Hastings resident Helen Mae Mullen, 91, departed this world on Sunday, December 2, 2018, at Mary Lanning Healthcare, Hastings, NE after a brief illness.
Services are 10 a.m. Saturday, December 8, at Butler Volland Chapel in Hastings with Rev. Anna E. Mosby officiating. Burial will be in Parkview Cemetery in Hastings. In lieu of flowers, memorials may be given to Hastings College Perkins Library or Syracuse University The iSchool for the Library and Information Science Program. Visitation will be 6-8 p.m. Friday with family greeting friends and relatives, and one hour prior to service at the funeral home.
Helen Mae Mullen was born on January 2, 1927. She and her twin brother, Hunter, were the oldest of 13 children born to Hunter and Helen Mae Ellis Mullen. She was also the first granddaughter of Roxie Anna Nevins Ellis Buckner.
Helen was raised in Hastings and graduated from Hastings High School in 1946. Chasing her lifelong passion for books, she attended Hastings College receiving a Bachelor’s degree in English in 1951. Her love of learning and spirit of excellence propelled her to further her education by obtaining a Master’s degree from Syracuse University School of Information Studies. Her goal was to be a children’s librarian in a public library and, following graduation, she was recruited and hired by the Free Library of Philadelphia. Beginning her career as the Children’s Librarian, she progressed to Coordinator of the Office of Work with Children, the first and only Black woman to head a department of the Free Library. In her 44 years there, Helen was instrumental in making the Free Library of Philadelphia one of the flagship libraries in the country.
Always a visionary, she worked to establish libraries as an integral part of community life. She was committed to identifying opportunities for the library to meet community needs. She instituted the Pre-School Story Hour at the Frankford branch library in 1955 to address the literacy needs of young children in a forgotten community. Helen developed programs about and in collaboration with the Philadelphia Zoo. The Teddy Bear Program included Saturday storytelling at the Zoo, storytelling training about animals and story hours in all 49 branches across the city. Over 10 years, several thousand Girl Scouts, trained by Helen, participated as storytellers. She created Book Sleepovers, Book Concerts for Children, and other creative events involving the Juilliard String Quartet, Philadelphia Civic Ballet Company, Philadelphia Orchestra, and Philadelphia Museum of Arts. For 14 years she shared books with the Youth Studies Center, a secure youth detention facility. She served as a Consultant to World Book Encyclopedia and the list goes on and on.
During her exemplary career, she was the face of the Library, serving on numerous Boards of Directors, Councils, committees and organizations throughout the city and country. She served as President of the United States Board on Books for Young People. In 1981 she was elected President of the Association of Library Service to Children, the children’s division of the American Library Association and the “world’s largest organization dedicated to the support and enhancement of library services to children.”
Helen was Board President of the Delaware Valley Association for the Education of Young Children, President of the Philadelphia Reading Roundtable, Board member of the Philadelphia UNICEF Board and the Philadelphia Theater Company, and many more. She also taught at Temple University, the University of Pennsylvania, Chestnut Hill College and the Community College of Philadelphia.
A national authority on children and reading, she was the recipient of the Public Library Association’s prestigious Allie Beth Martin Award; the Pennsylvania Library Association’s Distinguished Service Award; the John N. Patterson Award for Excellence in Education and many, many more. She also received Outstanding Alumni Awards from both Hastings College and Syracuse University.
Helen traveled extensively across the United States and to numerous countries throughout Europe. She also frequently visited family from New Jersey to California. She enjoyed reading, traveling and the theater.
Family was most important to Helen. She was “Sis” to her 12 brothers and sisters and “Aunt Helen” to her many nieces and nephews, and their friends as well. She shared her love of books with age-specific gifts and was always available to listen and offer a word of advice. While living and working in Philadelphia for over 40 years, she returned to Hastings each summer and at Christmas to connect with her parents and family. After moving back to Hastings, her greatest joy was seeing her home filled for family reunions and July 4th cookouts followed by fireworks in the yard. Her love was unconditional, and her door was always open.
In addition to her parents, Helen was preceded in death by seven siblings, Kennetha O. Mosby; Wilda Lee Hill; Robert Eugene Mullen; Herman Mullen; Hunter Mullen, Jr.; Rodney Allen Mullen and Faye Mullen.
She leaves to cherish her memories two brothers, Charles L. Mullen (Omaha, NE) and Simuel M. Mullen (Chicago, IL); three sisters, Marceline Armstrong (Hastings, NE); Ada M. Robinson (Lincoln, NE) and Eleanor A. Shanks (Chicago, IL); two sisters-in-law, Marion D. Mullen and Paulette I. Mullen (both of Omaha, NE); 25 nieces and nephews; numerous great-nieces and great-nephews, cousins, colleagues and friends.
Helen Mae Mullen was a gift from God to children, her community, and her family. She made a difference and she will truly be missed.