as a driver for the civilian defense motor corps and served as a Red Cross “Grey Lady” at St. Rita’s Hospital.

Born April 11, 1895, in Lima, Helen was the daughter of William J. and Helena Rieckert Wemmer. Helen’s father and his brother, Henry, joined fellow German immigrant Henry Deisel Sr. in a business Deisel had started in 1884 hand-rolling cigars. The business, which became D.W.G. cigar company, would grow from a single plant at 435 N. Main St. to factories throughout northwest Ohio.

Helen enjoyed a childhood of privilege, including private schools.

“Miss Helen Wemmer,” the Allen County Republican Gazette reported in December 1911, “has returned for Thanksgiving from the Misses Howe and Monroe School, Dayton.” The Lima News reported in April 1914 that Helen was home from the Bristol School for Girls in Washington, D.C., to celebrate Easter with her parents.

That December she took part in a celebration of a different sort.

“Among the pretty social arrangements of the week, complimenting Miss Ruth Sebring, Sebring, Ohio, was an informal dance Monday evening at which Miss Helen Wemmer was hostess,” the Morning Star & Republican Gazette wrote Dec. 6, 1914. “The dance was given in the Wemmer ballroom on the third floor of the home. Twenty-two young people were present to enjoy the evening,”

In late December 1916, the Republican-Gazette reported that the engagement of Helen Wemmer to Thomas Schoonover was announced during a dinner at the Lima Club.

“Miss Helen Wemmer is one of the most popular and accomplished young women of Lima, and Mr. Schoonover, who resides at the Lima Club, is president of the City Loan and Savings company,” the Republican-Gazette reported.

T.R. Schoonover grew up in the City Loan and Savings Co., a business he and his attorney father, John T. Schoonover, co-founded. T.R. Schoonover gained a reputation as a leading philanthropist, donating the land Schoonover Park now occupies as well as supplying $60,000 in 1940 for material used in constructing Schoonover Pool.

“He personally contributed and supported every hospital fund drive in the state, aiding also the YMCA, Boy Scouts and various church drives,” The Lima News wrote when he died in January 1958.

Like her husband, Mrs. Schoonover found fulfillment in philanthropy, giving generously of her time to promote projects for the common good. Among these endeavors was helping organize the local Girl Scouts council.

Although individual Girl Scout troops had existed in Lima for at least a decade, the first Girl Scout council wasn’t organized until 1938.

“Mrs. T.R. Schoonover … is credited with having launched the first Girl Scout council in Lima, serving as its president from the date of its founding, April 1, 1938, to 1941,” the Lima Citizen wrote in May 1961.

In October 1938, shortly after she assumed leadership of the council, The Lima News noted that “Growth in the Girl Scout membership in Lima has been rapid during the past year, Mrs. Schoonover explained, until now one in every 116 persons in Lima is a member of this organization.”

In 1943, with the U.S. involved in World War II, Helen Schoonover took on different duties.

“A total of 711 members of the Allen County Citizens’ Defense Corps training school will be graduated at commencement exercises Tuesday evening in Central high school auditorium,” The Lima News wrote March 30, 1943. Listed as a member of the motor corps was Mrs. T.R. Schoonover.

“These volunteers use their own cars and pay for their own gasoline,” The Lima News explained March 15, 1944. “They are on call to drive the Home Service secretary of the Home Service Corps anywhere in Allen County and also are on duty every day at the Blood Donor center in case of necessity and at the Red Cross office and workroom.”

During the war, Helen Schoonover also found time to volunteer as a Red Cross “Grey Lady” at St. Rita’s Hospital. So-called because of the color of their uniforms, the Grey Ladies performed many tasks that freed hospital staff for more important work.

“They faithfully have borne their responsibilities and gracefully have rendered a voluntary and dependable service in the care and comfort of the sick,” The Lima News wrote May 6, 1945.

T.R. Schoonover died at the age of 69 on Jan. 29, 1958.

“Without intending to belittle his astounding job of directing the growth of a tiny business in Wapakoneta to today’s vast City Loan and Finance Co., we suggest that City Loan can get along better without his help than this community can,” the Lima Citizen wrote the day after he died.

Helen Schoonover survived her husband by almost 13 years, dying Dec. 9, 1970, at the age of 75.


This feature is a cooperative effort between the newspaper and the Allen County Museum and Historical Society.


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