Helen Lowell was famed for her longevity — she was six weeks shy of her 107th birthday when she died June 7 in her home near Parma — but that isn’t what made her special, friends say.
“Helen was a classy lady. Lady is the operative word,” said Sandra Bartles, 73, who grew up with Lowell as a friend of her mother and later forged a close friendship herself. “She was always very proper, welcoming, extremely intelligent, well-versed in a broad number of areas.”
Lowell was particularly well-versed in the history of western Canyon County, including Roswell, the tiny community south of Parma where she spent the past eight decades. She and co-author Lucille Peterson spent many years researching “Our First 100 Years: Boise Valley, 1814-1914,” which was published in 1976 to coincide with the nation’s bicentennial celebration.
That book, reprinted in 1999, “has become the historical bible of this end of the Valley,” Bartles said.
“It’s a great book and extremely useful and full of quotes,” Caldwell Library Director Elaine Leppert said.
“Our First 100 Years” was sold at the Parma library and other sites around town, with all proceeds dedicated to one of Lowell’s passions, the Fort Boise Historical Society and fort replica she helped found.
“It’s actually sitting on my bedside right now,” former Parma Librarian Annie Adamson, whose family’s roots are among many chronicled in the book.
Adamson has fond memories of sitting under a shade tree with Lowell, listening to her stories “about writing the book and all the adventures she had.”
Lowell was a masterful storyteller, skilled in the art of conversation, Bartles said.
“I was with her a few hours before she passed away, and we had a really delightful conversation,” she said.
“She had a brilliant mind right up until the day she died,” Bartles said. “Her knees went bad, and different things, but never her mind.”
Lowell continued driving until she was about 100, she said. A small woman, she was a distinctive sight on Parma-area roads in her dark sedan.
“It kind of looked like this car was driving itself down the road,” she said. “She was literally looking through the steering wheel.”
“She was very independent,” Bartles said. “She died in her own home, the home she and her husband built not long after they got married.”
Lowell was born in Boise June 20, 1905, and graduated from Boise High School in 1922. Apparently she made quite an impression: An Idaho Statesman article from April 1922 recounts that Lowell (then Helen Turner) was among 25 girls selected in a Boise “100 percent girl campaign” and was elected May Queen by the other girls in that group.
“It is the girl who is believed by her schoolmates and the faculty to be 100 percent as a girl, and it is she who every girl in Boise will expect to set an example as a perfect standard for them to follow,” the article continues.
She went on to the College of Idaho in Caldwell, studying language arts. While teaching English at Caldwell High School, she began dating the football coach, Blake Lowell, and they married in 1929. Her father-in-law, J.H. Lowell, was a developer who brought irrigation water to Canyon County — a legacy that is reflected in the name of the reservoir, Lake Lowell.
The couple moved to Roswell and raised an orchard and two children. Blake Lowell died in 1983. Their daughter, Sara, lives on the Oregon Coast, and son, David, lives in Kansas.
Lowell won many honors over the years, including the Idaho State Historical Society’s Esto Perpetua Award in 2009, the American Association for State and Local Histories National Award of Merit, the College of Idaho Distinguished Alumni Award and the Bruce Mitchell Community Service Award.
She was active in Sterry Memorial Presbyterian church and numerous civic organizations. She kept involved in her community and regularly hosted elegant teas for her friends.
Lowell was hospitalized for a few days the week before she died, but she insisted on going home. She spent her last days in hospice care, surrounded by friends.
“She was rarin’ and ready to go meet the Lord,” Bartles said.
In Remembrance is a weekly profile on a Treasure Valley resident who has recently passed away. To recommend a friend or loved one for an In Remembrance, email email@example.com.