The young woman, a senior at Syracuse University College of Fine Arts, was a piano and pipe organ major. Her playing was brilliant and, after she graduated in the coming spring, a concert tour all over Europe had been planned and the arrangements had already begun. Her music career began at a young age. Her first instrument had been the harp and she played first chair harp in the Syracuse Symphony Orchestra at the age of nine. At the age of thirteen, she became part of a newly formed all-harp orchestra in Syracuse. By that time she had begun playing piano, which became her first love, if not her first instrument.|
Helen was in great demand, constantly being asked to play for one event after another. A Pamona Grange convention came to Syracuse University. Being a member of the Pamona Grange, she was asked to play a couple of numbers for the entertainment night, and several singers and instrumentalists performing that night had requested that she accompany them on the piano.
Entertainment night came. The performances were going well and all were enjoying the evening. Midway through the evening a half-hour intermission was announced. Helen joined the crowd in taking a break.
As the events of the evening were preparing to resume, Helen returned to the piano, and as she took her seat on the piano bench, she noticed some unfamiliar sheet music on the music rack of the piano. She had no idea whom the music belonged to. She had not practiced it with anyone, and in fact had never played that particular piece of music.
As the MC announced the resumption of the evening’s entertainment, he introduced a young man, to sing “Give A Man A Horse He Can Ride.” The young man stepped to Helen’s side, adjusted the strange piece of sheet music, looked at Helen, smiled, and nodded his head to proceed. Not knowing how to gracefully decline, she proceeded to play. Fred proceeded to sing with a powerful and deep baritone voice.
When the performance was completed, Fred collected his music, smiled at Helen, and said, “I’ll see you later,” and left. Helen thought to herself, that guy has some nerve. She had never seen him before. He was a total stranger, and she had never been asked or even given a choice. She had never been given a chance to rehearse the performance either, and she definitely did not like that.
When the performances had concluded and she began collecting all of her sheet music to put away, Fred appeared at her side and offered to help her with her things. She informed him she could handle it herself, but he picked up her case and walked beside her. He apologized for the manner in which he had surprised her, introduced himself, and asked to escort her home. She surprised herself by agreeing to allow him to walk with her.
Helen lived on a farm about four miles from the university but, during the week, stayed at her aunt’s house, only a few blocks walk from the university. Unless her presence was required on the weekends, she returned home to spend the weekends with her parents.
By the time they arrived at the front porch of her aunt’s house, she had agreed to allow him to call on her. When they arrived at the door, she quickly said good night and went inside. Fred turned and walked home.
Home for Fred was fifteen miles away near Cicero, New York. When Fred graduated from high school, he was offered a full scholarship to Syracuse University. He decided he was not yet ready to go to the university and turned it down. His family owned a farm near Cicero, and they lived in the north side of the city. He lived on the farm alone, and raised pigs for a year. He then sold the pigs and had enough money to begin college. He enrolled in the university, but on his own as they refused to reinstate the scholarship. Though he started a year later than Helen, he was to graduate at the same time as he doubled up on his courses and completed four years in three, graduating Magna Cum Laude. Fred had a dream. Alaska was a new and growing land of great beauty and opportunity. He wanted to go to Alaska and build a homestead. He wanted to be one of the pioneers developing Alaska. When he and Helen met, they were both in their final year of college.
Fred had a job working nights, firing the boilers that provided heat and hot water for one of the university buildings. Having no money to pay for a room in the dormitory, he walked to and from the University, as he had no means of transportation. The distance was considerable. When he went to call on Helen, he walked fifteen miles to get there. They usually sat on a porch swing and talked until Helen had to go in. Then Fred walked the fifteen miles back home.
As time went by, Helen found herself becoming fond of this decent young man. She took him to the farm to meet her parents one weekend. Soon Fred joined the parents when attending some of Helen’s performances. The parents came to like the young man.
One evening in early spring, Fred came to call on Helen. They sat on the front porch as usual. Helen seemed out of sorts. Fred pressed her as to what was wrong. Helen broke down in tears and told him the reason for her sadness. Her father’s business partner had embezzled all of the company funds and left town. Her father had mortgaged the farm to start up the business. The business folded and was lost. The bank had foreclosed on the mortgage and the farm was to be sold at sheriff’s auction. Her parents had to move out of their home and had no place to go. They were losing everything.
Fred sympathized with Helen. Saying nothing more, Fred went home. He sought out information about when and where the auction was to be. He then made arrangements to borrow money for purchase of the farm. When the auction came, Fred bought the farm of Helen’s parents.
When Fred called upon Helen, she was again in tears. Her parent’s farm had been sold. They had to get out but had no place to go. Fred said, Helen, “Your parents do not have to move. They can stay there as long as they like. They will not need to pay any rent either.”
“Why, whatever do you mean? I told you, the farm was sold at sheriff’s sale. They can’t stay there. They no longer own it.”
“They can stay as long as they want. I bought the farm.”
Fred then, with a smile, withdrew the papers from his inner coat pocket and showed them to her. She was overwhelmed. She didn’t know what to say. She was deeply grateful, but almost thought she was dreaming.
