Helen McMillan Pace, 103, passed away peacefully, surrounded by family, on Saturday, Feb 20, 2021 in Aurora, IL where she had lived with her daughter, Kerry, since 2011. Helen was a former resident of Mt.Vernon for 55 years She was the daughter of Enoch Alonzo and Litha Luella (Collins) McMillan,and was born on June 1, 1917 in Coal Creek, VA. She had an older sister, Faye McMillan Gillespie, Newark, DE, who preceded her in death. Helen was the beloved wife of the late E. Minor Pace, who passed away on January 13, 2011. They had been married 68 years. She is survived by daughters, Kerry Pace and fiancé Everett Bosman of Aurora, IL; Kim and husband Todd Bulgrin of New Port Richey, FL; and son Kirk Pace and husband Edward Abmeyer of Belleville, IL. She is cherished by her grandchildren, Crystal Pace of Aurora, Rachel Bulgrin of Orlando, FL, Adam Bulgrin of Durham, NC, and great-grandson, Jacob Pace of Aurora, IL. She is also survived by sister-in-law, Althea Pace of Orange, VA, brother-in-law Emory Pace of Knoxville, TN and many nieces and nephews.
Helen’s father, Enoch McMillan, was a farmer, raising cattle and sheep and managing many crops. He was well respected in the community as a businessman, and always lending a hand to anyone in need. Sadly, he was struck by lighning and killed while working in the fields, when Helen was only a year old. With help from neighbors, they were able to keep the farm running for several years, which helped make Helen’s dream of attending Harrisonburg State Teacher’s College (later James Madison University), a reality. Her mother worked as a seamstress, a nanny and served tea in a tea room to provide for them. Helen wanted to become a teacher and provide for her widowed mother. Helen worked hard and finished in three years, with a BA in Elementary Education. She made the most of her time at Harrisonburg , being a member of the Art Club, Le Cercle Francais, the Yearbook Business Staff, an Alpha Chi Chapter, the Lanier Literary Society and the Women’s Varsity Field Hockey team!! She was moved up to varsity as a freshman and elected by the student body “Hockey Sports Leader.”
Helen began fulfilling her dreams of being self-sufficient, building a career, and helping her dedicated mother. Her first teaching job was in 1937, in Albemarle County, Esmont, VA,teaching 1st through 3rd grade in a three room schoolhouse, where she made $90. a month. It was here, at St. Stephens Episcopal Church, she met Minor Pace, a 16 year old high school fellow.. Helen was 20. She said they “gravitated” toward one another and enjoyed talking about God. They built a friendship based on their shared faith and shared dreams During their courtship, Minor went on to attend Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University as a cadet (now Virginia Tech), studying mining engineering. Knowing he would be inducted into the army, Helen and Minor decided to marry prior to his deployment on Feb. 20, 1943.
After the war ended, in 1946, Minor took a job with Inland Steel Coal Company in Wheelwright, KY. Helen taught school and worked as a librarian. She was also very active with Girl Scouts as a scout leader for 5 years, a member of the Big Sandy GS Council for 6 years, and President of the Big Sandy Council for 1 year. Helen also taught Sunday School. During this time, Helen entered a poem writing contest at Valley Forge about patriotism, and won!! Her poem is supposed to be displayed at Valley Forge in PA. From 1955 to 1961, Helen and Minor opened their hearts and home to adoping three children, Kerry, Kim, and Kirk. Helen made sure her children knew they were special, loved, and chosen.
In 1966, Helen and Minor sadly left their home in the Kentucky mountains as Inland Steel moved their coal operations to Illinois They settled in Mt. Vernon, where they lived for 55 years. As her children became more independent, Helen enjoyed involving herself in community and church activities. She volunteered as a Pink Lady at Good Samaritan Hospital, with Meals on Wheels and as a member of the Saint Ann’s Guild at Trinity Episcopal Church. Helen served as a committee member on the Mt. Vernon City Council. She was also a volunteer teacher’s aide tutoring students at Horace Mann Grade School through Project Excel. Helen loved poetry, and was a long time member of the Cedarhurst Book Club and Round Table, where she had treasured friendships. She had a humorous side, which was reflected in her parody verses to known songs used for special occasions. Her loving, humorous spirit was appreciated by all who knew her. She truly enjoyed writing poems that most often reflected her faith in and love of God.
But her favorite thing to do was was spending time with family and Dad. When Dad retired they traveled to Alaska, Greece, Switzerland, Australia, England, Germany, France, New Zealand, Italy and more. Whether it was spending several months on Jekyll Island every winter, visiting Jerusalem or working in the yard together at home, as long as she was with Dad, she was content. On their wedding anniversary, Feb.20, Mom closed her eyes to these days. We like to think Dad came to take her home. We know we will see her again.
We will remember her kindness, her warmth, her strength and her dedication to us. She carried her troubles with patience. She lived a quiet, patient, faithful and loving Christian life. She was an inspiration to her family because she lived by example. In Proverbs it says, “Strength and honor are her clothing and she will rejoice in time to come. She opens her mouth with wisdom; and in her tongue is the law of kindness. She looks well to the ways of her household; she eateth not the bread of idleness. Her children rise up and call her blessed.”
A Visitation will be held Thursday, February 25, 2021 from 9:00 am to 11:00 am at Hughey Funeral Home in Mount Vernon, IL. A Funeral Service will be held Thursday, February 25, 2021 at 11:30 am at Trinity Episcopal Church in Mount Vernon, IL with The Very Reverend Bill Howard officiating. Interment will be held at Monticello Gardens in Charlottesville, Virginia. Memorials may be made in Helen’s honor to Trinity Episcopal Church.