Helen Longyear Paul: a woman of vision

by Pam Christensen

Helen Longyear Paul was the second daughter and fourth child of John Munro and Mary Beecher Longyear. Born on January 20, 1885, she passed away on October 30, 1960. Despite the fact that she has been gone for almost fifty years, the legacy of this amazing woman still is shaping Marquette.
Her death at the age of seventy-five was unexpected and followed a personal triumph for Helen. She was returning to Marquette from the third annual Local History Conference held in Detroit. During the conference, she delivered an address titled, “An Upper Peninsula Research Collection” and received an award from the American Association for State and Local History for a “lifetime of distinguished leadership in local history activities in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.” Her death in an Ithaca hotel room during the night took her traveling companions Mr. and Mrs. Ernest Rankin and Kenyon Boyer by surprise.
0903lop1History was a passion of Helen’s, and her death came just after publication of Landlooker in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan from the reminiscences of her father John M. Longyear.
Helen is credited with editing this volume that paints a vivid picture of early U.P. history. As an aside to the review of the book in Michigan History magazine, Prentiss M. Brown said of Helen “All who have heard her at historical society meetings will recall her great gifts of storytelling, her sparkling humor and her great knowledge.”
Helen helped to shape the Marquette County Historical Society and the History Museum, founded by her father in 1918. The J.M. Longyear Historical Research Library was established in 1925 after Helen donated his private collection of books, maps, photographs and manuscripts to the society.
This personal collection became the nucleus of one of the finest historical libraries in Michigan. With more than 16,000 titles, including rare books, manuscripts, maps, magazines, scrapbooks, documents, diaries, architectural drawings, plat books, business ledgers and personal records, the library should be the first stop for anyone doing research on local history or genealogy.
Helen was born in Marquette, but moved with her family to the Boston area in 1903. She attended Burnham School for Girls in Northhampton (Massachusetts) and spent a year at Smith College. Following Smith, she enrolled at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), where she studied architecture. She received her bachelor of science degree, with highest honors, in 1909.
While a senior at MIT, Helen served as art editor of the yearbook. She was a life-long learner and had a propensity for thoroughly investigating anything that interested her. Perhaps this is why she spent so much of her time nurturing the Marquette County Historical Society and Museum and Peter White Public Library. She understood how important it was to have quality institutions that would provide quality programs and services to benefit the community.
Helen not only was dedicated to the history of Marquette County. She was instrumental in other U.P. historical projects. Her architectural training no doubt served her well in her efforts to preserve the history of the Upper Peninsula.
In 1952, she consulted with the team restoring Fort Wilkins in the Keweenaw Peninsula. Historians recommended that the fort should be furnished in the style of the 1840s.
The fort was vacated in 1846 and later occupied until the summer of 1870. Alexis A. Praus, director of the Kalamazoo public museum and president of the Historical Society of Michigan, was asked to survey and make recommendations for restoration of Fort Wilkins and Hartwick Pines State Park in 1952.
Praus did not limit himself to comments on these two sites, but prepared an interesting commentary of the state of historical resources in the U.P. and how they related to tourism in the December 1952 edition of Michigan History.
0903lop2“It is very evident that there is an expanding interest in history throughout the upper portion of Michigan, particularly in the Upper Peninsula,” he said. “Museums and Michigan history, however, are without doubt a definite, and as yet, almost untapped tourist attraction for the Upper Peninsula.”
In discussing Fort Wilkins, he said “The work of Mrs. Carroll Paul in equipping one building has demonstrated that furnishings can transform silent and almost meaningless rooms into rooms that literally speak for themselves and are full of associations for the visitor.”
Although he continues to criticize some of the items as falling outside of the desired time period of the 1840s, he still singles out her “unselfish dedication to the cultural welfare of the Upper Peninsula. There is no doubt that her work at Fort Wilkins enhances its interest to the public and gives it a voice that the visitors comprehend and increases its general impact many times over.”
Helen had her own article detailing the Fort Wilkins project in the December 1952 issue of Michigan History magazine, in which she told the history of many of the items selected for inclusion in the officer’s quarters at Fort Wilkins. Her five-page article detailed the origin and history of each item she secured for the project. No attic or basement was safe from Helen’s quest for perfect furnishings, and the donors read like the Who’s Who of Marquette.
Due to Helen’s success with the Fort Wilkins project, she was asked to assist with projects to furnish the Schoolcraft Agency House in Sault Ste. Marie and the Biddle and Beaumont houses on Mackinac Island.
Helen married Carroll Paul on March 25, 1911. Carroll was a graduate of Dartmouth College with a bachelor of science and civil engineering degree. He served in the U.S. Navy Engineer Corps and rose from Ensign to Lieutenant Commander. He served from 1907 to 1922, and during his service he held commissions in the Philippines, Guam, the Great Lakes Naval Station in Chicago, New Orleans, Boston and Philadelphia. Helen accompanied her husband on duty in the Philippines, and they returned to the States in 1913.
After the death of John M. Longyear in 1922, Carroll retired as Lieutenant Commander of the U.S. Engineer Corps at Yorktown (Virginia) and moved to Marquette to oversee Longyear business interests. He died in 1937 and is buried in Arlington Cemetery.