Fred chose this moment to ask her to marry him. She really cared for this wonderful man, but she had chosen a career as a concert pianist. Everything was all arranged. She was to go on a tour of Europe, playing piano concerts. She was to entertain and be the guest of kings and queens. Could she give all that up? It was a rare opportunity. It was the chance of a lifetime.
A young man who obviously adored her, and who she knew in her heart that she loved, had just bought the farm her father had lost, and offered to allow her parents to continue to make it their home, rent free. He had literally saved them and their home, a home that had been in her mother’s family for a hundred years, the home where her mother and her mother’s sisters had grown up. Where her mother had been born. Where she and her brother had grown up.
How could she decide what to do? The concert tour was her dream come true. She had worked so hard to obtain that concert tour, and now it had become reality. She wanted that tour, and she wanted it bad.
On the other hand, she knew Fred loved her. He had just made a huge sacrifice for her parents, out of his love for her. She knew the hardship it placed him in, and she knew she did love him. Under the circumstances, how could she possibly refuse him? Regretting the loss of her concert tour in Europe, she determined that she could not refuse him. She belonged with Fred. She said, “Yes.”
When the weather permitted, even before the college semester was over, Fred was at the farm on weekends, plowing the land. The crop was planted and growing well when their wedding took place in Syracuse. They traveled to Canada for their honeymoon.
Fred accepted jobs in the western part of the state. They lived in East Aurora, East Otto, and Parrish. Fred was the high school principal in two of them, and Vocational Agriculture teacher in the other. Helen became the organist for a church in Buffalo, which boasted one of the largest pipe organs in the country. Fred went to law school nights, and worked part time in a law firm, doing an internship. He got his law degree and passed the bar exam. He never practiced law, preferring teaching. Helen gave piano lessons, and performed at numerous functions.
Eventually, Fred accepted a teaching position at Hamilton, New York. Hamilton was closer to the homes of the parents of both of them. A total of four children were born: two girls, a boy, and another girl. Fred obtained a Master’s degree from Cornell University.
The house on the farm Fred bought, allowing Helen’s parents to continue living there, suffered the loss of the house to fire in November one year. Helen’s parents moved into the basement of the church attended by Helen’s father. Fred began building a new house the following spring. Working weekends and on his vacation time during the summer months, using hand tools, as electric tools were not yet available, and a year later the house was completed far enough that Helen’s parents were able to move in. Helen’s father died in that house.
On the advice of the doctor, Fred left teaching in Hamilton and moved his family to the farm. He operated the farm while working other jobs at the same time. At some time before going to the farm, Fred took Helen to the Steinway factory. She sat down and played first one, and then another of fifty different pianos on the floor in the building. Suddenly, while trying another piano, Helen announced emphatically, “This is the one I want!” They were told the piano she chose was voiced by Muelenbach; a man that is to pianos as Stradivari is to violins. Fred purchased the Steinway grand piano for her then and there. It was the one with the sound that she wanted.
Fred hated factory work, but became the night superintendent of a war factory for the duration of World War II, continuing to operate the farm during the day. After the war, Helen was tired of the farming and desired that Fred go back to teaching. He accepted a position in the Catskill Mountains in Gilboa, New York. Helen’s mother came to live with them there.
The couple became one of the most prominent in the region. They were both active in the community and the local church and civic organizations. Their two older daughters had become adults and made lives of their own. The boy and the youngest girl experienced their high school years and went on to pursue their lives as adults. Grandchildren began to come and be enjoyed.
Once while the youngest two children were still in high school, the house was lost to fire, and Fred built a new one in the same place. Fred always did his best to provide for Helen, whatever she wanted. She never wanted more than he could provide. She always played the organ in the church, played for many functions and activities on the piano, and the excellence of her playing was known far and wide. There was always a steady stream of students coming to her home to study piano with her.
They were a very close couple and their love for one another never waned. Helen always had that tiny little regret for not having had the concert tour in Europe, but Fred gave up his great dream of pioneering in Alaska, for her, so they were even on that score.
In March of 1962, Fred died from a massive heart attack, two days before his sixty-first birthday. Helen went on to live another twenty years. A few years after Fred passed away, a committee of people came to see Helen. They wanted to buy the farm to build a school there. They were not authorized to pay the price the farm was worth, but Helen believed, because of his more than forty years of teaching, it met with Fred’s approval. Therefore she allowed them to have it and the school was built there.
Over the years after his passing, Helen often spoke of what Fred liked - what might meet with his approval. Many of the decisions she made in her life were based on that. Each of them went to their grave, continuing to be very much in love with the other.
The story of Fred Wickert and Helen Gould Wickert is a love story worth telling about.
First photo - Wedding picture of Fred and Helen
Second photo - Fred and Helen as a young couple in the winter of 1925
Third photo - Helen, holding their first born - Helen Gould Wickert
Fourth photo - Fred, holding their second born - Ruth Marian Wickert
Fifth photo - Techumseh Elementary School, built on the farm Fred had purchased for Helen's parents to keep their home.
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