Yesterday was a special day in the life of our church. We honored Helen Free and trusted her to God’s grace in both a memorial service at our church for the family and a larger community event at the Wellfield gardens later in the afternoon. If you didn’t know Helen, I want to tell you she was quite an amazing person and a faithful presbyterian of whom we can be very proud.
Helen was born and raised Presbyterian and went to the College of Wooster (a Presbyterian school) in 1941 the year the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. With so many young men going off to war, Helen was one of the many women who stepped up into a traditional man’s roles to assist in the war effort. In Helen’s case that means she switched her major to chemistry from English and her career goals to becoming a research chemist instead of a school teacher. Helen’s decision changed her life and changed the world.
Helen came to Elkhart in 1945 to take a job with Miles Lab as a Quality Control Chemist but moved to the Biochemical Research Lab as soon as a position opened. There she met her future husband and research partner, Alfred Free. They would be an unstoppable team. Their most notable invention was the development of Clinestixs which are the diabetic testing strips used to first diagnose diabetes and later used by diabetic patients the world over to monitor their sugar levels. They later went on to develop other testing strips that identify problems in the liver and kidneys. Just take a moment to think about all of the lives of people who have been helped by their innovation! Helen and Al changed the field of medical testing and changed the world for many who suffer chemical anomalies in their bodies.
Helen held 7 patents, was given two honorary doctorates, received many prestigious awards, was inducted into the National Inventor’s Hall of Fame and National Women’s Hall of Fame and in 2009 was given the Nation Medal of Technology and Innovation by President Obama in the White house. It was such an honor to be part of the tribute to Helen’s life yesterday. It was a special joy to me because Helen was a very faithful Presbyterian as well as amazing scientist. She was a member at our church 67 years during which time she and her family of nine children attended worship every week as well as taking a turn to serve as an elder and trustee in our church.
Paul says in I Corinthians that we are all the body of Christ and individually members of that body. He goes on to say, “If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.” We often suffer together with a member who is suffering. I am happy to rejoice with one of our members and her family as Helen Free is honored among us.
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