The Carroll Paul Memorial Trust Fund (CPMTF) of Peter White Public Library was established by Helen in tribute to her husband. Helen served as a member of the board of trustees of Peter White Public Library for many years. During that time, she challenged the Library to be the premier library institution in Michigan.
Upon Helen’s death, the library received funds that could be used in the following way: “for the improvement of the musical facilities of the library including, but not limited to, the purchase of musical instruments of any kind, musical recordings and score sheets, books and other literature on music and composers, transcribing, playing and amplifying equipment, radio and television equipment and any other equipment now existing or hereafter developed, designed for the appreciation and enjoyment of music.”
The $25,000 left to form the CPMTF was comprised of cash and stock. In the 1990s, the board of trustees took a more active role in the investment of these funds and structured the fund to insure a stable level of return from year to year.
Board members Mary Buys and Michael Conley researched the funds and developed the investment strategy that enabled the fund to grow. Today, the fund has a market value of $597,207.34. The board of trustees has been using income from the trust, approximately $25,000 per year, to provide materials, programming and equipment related to music. The board hopes to conduct a fundraising campaign later this year to provide additional funding for the CPMTF with a goal of reaching $1,000,000.
“The library has come to depend on the Carroll Paul Memorial Trust Fund to provide the wonderful music programs Marquette area residents have come to expect,” said board president Toni Eppensteiner. “Unfortunately, we have suffered a loss in value to the trust and will have to reduce music-related programming for 2009 and 2010. Our hope is to build the Carroll Paul Memorial Trust Fund to a level that will continue to provide stable funding for the Library for many years to come.”
Helen’s goal was to provide residents of the Marquette area the means to appreciate and enjoy music. She was visionary enough to understand that the equipment and formats to play music may change, but she made sure her instructions were broad enough to include new technology of which she had never dreamed.
The board of trustees and the staff are proud of the faith Helen bestowed on them and try their best to honor her husband’s memory by providing a variety of avenues whereby library users can gain an appreciation and enjoyment of music.
The PWPL has an extensive collection of music books, including autobiographies and biographies of musicians, score books, books about all genres of music and performance. The audio visual collection has flourished with funding from the CPMTF and PWPL has an enviable collection of compact discs, videos and DVDs. If it features music, Helen’s instructions are to buy it.
As the CPMTF has grown, so has the income from the trust (prior to the current economic downfall), and PWPL has expanded into providing musical concerts, performances and productions. Adults, children and teens all find the PWPL a source of musical pleasure, appreciation and understanding.
The CPMTF has partnered with Quaystone Concert Series, community concerts, the Marquette Arts and Culture Center, Marquette Choral Society, Finn Fest and Finn Grand Fest, and Pine Mountain Music Festival to bring performers to the Marquette area. Programs sponsored by the CPMTF include: The Chenille Sisters, Detroit Windsor Dance Theatre, Michigan Opera Theatre, Craig Randal Johnson, Blue Notes Drum and Bugle Corps, Jouko Harjanne, WhiteWater, Mark Mitchell, Corinne Rockow, LaRon Williams, White Swan Theatre, Song of the Lakes, Tom Paxton, Kitty Donohoe, Leo Kottke, Storytellers, New York Ballet Theatre, Jackson Berkey, Shepards Folly and many local performers.
PWPL has been lauded for nurturing local musicians. All musicians hired by the PWPL to perform are paid. The Teen Advisory Board has expanded the opportunity for local bands to play before an audience. Their open-mike nights and Battle of the Bands programs are attended enthusiastically by bands as well as an audience made up of all ages. For many performers, this is a learning experience. They get to perform in front of an audience and get feedback from the audience and other performers.
In 2000, a local group of musicians—Nancy Railey, Greg Sulik, Nancy Redfern, Lynn Koski-Lanczy and Michael Hoffman—formed a piano selection committee to evaluate and recommend purchase of a grand piano for the PWPL Community Room.
The committee selected a Petrof, and fundraising, under the direction of Suzanne Harding, started in September 2001. Despite the fact that fund raising letters went out right before September 11, 2001, almost $30,000 was raised in three weeks for purchase and maintenance of the piano.
The piano expanded the musical offerings at PWPL. Many local piano teachers hold their student recitals at PWPL, NMU students perform at PWPL and musicians can use the piano for practice.
“We realized that our piano was a celebrity when local photographers started to call PWPL and schedule use of the piano for senior pictures,” Eppensteiner said. “Who knows what next great performer will grow out of the opportunities provided to him or her by the Carroll Paul Memorial Trust Fund, opportunities to perform at PWPL and the support of the Marquette community?”
Following the death of Helen Longyear Paul, a Mining Journal editorial said, “But it was not in the fields of historical research and library operations alone that Mrs. Paul left her mark. Overshadowing these interests, but far less publicized than them, was her stature as an individual.
If she had never devoted her time, effort and wealth to historic and scholastic causes, she would still be long remembered as a person whose warmth and kindness were without bounds. In the annals of Michigan history, for which Mrs. Paul did so much, there will always be a special place for her.”
Almost fifty years ago, the Mining Journal predicted that Helen Longyear Paul would long be remembered and honored. Today, Marquette area residents do so with a song in their hearts—not even realizing that Helen Longyear Paul made sure that the music continued long after she was gone.

— Pam Christensen
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