Helen P. Geyer
Helen Geyer and Glenn E. Geyer Sr. are pictured in November 1994 at the wedding of their son, Glenn Jr. (Submitted photo / August 18, 2012)
“She accepted us all with all our faults,” said daughter Gisele Smith of Fairplay. “She never turned her back on anybody. She never had a nasty word to say about anybody.”
She gave her family more than money could buy — a loving home where they didn’t realize what they lacked in material possessions.
“I will say this about our life. Growing up in West Virginia, we were very happy kids,” said son Ray Geyer of Hagerstown. “We didn’t know we were poor. Everybody around us was growing up the same way. We didn’t know what we didn’t have. I loved my childhood. I wouldn’t change anything.”
“We had what we needed. We were loved,” Gisele said.
Helen Anderson was born in Morgantown, W.Va., and her family lived in the area while she was young. She had one sister, whom she remained close to although she lives in Nevada.
After graduating from high school in Clarksburg, W.Va., in 1942, Helen moved to Hagerstown to find work, and landed a job at Fairchild Industries.
Helen and Glenn E. Geyer Sr. met on a blind date, after Glenn’s brother backed out of the date. The couple dated for three months before they were married in November 1942, a month before Glenn was sent to the South Pacific with the U.S. Navy during World War II. He served for about three years.
Glenn was one of five children. His father died in 1922 when Glenn was 3 months old.
Unable to care for all of her children, Glenn’s mother sent the three boys to the Milton Hershey School, an orphanage in Hershey, Pa., and kept the two girls at home with her. When he was old enough, Glenn left the orphanage and settled in Hagerstown.
“Dad was the boss. You were born knowing that,” Ray said. “It worked out fine because she was OK with that. She weighed in on the big decisions. You never heard them argue, or a say a bad word once.”
The family refers to its life geographically — the early years in West Virginia in Morgantown, St. Mary’s and Wheeling, with the three oldest children — where Glenn worked as a printing pressman.
After about a decade, they moved to Hagerstown, where the three youngest were born and raised. The youngest of the six died of pneumonia in 2006 when he was 43.
The move to Hagerstown came in 1960, when jobs were scarce in West Virginia. Other family members headed to California, and Glenn later wished he had gone west instead of east, Ray said.
After the Geyer family moved to Hagerstown, it took Glenn about six months to find a job, which made for lean times. The older children remember their mother returning from The Salvation Army with cornbread, soup beans and powdered milk, which helped sustain the family until Glenn found a job.
They rented on Franklin, Mulberry and Prospect streets, paying rents equivalent to a mortgage payment. While the Geyers would have liked to own their own home, they never were able to scrape enough together for a down payment on a house, Gisele said.
Glenn worked for a printing company in Chambersburg, Pa., for about 10 years, then found a similar job in Hagerstown. Ray said in recent years, Helen had shared with him that her husband never brought home more than $100 a week during his career.
Ray recalls that their father got paid on Fridays, so Helen would do her weekly grocery shopping Friday evening or Saturday morning. She would return with one bag of potato chips, and each family member would get a bowl of chips and a glass of soda.
“That was our treat for the entire week. We never asked for anything more,” Ray said. “The rest of the week, it was three squares a day, but no treats.”