Even when Helen Hiestand knew the end was near, she was still helping others. The longtime government aide,whose most recent passion was Operation Christmas Child, died Sunday. She was 72.
Carlene Alexander, who met Hiestand about 30 years ago when Alexander joined the choir at the Hillsboro First United Methodist Church, said that she visited Hiestand about a week before she died.
“She knew the end was near, but as we sat there talking, and I was crying, she was asking me how I was,” Alexander said. “She knew where she was going and she had prepared to pass on to be with God. She was very brave and showed people how to live and how to handle death.”
Those sentiments were echoed by others close to her who described Hiestand as compassionate, helpful, talented, caring and a good person.
“She was a great lady. Very, very good with trying to help other people through her Congressional work and with Operation Christmas Child,” said Highland County Auditor Bill Fawley, who met Hiestand when they were both working in Congressman Bob McEwen’s office in Hillsboro in the late 1980s. “I enjoyed working with Helen a lot. She was a very competent individual and a nice, nice lady. If anyone had a problem with the federal government, she was the person to see.”
Hiestand retired from federal service after working several years for McEwen, Congressman Frank Cremeans and U.S Sen. Rob Portman. Then she took on Operation Christmas Child, a program that sends wrapped shoeboxes overseas to disadvantaged children at Christmas. Hiestand and her husband, Ed, oversaw a five-county OCC area for several years.
Fawley said he went to see Hiestand, who was battling cancer, on Veterans Day.
“She had made up her mind that there would be no more treatments or anything, and that whatever it is, it is,” Fawley said. “She had cancer once and thought she had it beat, but when it came back, it came back with a vengeance.”
Fawley said that Hiestand’s specialty when she was working for the congressmen was constituent services, helping veterans find services and others with Social Security issues.
“Anything to do with trying to help anybody, she was involved,” Fawley said. “She was a very caring and giving person. A good, good lady.”
Margaret Horst met Hiestand when they were both working for McEwen.
“She is just such an amazing, wonderful, terrific, best friend ever,” Horst said. “It’s hard to talk about just one thing she’s done. Her passion right now was Operation Christmas Child and she and Ed have just thrown themselves into that ministry, hook, line and sinker. She’s like that sister I needed forever. She is the person you can call and know she’s going to be right there for you, no matter what. I’m going to miss her terribly.”
Horst said Hiestand worked for OCC until September when cancer surgery slowed her down.
Horst and Hiestand were fellow church choir members, along with Alexander and Ruth West.
Alexander said that when she changed church choirs, from Baptist to Methodist, and she and Hiestand stood side by side, sometimes Hiestand would put an arm out when Alexander got moving around a little too much.
“She would say, ‘We don’t do that here,’” Alexander laughed. “Maybe Baptist choirs move around a little more than Methodists.”
Alexander also said that when they were singing in the choir, Hiestand would sometimes nudge her and ask if Alexander knew someone new she could see in the audience.
“She wanted to know because she wanted to greet them after church,” Alexander said.
“She was just an awesome person, a true person, very, very caring, and very interested in caring about everybody,” Alexander added. “And she had a good sense of humor. She was a super person and she is really going to be missed.”
West knew Hiestand through the church choir and the Walk to Emmaus, where they were in the same share group.
“I will remember her as someone very organized, very compassionate, helpful and talented,” West said. “She was just – I don’t even know who to explain it – just what I said. And a servant of God.”
Hiestand’s full obituary appears online and on page 2 in Tuesday’s print edition.
Reach Jeff Gilliland at 937-402-2522 or on Twitter @13gillilandj.