News Column

Woman dons maternal role to help community

May 11, 2014

By Catherine Godbey, The Decatur Daily, Ala.

May 11--Helen Carter dismissed the compliments with a laugh and a wave of her hand.

"Well, law be, I've just done what anyone else would do," she said. "That's the way the world works. You get and you give. You learn and you teach. Simple as that."

As the morning sun shone through the glass door of the Limestone County home, Carter savored a rare moment of respite. A network of times marks a calender, reminding her of Mental Retardation Authority and Alabama Veterans Museum events, church outings and Elkmont High softball games. On this Wednesday, the restful morning brings an afternoon of Relay for Life and Foundation on Aging meetings.

A lifelong resident of Limestone County, Carter's involvement in the community has earned her the monicker "Mama."

"When I came to Athens seven years ago, Mama was one of the first people I met," said Mason Matthews, who works for Athens Utilities. "What struck me most about her was that she loved people. She genuinely cares about them."

Sitting in her living room surrounded by photographs of her two children, three grandsons and Auburn memorabilia, Carter casually mentions receiving the Citizen of the Year Award before moving on to more important topics -- her grandson's recent college graduation, her daughter's service to the community as assistant to Mayor Ronnie Marks and the Foundation on Aging's newest fundraiser.

"I love this county and being here. All you have to do is ask someone to do something and they'll step up," said Carter, 71. "I had a job that allowed me to be of some help to the community that raised me."

Born and raised in the small Limestone County farming community of Reid, the self-described tomboy spent time "padiddling here and yonder" with her father at the cotton gin while her mother cooked and cleaned.

"Times weren't like they are now. If I got a spanking at school, I would get another when I got home. That might have happened a time or two," Carter said with a slight smile. "My parents taught me to be responsible for my actions. I always acted right because I never wanted my family to be ashamed or embarrassed of me."

At 17 years old, Carter, who attended Elkmont and Tanner High schools, married. A year later, she gave birth to a daughter, Vicky Dowd. Four years later, a son, John Carter, was born.

"The one thing I want to tell parents is to teach your kids to be responsible for their actions and to spend time with them. Whenever Vicky or John were practicing or playing I was there," Carter said.

The running family joke became, if Vicky or John shot marbles, Carter would watch. She coached Vicky's softball team and sat through storms to watch John play baseball.

"I'm not one of those ooey-gooey mushy types, but my kids know I love them. I tell them plenty. They know if they need anything, by hook or crook, I'll get it," Carter said.

As her children entered middle school and needed her less, Carter landed a part-time job as secretary at the Limestone County Council on Aging. Two years later, she became director of the organization, which provides services to senior citizens, including Meals on Wheels, nutrition centers, transportation and health care.

"I have been the luckiest person. We have helped people who were hungry and lonely. We were there to make a difference, and I think we did," said Carter, who spent 30 years with the Council on Aging. "I railroaded my kids into volunteering because I think it is important to realize what is going on in the community, and to help those less fortunate."

The lesson took rook in Vicky and John.

"She is so passionate about helping the elderly, I developed a deep respect for senior citizens at an early age and I have passed that down to my sons," John Carter said. "She loves Limestone County. She still attends Elkmont High softball and volleyball games. Some parents whose kids are playing don't go, but my mother will be there cheering them on."

"The biggest thing she taught me is to help people who are need," Dowd said. "She has the biggest giving spirit. If you needed anything, she would do it."

Along with the Mental Retardation Authority, Alabama Veterans Museum, Relay for Life and Foundation on Aging, Carter serves with Care Assurance for the Aged and Homebound, Project Heat, Limestone ARC and Elkmont Church of Christ.

Catherine Godbey can be reached at 256-340-2441 or Follow on Twitter @DecaturLiving.

Mother Mayhem

Match the quote with the famous person who said it.

1. "When your mother asks, 'Do you want a piece of advice?' it's a mere formality. It doesn't matter if you answer yes or no. You're going to get it anyway."

2. "I remember my mother's prayers and they have always followed me. They have clung to me all my life."

3. "Some mothers are kissing mothers and some are scolding mothers, but it is love just the same, and most mothers kiss and scold together."

4. "If evolution really works, how come mothers only have two hands?"

5. "Our mothers always remain the strangest, craziest people we've ever met."

6. "I know how to do anything -- I'm a mom."

7. "Biology is the least of what makes someone a mother."

8. "It would seem that something which means poverty, disorder, and violence every single day should be avoided entirely. But the desire to beget children is a natural urge."

9. "All women become like their mothers. That is their tragedy. No man does. That's his."

10. "Mothers are all slightly insane."

A. Milton Berle

B. J.D. Salinger

C. Abraham Lincoln

D. Roseanne Barr

E. Phyllis Diller

F. Oscar Wilde

G. Erma Bombeck

H. Marguerite Duras

I. Oprah Winfrey

J. Pearl S. Buck

Mother's Day Potpourri

1. Which U.S. president issued a proclamation declaring the first national Mother's Day?

2. According to Guinness World Records, the 'most prolific mother ever' was the wife of Feodor Vassilyev. How many children did she have?

3. What is the official flower for Mother's Day?

4. In the Catholic faith, who is the patron saint of mothers?

5. According to the most recent U.S. Census Bureau figures, how many mothers are there in America? A. 1 billion B. 85 million C. 61 million D. 49 million.

6. Name the only mother and daughter that have won Oscars.

Answer key:

Matching: 1. G; 2. C; 3. J; 4. A; 5. H; 6. D; 7. I; 8. E; 9. F; 10. B.


1. Woodrow Wilson

2. 69

3. Red Carnation

4. Saint Monica

5. B

6. Judy Garland and Liza Minnelli


(c)2014 The Decatur Daily (Decatur, Ala.)

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Source: Decatur Daily (AL)

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