Obituary: Helen Spencer Warren

Penn Yan

Helen Spencer Warren passed away November 19, 2020.

Early life: 

Her life was lived in the triangle of places within a mile of each other: the Johnsen  home farm of her early life on Pre-Emption Road, the Spencer farm on Culhane of her marriage and family, the bungalow on Townline of her later years. Fields and wood lots, the long straight roads, gardens and orchards – these were the landscapes she saw and tended. But there was little time for wandering and dreaming. With her marriage at 19 to George Spencer, she soon fell into the world of family – raising five children born within seven years, arranging birthday parties and holidays with her sisters, Ane Marie and Elsie, each with their large families, making sure that children were well clothed, well mannered, well looked after. Relaxation was rare. 


Death of loved ones became sad burdens: husbands George and Don, son Alan, parents, and friends. Ever hopeful, she found ways to live and love. Jay Greenfield became the cherished companion of a happy life: wintering in Florida with dear friends; spring, summer, and autumn in Penn Yan. Craig and Lori and their four children lived down the road in the house where she raised her family. Visits with nieces and their children, friends and neighbors, volunteering, and attending church. Things were in balance. And then Jay died suddenly.

Later life: 

She wanted to see the sunrise and sunset and be with her cat Jetta from her own home. In many ways her life became circumscribed by age and health. But there were birds to watch, the change of the seasons, visits with friends. The love of her children, their children, nieces, cousins, many dear friends. She was independent but attached by the invisible but indivisible lines of love and care.

Helen Spencer Warren died Thursday, November 19, 2020, after a brief illness. She had celebrated her 90th birthday February 17, 2020 with family and friends. She wrote her own obituary. Here it is:

She was born on February 17, 1930, to Albert and Matilde Johnsen. She graduated from Penn Yan Academy in 1946. She married George Spencer in 1949, who was the father of her five children; he passed away in 1978. She was a stay at home mom until 1970 when her two eldest children were going to college. She then worked in the Keuka College business office for 14 years. In 1984 she married Donald J. Warren. They spent their winters in Lake Elsinore, California, near March Air Force Base, where they took advantage of Don’s Air Force retirement and flew to Hawaii, Korea, and Guam. Don passed away in 1996. Helen’s first European tour was led by Sander Diamond to Russia. Her daughters honored her on her 75th birthday with a Holland-Belgium tour, and for her 80th, a tour of Ireland. She had previously toured Denmark, her parents’ homeland. She was a member of the United Methodist Church, past president of the VFW 745 Auxiliary, Women of the Moose, and Senior Citizens of the Moose. 

She is survived by her daughters, Lynne Spencer (Jeffrey Musman) of Boston, Cheryl (David) Purvis of Stonington, Conn.; and sons, Jeffrey Spencer of Rush, and Craig (Lori) of Penn Yan; five grandchildren, Ryan, Courtney, Benjamin, Zachary, and Garrett Spencer; four great-grandsons, Cole, Myles, Samuel, and Carter; great-granddaughter, Frankie Rose Spencer; two step-children, Ronald (Laurie) Warren and Jill Thurston of California; three step-granddaughters, Dawn Kaley, Shannon Robinson, and Kelly Hawkes; seven great-grandsons, all in California. She also leaves very attentive nieces, Amy Borglum, Karen Powers, Ane Powers, Linda Calhan, and Carol van Dijk; along with nephews, Bruce and Bud Borglum, and Tom Powers. She was predeceased by husband, George H. Spencer; son, Alan K. Spencer in 1981; husband, Donald J. Warren; and her loving companion of 16 years, Jay L. Greenfield in 2014.

What is a life after all? A blink in time, the flutter of a wing, a sigh. She will be remembered more for what she gave than was given to her.

Given COVID considerations, a celebration of her life will be held at a future date. The family requests memorial donations to the Keuka Comfort Care Home, Penn Yan Volunteer Ambulance Corps, the Humane Society of Yates County, and the Penn Yan United Methodist Church.

Posted online on December 01, 2020