Helen Elizabeth Ricco was born in Metzenseifen, Czechoslovakia, on Sept. 25, 1918.
Leaving this politically contentious area, her father sought a better life for his family in Cleveland. He worked seven years to earn enough money to bring his family to the United States in 1929.
The United States, even in the throes of the depression, was a better choice than staying in Czechoslovakia, which was about to be torn apart by World War II in just a few short years.
It seems Grandma maintained the careful thriftiness learned during this time. For many decades she would wash plastic sacks that her produce had been purchased in, to be reused for storing various items and worn-out clothes were never just discarded, but found a second life to be used as rags or patches for other clothes.
Helen was the second of four daughters and spoke only German when she moved to Ohio with her mother, sisters, one large suitcase and a willingness to work.
Somehow, she and her family made do. Her mother cleaned the bakery owners’ house for unsold bakery items. Her father worked in a steel factory making nuts, bolts and shovels. He became very knowledgeable about various tensile strengths of steel bolts and could tell exactly how much force it required to break them.
The challenge of these early years formed strong family bonds. In 1993, as Helen comforted a granddaughter at the loss of her mother, she encouraged her with the knowledge that she herself still missed her parents. In her room, you would find a picture of her parents.
Coming to Grant County
In 1943, Helen managed to take a trip with her friend, Ruth, to Canyon City. They arrived in time for the ’62 Days dance, where she met a confirmed 33-year-old bachelor who only wanted to dance with her.
Needless to say, at the age of 25, Helen’s parents heard from their friends about how Helen had “over-picked” and would most certainly be an old maid for the rest of her life.
As Helen and the “old bachelor” were dancing, one of his acquaintances remarked to them, “Oh, Eugene Ricco, you have just bought your own ranch and so now it’s time for finding a wife, I see!”
Helen started to will the floor to open up so she could just disappear. It would be two years before Eugene finally proposed and married Helen, and this only after a letter from Helen wanting to know his intentions.
If there were bumps and hard times for Helen in transitioning from Cleveland to Prairie City, I could not tell you, for she rarely mentioned it other than to say how she had missed her parents.
Life in Prairie City
Once again, Helen brought her German roots and Eastern European background to fruitfulness as she moved — our family has benefited from German strudels, German goulash, German chocolate cake, German flat pancakes (I have read somewhere how Germans love their pancakes, and it is true!) and chocolate mousse, to name a few!
No one cooked or baked like Helen! Her culinary skill was invaluable as she and Gene ran the Blue Mountain Guest Ranch and Hot Springs, beginning in 1967.
She was never one to be idle. If she wasn’t cooking, then she was cleaning, sewing, doing books, yard work, gardening or crocheting.
Yet somehow, she still seemed to find time for her family. Her grandchildren recall many times that she read them books, played card games, put together puzzles or pulled out board games. She had a special set of small pans, so that her grandchildren could make small pies if she was making a pie or bake their own little loaf of bread on bread-making day.
Helen kept old beach size towels so her grandkids could make little tent houses and a couple of apple boxes filled with toys neatly set in her library room, which was the special spot for her grandkids to play. When the weather permitted, she played croquet, baseball, kickball or took the grandchildren for a swim.
At bedtime, her grandchildren begged her for story after story of the real life bear encounters she had experienced at the Blue Mountain Hot Springs.
Eugene and Helen were married until Eugene’s death in 1978. They had four girls and one boy.
She sadly passed away on Thursday, April 6, 2017, at the age of 98 at the Blue Mountain Care Center in Prairie City.