Helen Meeker, community builder — a force for good on Vashon

Her inquisitive mind was continually at work; she spent a lifetime learning.

Helen Meeker, a friend and colleague to many on Vashon, died on June 5, at the age of 92.

She had spent the last three decades of her life building community on Vashon, through an impressive number of activities and by sharing her knowledge of native plants, social justice, the environment, Japanese American history, Indigenous art and culture, and other interests.

Her inquisitive mind was continually at work; she spent a lifetime learning.

The long list of organizations and activities which benefited from her support included Master Gardeners, the Vashon Chapter of the Northwest Perennial Alliance, Mukai Farm & Garden, Friends of Mukai, Vashon Land Trust, Vashon Allied Arts (now Vashon Center for the Arts) Vashon Island Growers Association, community dinners, BaaHaus Animal Rescue Group, Burton Community Church, Vashon College and the annual wildly wonderful Winter Solstice celebration which she and her husband, Joe Meeker, hosted for many years.

The story of Helen can best be told by her community service and her relationships with so many friends.

Carol Eggen remembers being a novice Master Gardener, sitting with Helen outside of True Value (now Vashon Ace Hardware) in 2003, at the usual card table, and learning along with the public about how to garden well on Vashon.

“Her calm manner, expertise, and sense of humor were exceptional,” said Eggen. “Some years later I nominated Helen for King County Master Gardener of the Year, and she won!”

Rick Edwards remembers sitting in on conversations about gardening between Helen and Eggen, which he said were “always rich in thought and word.”

For Anita Halstead, no novice at gardening herself, Helen seemed to be a surrogate mother to all her friends.

“She always had the best advice, was always calm and sincere,” said Halstead.

When Jane Neubauer moved to Vashon and took a look at her new property, she found a grass lawn in the middle of 100-year-old Douglas fir, cedar and madrona trees, and knew something was not right.

Helen came to the rescue — telling Neubauer first to remember that there are no straight lines in nature.

“She created a wonderful plan, with all Indigenous plantings of the Pacific Northwest,” said Neubauer.

Some years later, Helen and Neubauer shared their expertise, teaching a Native garden planning class for the Land Trust.

If there ever was better proof of the wisdom of “no straight lines” applying to more than just nature, it was the community effort required to salvage the Mukai Farm & Garden heritage site.

In 2008, I became interested in the seemingly abandoned jewel and started looking into its twisted tale in a Vashon College research class. Helen’s ears perked up, and after years of intense work and pulling in others, we found ourselves creating Friends of Mukai, and succeeding in returning the property to its proper place — back in the hands of the public.

Helen, in her role as a board member, loved the garden and took on every job thrown at her, becoming Mukai’s chief greeter, flower provider and cookie baker for countless public occasions.

Her warmth and knowledge made every visitor feel welcomed and informed.

As serious as Helen could be, she definitely liked to have fun. Sam and Sara Van Fleet shared a humorous glimpse of this.

“Helen was an inspiration in so many ways and just a really cool person,” they said. “She was the star student in the “Fitness Beyond 50” exercise class and became the “assistant,” demo-ing correct form and keeping the others in line. She consistently won the award for Best Attendance — just overall badass effort!”

Although her loss is so painful, Helen would want to leave you with a chuckle.

Please join a celebration of Helen Meeker’s life, from 3 to 5 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 17, at Mukai Farm & Garden. Helen requested that donations be made to the Friends of Mukai — find out more at mukaifarmandgarden.org.