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1926-2014. Honors student, the first in her family to graduate from college, mother of six children, journalist, entrepreneur, a loving wife of 57 years, Helen Brozda was all this and much, much more. Helen was known to family and friends as "Poppy," a nickname derived from her maiden name of Popovich. She was born and raised in the house hand-built by her parents, Michael and Bessie, of East McKeesport, PA, near Pittsburgh. At a time when being bilingual definitely wasn't cool, Helen spoke both English and Serbian, sometimes acting as a translator for her parents, who had emigrated from the former Yugoslavia. At age six, young Helen narrowly escaped death from a severe case of pneumonia. Perhaps that experience is what endowed her with a zest for life. After working for a year to earn money for college, she attended Oshkosh State Teachers College, the University of Wisconsin at Madison, and graduated from Ripon College in Wisconsin. At Ripon College, this intelligent beauty was both editor of the school newspaper and the homecoming queen. In 1952, Helen returned home to Monroeville, PA and began a job at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Later, while working for Cabot and Coffman Advertising Agency, she wrote, directed and starred in some of the first commercials ever to appear on an entirely new medium: television. At Christmas in 1952, on a blind date, Helen met Joseph Brozda, and a long-distance relationship bloomed. He was at Loyola Medical School in Chicago, she was a "career girl." By the summer, Helen was wearing a beautiful diamond engagement ring. The couple was married at St. Colman's Catholic Church in Turtle Creek, PA and moved to Chicago for Joe's last year of medical school. After marriage, Helen continued her professional career as the co-editor of the Pabst Blue Ribbon News. Joe pursued his residency at Cook County Hospital in Chicago, a city the couple grew to know and love. Four children were born in the Windy City, Michael, Christopher, Amie, and Lisa. Attracted by the warm climate, the young family moved to San Jose, CA In 1953. Known then at the "Valley of the Heart's Delight," (later called Silicon Valley), Joe opened a practice in family medicine and general surgery. Poppy continued her journalistic career by becoming a frequent contributor to the San Jose Mercury News. She was also active in the Medical Auxiliary, and produced many outstanding fashion shows. While living in Santa Clara, and later Saratoga, CA, Helen had two more children, Tina and Eric. A woman of boundless energy and vision, Poppy also opened and ran Big Basin House Antiques in Saratoga, CA for many years. In 1989, Poppy and Joe retired to Santa Cruz, CA. Throughout her life, Poppy enjoyed collecting antiques, painting, and travel. She especially cherished time with friends and family. Helen celebrated life all the way up to New Year's Day, 2014, when she passed away quickly and peacefully at about 3 a.m., due to complications of viral influenza. She was 87. At this time, plans are being made for a small, private family ceremony to honor Poppy's life. We love you, mom, and we'll miss you!
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Published in Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on Jan. 8, 2014
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