June 8, 1938 — September 4, 2017
Helga Erika Zeller of Corvallis died of heart failure on Labor Day, September 4 at Good Samaritan Hospital in Corvallis. She was 79.
Helga was born in Stuttgart, Germany to Swiss parents on June 8, 1938. As World War II enveloped Europe, Helga, the oldest of five other siblings, began her life and spent her early childhood years in turbulent and uncertain times. By the war’s end, her home lay in ruins, food was scarce and, soon after her father died, the family had to split up to survive.
Helga was sent into “foster care” where she worked on a farm under brutal conditions.
Once back in Switzerland as a young woman, Helga met her future husband, Paul Zeller at a social gathering in the small village of Degersheim in 1957. Paul had already immigrated to America in 1953 where he bought a small café in Coronado, California. He had returned to Switzerland to attend one of the finest culinary schools in the world.
He was taking a break from school with friends when he met Helga at the dance in Degersheim. After graduation, Paul returned to Coronado to establish his café business. He promised Helga he would return to Switzerland in six months to marry her, which he did.
The newlyweds spent their honeymoon traveling throughout Switzerland in Paul’s new 1958 Porsche convertible.
Once Switzerland was covered, Helga and Paul continued their extended honeymoon by boarding the Queen Mary with their Porsche, docking in New York City five days later, and driving throughout the U.S.to see all that her new country had to offer.
Six months later, the honeymoon ended and it was time to settle back in Southern California and raise a family. Helga and Paul raised three boys, the oldest of which (Paul, Jr) died in 1982 at the age of 23.
In 1981, Paul and Helga retired to Oregon on property along the Alsea River where Helga developed a love for the outdoors and her extensive gardening skills. Her Swiss style home was always immaculate and surrounded by flowers. She was well known for her hard-work ethic and folks would always comment on seeing Helga outside cleaning and working in some capacity.
In 2003, Helga and Paul moved to a retirement community in Corvallis. They would still continue to travel and stay at a small house a couple of days a week on the Alsea property now owned by one of their sons.
Paul died in 2007, but Helga continued maintaining and working hard on two households for ten years until her death.
Helga and Paul were married for 49 years and truly lived the American dream. Her strict upbringing and early hardships in life made her tough and reclusive by nature, but also a kind and generous soul. Her lack of education was overshadowed by her unparalleled work ethic and tenacity.
She will be missed.
Survivors include her sons Max of Alsea and Eddie and wife, Jacqueline of Alpine, California; four grandchildren; and sister Gerda of Las Vegas, Nevada.