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Helble’s Heart for Education


Described by her loved ones as energetic, witty and loving, Dr. Donna J. Helble ’71 was a woman who did not easily go unnoticed. If her infectious laugh or quirky comments didn’t draw you in, her passion for serving others and immense generosity were sure to catch your attention.

The Simpson community has experienced Helble’s generosity first-hand. In addition to the time and energy Donna poured into Simpson both as a student and alumna, she also supported the College as a faithful donor, providing generous gifts to both the Education Department and the College as a whole.

Upon her passing in 2017, Helble’s estate gift to the College provided more than $2.5 million to support her lifelong passion. Her final donation initially allowed the purchase of updated technology for student teachers. It later helped renovate Dunn Library, Simpson’s home for future teachers.

College and Early Career

Born in Davenport, Iowa, and raised in nearby DeWitt, Helble’s devotion to the College began from the moment she became a student at Simpson in 1967.

“When she arrived at Simpson, she was ready to make a difference,” said friend and Pi Beta Phi sister Sheri Thompson ’71. “She was very active on campus and always up for a challenge, volunteering for and working with various organizations.” In her four years at Simpson, Helble was involved in several organizations, including the Pi Beta Phi sorority, Student Government Association, Student Education Association and Alpha Mu Gamma Honorary Foreign Language Society.

After graduating with a degree in elementary education and French, Helble went on to earn her master’s degree in remedial reading from Winona State University and, in 1985, her doctorate in language arts education from the University of Northern Colorado. She began her teaching career as a second-grade teacher at Minnesota City Elementary School before moving on to Goodview Elementary School in 1973.

A Staple of Winona

In 1988, Helble began her career at Winona State University as a professor of education. She very soon became one of Winona’s most valuable volunteers. “We would laugh that she probably was the president of every service organization in Winona during her life there,” said friend and sorority sister Betsy Schwartz ’72.

While in Winona, Helble sat on more than a dozen organizational boards, many times holding leadership roles. Her professional and community contributions led to numerous local, national, and international awards and accolades for teaching, literacy, service and leadership, just to name a few.

Red and Gold Heart

Through all her career success, civic contributions and grand list of awards and honors, Helble remained loyal to her alma mater.

“Donna never forgot her roots at Simpson College and continued to be active in several projects with Simpson over the years,” said Schwartz. Donna served as a class agent, reunion committee member, and member of the alumni association board of directors. She also returned each spring for honors convocation, where she presented the Dr. Donna J. Helble ’71 Award, given to an outstanding junior in education.

Helble’s Legacy

Like her mother, who was also an educator, Helble always wanted to teach children and had an immense passion for children’s literature. She had committed her life to education, and that work wouldn’t stop after her passing. “She wanted to make sure to share her estate with the organizations that had been instrumental in building her sense of service and education,” said Schwartz.

Helble’s love for education, public service, and Simpson College came together to create yet another monument to her life. Her final gift helped build a home for future teachers to learn and grow just as she once did in the very same place.