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Helen Joy (Griffith) DeLayo


1921 - 2016 Obituary Condolences
Helen Joy (Griffith) DeLayo Obituary

Helen Joy (Griffith) DeLayo passed away peacefully on August 4, 2016, at the Aristocrat Assisted Living facility in Alamogordo, N.M. She was 94 years old. The staff of the Aristocrat cared for Helen with compassion and love, all the while bringing dignity to her life. They brought laughter and smiles back to Helen.

Born in Keokuk, Iowa, on Nov. 11, 1921, to Leona (Doyle) and Edward Griffith, Helen was the first born of the young couple. While Helen was still a baby, Edward became ill with tuberculosis and the family moved to Albuquerque, N.M., for his health. Albuquerque's dry climate was considered a rehabilitation haven for those with the disease, incurable at the time.

Edward, however, was too ill to work and Leona, a registered nurse, took on the financial responsibility for the family. This left no one to care for baby Helen and, as was common for destitute families in the 1920's, she was placed in a convent to be cared for by Catholic nuns. It is here where Helen spent her early years while her mother struggled to take care of the ailing Edward and provide a living for the family. In the days long before daycare was readily available, there was no safety net of government support for families in need.

Perseverance and hard work soon paid off-eventually Edward regained his health and was able to support the family financially. Helen rejoined her parents in the family home on 1309 West Tijeras Street and Leona gave birth to baby sister, Barbara (Bobbie), in 1931. Edward became a successful businessman. Helen's little brother Eddy arrived in 1934, making the family complete.
But Edward's health was short lived and in 1939 he died suddenly of heart problems. After her father's death, 17 year-old Helen became the other responsible adult in the house and helped her mother with household duties and childrearing responsibilities of the young Bobbie and Eddy, just 6 and 3 years old, respectively. Times were hard for the family again as there was no government cushion to help widowed women with dependent children.

Despite the circumstances, Helen went on to graduate from St. Vincent Academy and matriculate at the University of New Mexico in 1939. She pledged to the Gamma Beta Chapter of Kappa Kappa Gamma. At UNM Helen made lifelong friends with many young men and women of Albuquerque. She studied Fine Arts and Education.

When Helen was 21, one of her dear friends, Irving Friedman, suggested she go out on a date with his buddy, Lenny (Leonard J. DeLayo ), an Italian defensive lineman recruited from the Bronx in New York City to play football for UNM. Helen agreed to go out with the charismatic and boisterous Lenny, and later recalled that her first impression of him was not a good one. Helen eventually fell in love with Len, as she preferred to call him, and the two began their romance.

But after bombs were dropped on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, like many patriotic young men, Len joined the United States Marine Corps when the United States declared war on Japan, sealing the fate of the nation as an Allied force in World War II. The couple had known each other for barely a month.

Len was immediately stationed in San Diego for basic training, beginning a lengthy and storied long-distance relationship with Helen. Vowing to stay together, the couple agreed to correspond daily for the duration of the war. For the rest of their lives they saved every piece of mail they sent to each other during the years they were separated. These letters have preserved their story.
Soon Len was sent overseas to destinations unknown, but not before he and Helen worked on secret code which revealed to Helen his location. Helen (as Len liked to say) was probably the only person besides President Roosevelt who knew that the Fifth Division of the United States Marine Corps were to invade the island of Iwo Jima on Feb. 19, 1945.
While he groveled in the black sands of Iwo Jima, Len kept close to his heart a small photo album with pictures of Helen.
Len survived the battle and remained with the Marines in Nagasaki, Japan after the peace treaty to end the war was signed. He was part of the occupation forces assigned to the region after the devastation of the nuclear bomb.
Helen, meanwhile, was getting anxious. It was August, 1945, and as the resourceful Helen knew, Len's duty was up. He was due to be discharged, but yet he was still actively serving on foreign soil. By Len's account, Helen, never one to be intimidated, took it upon herself to write none other than President Truman himself explaining that her betrothed was serving past his commitment. Helen's strategy worked and Len received his discharge papers within weeks.

Helen Joy Griffith became Mrs. Leonard J. DeLayo on the 12th April of 1946. The newlyweds began their careers as teachers in Albuquerque, and from there moved on to New York City and Baltimore, Maryland. They returned to New Mexico in 1963 when Len was appointed the State Superintendent of Public Instruction, a position he held for 23 years. Helen had a 35-year career as a teacher in New Mexico's public schools. During her tenure she taught in Grants and Albuquerque, but spent most of her career as a first grade teacher at Salazar Elementary in Santa Fe.

During the war, Helen and Len filed their letters with dreams of raising children in a home of their own with a lawn out front. They realized their dream and raised their three children, Leonard, Jr., Donna and Dianne. Their lawn was the pride of the neighborhood.
Helen was resilient and perseverant. She was a survivor-a true child of the Great Depression who came of age during World War II. She was a passionate and life-long Democrat, who prided herself on having voted for every Democratic president from Franklin Delano Roosevelt to Barack Obama. Along with Len, she met every United States President from John F. Kennedy to Bill Clinton. Ever economical and talented, she sewed her daughters' childhood wardrobes as well as layette packages for babies born to financially compromised Native American parents in Santa Fe. She was often the first to volunteer to teach catechism at church, organize a food drive for those in need, or to buy one of her students a proper winter coat when his or her parents could not afford one. She was generous not only in spirit, but in action.

Helen was a prolific painter in her retirement years and many of her works hang in her family's homes. In their retirement community of Sun City West, Ariz., Helen became an avid golfer and master organizer of events for the couple's large circle of friends. Helen and Len took cruise trips, visited their six grandchildren in New Mexico and spent many summers in California, enjoying the beach at her brother Eddy's various beach houses.
This is her narrative; an American narrative.

Helen is survived by her three children, Leonard J. DeLayo, Jr., Donna Key, and Dianne DeLayo, and their respective spouses, all of New Mexico; five grandchildren; and four great grandchildren; as well as her sister Bobbie Volk and brother Eddy.

She was preceded in death by her granddaughter, Kathryn Rebecca Key, and her beloved husband, Len, who died in 2002.

In lieu of flowers, Helen's family asks that mourners please vote in the November presidential election.
Published in Alamogordo Daily News from Aug. 24 to Sept. 23, 2016
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