HELGA MARIE VINSO went to be with her Lord on February 13, 2022. The winds of war were sweeping Europe on December 28, 1939, when Helga Marie Vinso (nee Schacht) was born to Heinz and Margot (Ludwig) Schacht in Köln Mülheim, Germany. Her father went off to war and was one of only several thousand out of 650,000+ who escaped from Stalingrad. At that time, Helga and her mother lived in a fifth floor apartment in the middle of Köln Mülheim. The Lord was watching out for her then. One day in May, 1942, her mother suddenly decided to leave the apartment and move them to Helga’s grandparents’ hometown of Bad Berka, near Weimar, Germany. The next day, the apartment building they had just left was leveled during an Allied air raid and all remaining residents were killed. She was especially impacted by the constant Allied bombing of Weimar which was less than 10 miles away and for years would flinch whenever she heard a siren.
After the war, they remained in Bad Berka in what became East Germany. Her father despised the Russians and said so. This was not a good idea at the time. So much so that in 1946, he escaped through Berlin as they were coming to arrest him. Helga’s mom and sister followed her dad to West Germany a little later but Helga was forced to stay in East Germany by the communists as a hostage to insure her parents and sister would return. She stayed with her Tante Greta in Tannroda until 1954 at which time she was allowed to join her parents and sister in West Germany. Helga completed high school in West Germany (Fichteschule) and then got an apprenticeship in a Fabric and Dressmakers shop.
In 1957, her father emigrated to Montreal, Canada, and the family followed shortly thereafter. Helga went to business school while working in a shirt factory. In 1958, she received Canadian citizenship. In 1959, her mother became a chef and her father was the caretaker at a Cornell University fraternity in Ithaca, New York, and Helga moved into the fraternity house with her family at that time. She was employed as a teller in a local Ithaca bank.
In 1962, she met the love of her life, Joseph Vinso, who was a chemical engineering student at Cornell. They were married on September 5, 1964. They moved to Willingboro, New Jersey, where Helga continued employment as a teller first in Philadelphia and then in Willingboro. In early 1966, she received her US citizenship. In the Fall of 1966, Joe was transferred to Midland, Michigan, with Dow Chemical. Helga was due with their first child in less than one month, so she lived with Joe’s parents in Kingston, Pennsylvania, until the birth of Kimberley Ann (1966).
The family moved to Midland, Michigan, where Helga kept the home fires burning while Joe traveled for Dow. She had a dry sense of humor. One time, Joe called from the road and asked how things were going and she said everything was fine–the firemen had just left. It turned out the dryer lint trap had smoldered and the fire department responded. On another occasion, Joe indicated that he would like to go back to school for a doctorate. She asked how long it takes and Joe indicated that the usual time is four years. She then asked what is the fastest it can be done. When he replied that the fastest time was three years, she announced that he had three years. In 1969, they celebrated the arrival of their second child, Joseph.
In 1970, Joe, Helga, Kim and Joseph moved to Ann Arbor, Michigan, where Helga had a full time job of managing the household, making the family’s clothes, and keeping everyone on schedule while Joe was going to school. She also began her lifelong interest in creating with her hands – starting with casting plastic resins. While in Ann Arbor, she also decided to broaden out and took courses in auto mechanics. She was proud of the fact that she could tear down, clean, and rebuild a carburetor as well as knowing her way around an engine.
In 1973, when Joe accepted a position at the University of Pennsylvania, Helga and the family moved to Wilmington, Delaware. She was kept busy managing the household but found time to be a Troop Leader for Kim’s Girl Scout Troop. Because of super organizing skills, she was appointed Cookie Chairperson for the Northern Delaware region and she set an all-time sales record that year.
In 1979, she and the family packed up and moved to Palos Verdes, California, when Joe accepted an appointment at the University of Southern California. Besides managing the household, she found time to be a school aide helping in English as a Second Language classes. Eventually she decided to return to banking first as a teller and then as a customer service specialist at Malaga Bank and then Wells Fargo. However, she had another calling. When Joe set up his consulting business, Helga left banking and ran the business as CFO for over 30 years. It never would have survived all those years without her strong management.
Helga loved to travel and had a chance to visit Australia, South America, Singapore, Fiji, Okinawa, Scotland, Ireland, Hawaii, and many other destinations. She and Joe would regularly visit her parents in Sigmaringen, Germany, and had the opportunity to travel all over Germany, Switzerland, and Austria. Visiting the cathedral in her home town of Köln was especially sobering realizing that the massive edifice was built 150 years before Columbus began his travels and survived World War II essentially unscathed. One of her favorite destinations was Acadia National Park in Maine where she and Joe would hike the trails and then go to Southwest Harbor for a lunch of freshly caught lobster.
In 1996, she and Joe moved the consulting office and their lives to Missoula, Montana. Besides running the office, she was instrumental in the design and building of the family home. While construction was in progress, she would be on the work site all day, every day, supervising and inspecting. She would call out workers trying to cut corners and have the work redone to her specification. This did not make her popular with a few of the tradesmen. The house and property is where the grandchildren have grown up. Family dinners, holidays, hikes to the “gold mine”, and “pictures on the bear” are all treasured memories.
Wherever she lived, her creativity came out. Knitting and needlepoint were two of her early favorites along with decorating the home with acquired artwork. However, later on she discovered her true passion of quilting and embroidering. She enjoyed making quilts for the grandchildren and wall hangings for the family home. When she acquired an embroidering machine, she produced some of the most amazing items including clothing, household items, and gifts.
Her first passion was doting on her grandchildren whenever she could. Montana football weekends she would have them to herself all afternoon while parents and grandpa were at the game. She also looked forward to her visits to the grandchildren in Virginia. Her second passion was gardening as it gave her an opportunity to take a break from the office and get outside. The landscaping around the family home reflects her skill and efforts of which she was quite proud.
Unfortunately, in 2012, she suffered a debilitating stroke which left her severely weakened on the right side along with aphasia and apraxia. As a result, she had to undertake ongoing therapies which restricted her ability to partake of her passions. The road was long and hard but she was fiercely independent demanding to do as much for herself as possible. While many times frustrating, she tried to maintain a positive attitude to the end.
Helga was preceded in death by her parents, Heinz and Margot Schacht, her sister Ursula Schlough, and her brother-in-law Robert Vinso. She is survived by her husband Joe to whom she was married for 57+ years; her children: Kimberley Ann Insko (Michael) of Butte, Montana, and Joseph (Erin) of Stafford, Virginia; her grandchildren: Cade (and his fiancé Kathryn), Ty, and Lance Insko, Elsa, Nicole, and Matthew Vinso, and Athan Doyle; sister-in-law Karen Vinso of Las Vegas, Nevada; and nieces Linda Gordon (Brian), Sandra Cutcliff (Chad), Suzie Brache (Juan) and nephew Peter Schlough.
The family would like to thank the people at Harvest Home Care, especially Cindy Schmidt and Dia Penny, whose outstanding devotion in providing her care is very much appreciated. We tried several but did not find a finer group of people.
Her funeral will be at 12:15 p.m., Friday, June 10, 2022 at Christ the King in Missoula. Interment will be in the Missoula City Cemetery. In lieu of flowers, donations honoring Helga can be made to the University of Montana Foundation designated for the New Directions Wellness Center.