Berniece Agnes Helming, 89, of Tomah passed surrounded by her family Sunday, Nov. 3, 2019, at Mayo Clinic Health System-Franciscan Medical Center, La Crosse. She was born Dec. 16, 1929, to Richard C. and Mae A. (Blaskey) Miller in Tomah. Berniece attended the White Elementary School and later Tomah High School, graduating in 1947. After high school, she went on to the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, obtaining her bachelor’s degree in education. Throughout her teaching career, Berniece experienced it all, from teaching in a one-room schoolhouse in Reels Valley to substitute teaching in a variety of schools in the Tomah Area School District.
Berniece’s adventurous spirit instilled in her a desire to travel to see places she taught to her students. Her trip to Juneau, Alaska and her honeymoon to Niagara Falls, were favorites. On Aug. 13, 1953, she was united in marriage to Merle Helming at St Mary’s Catholic Church, Tomah. He preceded her in death June 23, 2013.
Believing that leading life by example was just as important as information taught from a textbook, Berniece dedicated her time as General Leader for the Star Gazers 4-H Club in Monroe County. She was inducted into the 4-H Hall of Fame for over 50 years of service. She was instrumental in organizing, educating and encouraging 4-H youth to become well-rounded, community-minded people. She was a countywide clothing leader and supervised the Monroe County 4-H Clothing Preview and was the clothing superintendent at the Monroe County Fair. She dedicated herself to many night and weekend meetings, helping kids with sewing. Her club demonstrated a strong commitment to 4-H and community service. Berniece organized a roadside clean-up project for the Warrens/Tomah area, which is a tradition that continues today. In 1986, Berniece was selected as Wisconsin’s Outstanding Leader and went to Washington, D.C., to receive a Salute to Excellence Award. In 2013, she received the Monroe County 4-H Alumni Award. Berniece was supportive of 4-H and always willing to help. She showed her commitment by serving on numerous Monroe County 4-H Leaders Association committees. She showed her strong commitment to the youth of Monroe County by the hours she donated to the program. She showed her leadership skills by leading through example.
In 2015, Berniece was also honored by the American Associations of University Women Tomah Branch for her contributions to the enhancement and building of those in the communities she has served.
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She was a faithful member of Queen of the Catholic Parish and served on the PCCW for many years.
Last but absolutely not least, Berniece’s greatest achievement was that of being a mother, grandmother and great-grandmother. She found great joy in teaching her children the importance of faith in the Lord, unconditional love for one another, and the knowledge that together they could move mountains. She was sweet and kind and loving. She always found ways to encourage and nurture not only her children and grandchildren but countless children she encountered throughout the years. Her infectious giggle would bring a smile to everyone’s face and the kindness in her eyes could put everyone at ease. She will, and forever be remembered as “The Best Mom Ever.” She was a pillar of grace and faith to her family and her legacy will live on through the countless lives she has touched.
She is survived by her eight children, Richard (Jill) Helming of Warrens, Carol Helming (John Lidington) of Colorado, Mark Helming (Anna Ledvina) of Tomah, Wayne (Jean) Helming of Bangor, Peggy (Joe) Kowols of Mt. Prospect, Ill., Jeff (Cindy) Helming of Tomah, Lois (Stephan) Hellweg of Black Creek, Shelly (Dan) Smerchek of Rosholt; 17 grandchildren, David (Miranda) Helming of Warrens, Zachary Helming of Warrens, and Ashleigh (Joe) Brand of Tomah, Chad Nelson of Arizona, Curt and Craig Nelson of Colorado, Maximilian and Augustine Helming of Tomah, Michael (Jill) Kowols of Des Plaines, Ill., Timothy (Laura) Kowols of Green Bay, Heather, Justin, Allison, and Alexander (Deborah) Hellweg of Black Creek, Kelsi (Jordan) Hammer, Dathan, and Kailen Smerchek of Rosholt; eight great-grandchildren, Joseph and Christopher Kowols, Grace and Madison Kowols, Harper, Adley and Holden Helming and Zaylee Brand; a sister, Bertha Leeser; brothers-in-law and sisters-in-law, Robert (Judy) Helming of Tomah, Tom Helming of Sparta, Georgia Sierra of Appleton, James Bernhardt of Wilton and Calvin Pasch Tomah; many nieces, nephews, other relatives and friends.
In addition to her parents, she is further preceded in death by her husband, Merle; brothers-in-law and sisters-in-law, Charles Leeser, Gladys, Clarabelle and Edna Helming, Pam Helming, Bill Pierce, Tom Dempsey, Al Kruse, John Helming, William and Diane Miller, Mabel Bernhardt, Bernieta Pasch; and a niece, Janice Lepkowski.
A funeral Mass of Christian Burial will be held at 10:30 a.m. Friday, Nov. 8, at Queen of the Apostles Catholic Parish at St. Mary’s Catholic Church, 303 West Monroe St., Tomah. Monsignor Richard W. Gilles will officiate. Burial will be in the church cemetery. Relatives and friends are invited for time of visitation Thursday at the Sonnenburg Family Funeral Home, 801 E. Monowau St., Tomah. A parish rosary will be recited at 4 p.m. with visitation to follow until 8 p.m. and again from 9:30 a.m. Friday until the time of the service at the church. Online condolences may be offered at www.sonnenburgfamilyfh.com.