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105-year-old Helene Young was more than just Peace Pilgrim's sister

105-year-old Helene Young was more than just Peace Pilgrim's sister

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Helene Young was born Feb. 18, 1915. She lived through World War I, the previous century’s pandemic, the Great Depression and World War II.

“Her husband taught her how to drive behind the wheel of a Model A Ford,” said her friend and caretaker Sandy Leary. “She was an exceptional person who had a very good life.”

Young, 105, of the Cologne section of Galloway Township, died Jan. 14 of congestive heart failure. She was a renowned peace activist and volunteer who was dedicated to keeping alive the memory of her sister, the woman known as Peace Pilgrim.

Born Mildred Lisette Norman, Peace Pilgrim was an American spiritual teacher, mystic, pacifist, vegetarian and peace activist, best known for her long walks, including traversing the length of the Appalachian Trail as well as seven cross-country journeys. After Peace Pilgrim’s death in 1981, Young kept her sister’s name alive by hosting and organizing events in her honor and advocating for peace. That included collecting funds for the March of Dimes for 40 years.

“Helene Young was one of those truly remarkable women who are an inspiration to younger folks of all ages who flock to be in her company,” said Nanette LoBiondo Galloway, of Egg Harbor City, a friend of Young who helped her organize events in her sister’s memory. “She was admired not only for her pleasant personality, mental and physical stamina, but more importantly, her ability to give of herself to others. In addition to having a beautiful mind, she had a beautiful heart, and never let her age be a barrier.”

According to LoBiondo Galloway, Young was a widowed mother of two grown children, one deceased, and the grandmother of six grandsons and six great-grandchildren, four girls and two boys. She was married for 62 years to Eugene Young, who died in 2000.

Young was concerned about her health, LoBiondo Galloway said.

“Admittedly a night owl, after getting seven hours of sleep, Helene’s typical day started at 9:30 a.m.,” she said. “Without putting one foot on the floor, she awakened her body with a 20-minute workout of gentle, in-bed yoga poses and breathing exercises. After doing a little housework or laundry, she walked to the Cologne post office to pick up her mail, picking up trash and litter along the highway.”

Young was an Atlantic County Clean Communities volunteer for years and was committed to cleaning up a mile-long section of the heavily traveled White Horse Pike that fronted her modest home. She picked up for about a half-hour a day, six days a week, taking one day off to allow time for other activities.

Brigantine resident Leary, 74, met Young 15 years ago at an AtlantiCare lecture.

“After the lecture we spoke for four hours,” Leary said. “We developed an instant friendship. If we had been in school together, we would have been best friends.”

Leary said Young was very independent and continually set goals.

“She was determined to dance at her 100th birthday party that her family had for her, and she did so with a dance instructor.”

Young also was an avid cyclist and participated in the Legacy Bike Ride at Stockton University.

“She did her last one at age 100, but unfortunately fell off her bike,” Leary said. “She then developed cellulitis.”

At that point, Leary added caretaker to her relationship with Young.

“My goal was to help her help herself,” Leary said. “She was very independent, so she needed to be as self-sufficient as possible. She continued to exercise up until six months ago. She also played her piano every day with the same selection routine for about 20 minutes to sharpen her memory up until recently. Once she started to forget the exact routine, she lost interest.”

Another friend, Barbara Reynolds, first met Young in 1999.

“I heard that Peace Pilgrim’s grave was located in a local cemetery and wanted to help spread her message,” Reynolds said. “I especially wanted schoolchildren to learn about this amazing woman.”

She discovered that Young still collected mail for her deceased sister at the post office and left a letter for her there. Soon they were in contact, and Young invited her to her home.

“That house was like going back in time,” Reynolds said. “We became friends, and soon after in 2000, my daughter and I accompanied her to Costa Rica, where a statue of Peace Pilgrim was being dedicated.”

Reynolds, of Manahawkin, has since stayed active with the Friends of Peace Pilgrim and currently serves on the board.

“Helene shared Peace Pilgrim’s ideals but lived her life in a more normal fashion,” Reynolds said. “She also spread a message of peace, but in her own way.”

Reynolds said the organization plans to dedicate its next newsletter to Young and will hold a memorial service in the future.

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