Pinellas Park marks loss of a good friend
By CRAIG BASSE
© St. Petersburg Times,
PINELLAS PARK -- With flags in the city flying at half-staff, friends of Helen S. Howarth will gather today to say farewell to the longtime community activist and philanthropist.
Mrs. Howarth, for whom a city park is named, died Sunday (July 22, 2001) at St. Petersburg General Hospital. She was 90.
"The city of Pinellas Park lost a good friend with the passing of Helen Howarth," the city's news bureau said in a statement. "There is not a corner of our community that has not been touched by Helen."
The former owner-operator of Park Oil Co. apparently died of a heart attack, the second she suffered over the weekend, said a longtime friend, Bonnie Fennell, the city's recreation manager.
Last May 26 was declared Helen Howarth Day by Mayor William F. Mischler to celebrate her birthday and honor her for a "selfless outpouring of love and care for the welfare of the community."
The proclamation recalled that she initiated the building of a historical museum and was a founder of St. Stefano's Greek Orthodox Church in 1965.
"She loved Pinellas Park and she loved the kids," Fennell said Monday.
The recreation manager recalled her first encounter with Mrs. Howarth, known to many of the town's children as Granny Good Witch. It was on a cold day in 1969. Mrs. Fennell's husband, Andy, was in the hospital, she had a new baby and she was short of cash for fuel to heat the house.
"I needed fuel oil and had no way to go get it," Fennell recalled. "I had $1.50 to my name."
After being turned down by several companies, she reached Park Oil.
A truck soon pulled up and "this tiny person" wearing a flannel shirt, overalls, boots and a ball cap came to her door and asked how much oil she wanted.
"I said I only have $1.50 and she said, 'Okay, no problem,' and she pulled out this huge hose and started putting it in the tank."
Several days later, when the furnace kept burning to keep the house warm, Fennell discovered that the delivery worker had filled her tank.
For more than two decades, Mrs. Howarth kept Pinellas Park residents warm in the winter. After a divorce, she kept the business going herself, driving trucks, cleaning stoves and taking orders. People who knew her recalled that she also left bundles of food and clothing on doorsteps to express her concern for children in need.
In 1975, the Pinellas Park Chamber of Commerce named her member of the year, and a certificate from the chamber was among the trophies and mementos she collected over the years.
Another was hung in 1982 when the city gave her name to a 60-acre park on 94th Avenue N. Two years later, ball fields were dedicated at the park.
"I've done things just to do them," she said in 1981. "I don't look like much and maybe I act kind of crazy, but I do what I do because I want to. I do it just to stay youthful and active." She said she wanted Pinellas Park children to have the things she didn't have when she was a child.
"When I was a kid I didn't have too much of anything," she said.
Born in London, Ontario, to a family of Greek immigrants, she was the oldest of eight children. She came here in the mid 1950s from Canada.
She had warm memories of her father, George Strathopolus, a soldier who, she said in 1983, educated her.
"I used to read the English paper to my dad, you know, in Greek," she said. "I'd read it in English and translate it over to Greek for him. And then he'd give me his version. And I'd say, 'Dad, it don't say that here.' He says: 'I know, but it's in between the lines. You got to figure that out.'
"That's my education, see?"
For years she ran the dances for children at the city's old youth center in the city auditorium.
"They called me Granny Good Witch," Mrs. Howarth said. "Granny because my hair was gray, and good because I gave them parties. I'd give those kids a free dance, pay for the band, pay for this, pay for that. ... They called me good for that. And witch because they couldn't get away with anything."
In the mayor's proclamation in May, her work and influence as a dance chaperone was likened to that of triplets:
"One of her would watch the dancers, the second would be in the ladies room checking for anyone smoking cigarettes and the third would be checking out the parking lot, in case anyone was necking. ..."
Survivors include two sisters, Elizabeth Lavdas, Toronto, and Pat Stouros; two brothers, Peter and James Strathopolus; and a niece, Marie Stewart, Ontario.
Friends may call from 2 to 4 and 6 to 8 p.m. today at R. Lee Williams & Son Funeral Home & Crematory, 3530 49th St. N, St. Petersburg.
Memorial contributions may go in her name to the Children's Fund, Pinellas Park.
- Information from Times files was used in this obituary.
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