1952 - 2020
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Born in Itasca, Illinois, February 16, 1952, to Melvin W. Helsper and Betty Ellis Helsper. Norma died of cancer on June 18, 2020, in Ithaca, NY. She is survived by her husband, Marshall Thrailkill of Ithaca, NY, her daughter Lena Gay Thrailkill Helsper of Waverly, NY, her mother Betty Helsper of Schaumburg, IL, her sister Marjorie Helsper of Bartlett, IL, her brother Daniel Helsper of Anamosa, IA, her uncle Walter Ellis of Marcell, MN, many cousins and countless friends. Norma grew up on a family compound in Schaumburg where she was educated by fantastic teachers and nurtured by her extended family. She received her BA at the University of Illinois and Masters and Doctorate degrees at the University of Texas at Austin. At age 17, Norma was chosen as a foreign exchange student and spent three months living with the family of Dr. Fernando Filippini in Rosario, Argentina. The experience launched her lifelong love of the Spanish language. She studied in Barcelona during her junior year in college and later managed to visit her foreign exchange siblings in Argentina as well as people in Ecuador and Peru who had spent time with her family in the States. She also visited Cuba, Puerto Rico, Venezuela, Costa Rica and took a mission trip to Guatemala with the First Unitarian Society of Ithaca. She had a 30+ year career as a professor of Spanish and Latin American Studies at SUNY Cortland. The highlight of her career was taking groups of students to Mexico over winter break and watching the dawning of awareness within them that there was more than one way to see the world. She retired due to poor health. Norma believed that every student should have a study abroad experience and, for that reason, she established the Helsper Family Study Abroad scholarship at SUNY Cortland. Memorials may be sent to this fund at the SUNY Cortland College Foundation, PO Box 2000, SUNY Cortland, Cortland, NY 13045. Her cremains will be scattered at Hazel's Backyard, a place of peaceful contemplation. A celebration of her life will be arranged at a later date.

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Published in Daily Herald on Jun. 29, 2020.
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5 entries
June 29, 2020
Una excelente persona , siempre te recordaremos con mucho cariño .
Eliana Parra
June 28, 2020
Norma and I were classmates throughout middle school and high school. We shared many of the same classes and activities. I remember Norma as one of the smartest, prettiest, most talented, and certainly the most popular girl in our class. Everyone liked Norma! When she wanted something, she had a way of making it happen. I remember freshman year, she said our football team would be conference champs as seniors. I don't think anyone believed this, including the football team - except for Norma - but happen it did. I am so glad I got to connect with her at a reunion last October. My deepest condolences to her husband, daughter and mother. She will be missed by many.
Cindy Crane
June 27, 2020
I love that Norma cherished her foreign exchange experiences, and that she wants to provide that for other young people! It was something we both experienced and treasured. Rest peacefully, Norma, so sorry we couldnt make A Spain trip happen for you again this year! Descansa en paz, amiga!
Gail Mehlan
June 27, 2020
Norma was a kind and unselfish friend, If not for her help tutoring me through some classes I would have had to go to summer school. I can still remember the look on her face when I stopped her in the hall and told her I passed my exams. As we go through life we happen upon people that have made a difference. Norma was one of those people for me.
Julius Sacco
June 25, 2020
Goodbye, Norma. You always surprised me with your honest words in exactly the right moment. I am glad that her ongoing pain and health challenges are no longer something she has to live with. May we all live fearlessly and speak truth when we see it. To Marshall and Lena, I am very sad for your loss and knew Norma to be a devoted matriarch. Take good care ❤
Beth Pallace
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