Golden memories of Derry from the ‘Sunshine State’
Les and Maureen (nee Hegarty) Helgeson who moved to the United States after marrying in Derry nearly 50 years ago, are planning a return visit next year for the City of Culture 2013 celebrations.
Leslie (Les) Helgeson heard the Journal was marking its 240th anniversary this month and sent us a great snapshot from the past when elephants - well one elephant - went walkabout on the streets of Derry.
But behind all that is a lovely story of a couple who are looking forward to celebrating their Golden wedding anniversary in 2014.
Les was an Electronics Technician in the US Navy based at the Naval Communication Station in Clooney and Rossdowney.
Rolling back the years this week from his home in Tampa Bay, Les recalled: “Normally the tour of duty is 18 months but I didn’t want to leave and was able to get it extended until December of 1964. I was introduced to Maureen Hegarty of Marlborough Terrace by a friend at the Borderland dance hall in Muff. We began dating. Things have gone well since and in May of 2014 we will celebrate our 50th wedding anniversay, God willing.”
Les and Maureen were married in St. Eugene’s Cathederal by the late Fr. Anthony Mulvey and honeymooned in Dublin.
After leaving Derry the newly-weds went to Les’ home in Wisconsin in the US and they stayed there until he finished college. The couple had two sons and moved to the Chicago area of Illinois where they raised their family and he worked in Data Processing.
“While our two boys were at university Maureen attended too and became a registered nurse. When we retired in 2003 we moved to the Tampa Bay area of Florida near one of our sons; he has a wife and two daughters. In the Chicago area we left behind our other son and three grandchildren. Fortunately for us they like to visit Florida in the wintertime,” the couple said.
Les continued: “The three years I spent in Ireland were wonderful. Housing accomodations at the US base were very limited so anyone who wanted to could live off base. I lived in apartments on the Strand Road and Queen Street. After we were married we lived in a apartment above Andy McGarvey’s barber shop on Creggan Street.
“There was some stress from the Cold War while I was there. If my memory serves me correctly during that three-year period we had the Bay-of-Pigs fiasco in Cuba, the Cuban missile crisis, the assassination of President Kennedy, the Berlin airlift and the building of the Berlin wall.
“Many of Maureen’s relatives live in and around Derry and Donegal so we get back to Derry frequently, about every three years or so. We have seen the bad times and the good. We are looking forward to a visit next summer during the City of Culture celebrations.”
So what was the story with the elephant? Les recalled: “The circus had come to town. We can’t remember the season but believe the year was 1963. I was enjoying a drive along the Letterkenny Road one morning and spotted the elephant handler walking this elephant. I usually kept my camera in the car and took a couple of pictures. Later that day we went to see the big-top programme. Due to a double sale of the tickets we were reseated and ended up in the #1 box seat. What a treat that was.
“While touring around we did take a lot of pictures of the sights in the countryside. A few years ago I threw out a lot of them because they were so faded. The few remaining ones I digitized and edited to recover some contrast and colour. The ones we found most valuable and kept were those of familiar people and places.
“If your readers would like to see more pictures of Derry taken by US sailors and read about Derry people associated with the US Navy as far back as WWII they can visit the internet site http://navcommsta-londonderry.freeservers.com.”
Les added: “The Derry Journal has been a part of our life for all these years. After we left Derry Maureen’s mother mailed the Derry Journal to us for several years. This was the time before Twitter, Facebook, smart phones, etc. Telephone calls were very expensive so this was our primary link to Derry and the news was one week old when we got it. Today she checks it daily over the internet. Our hopes are that you will be able to continue for at least another 240 years.”
Search for a job
Search for a car
Search for a house
Weather for Derry
Thursday 23 May 2013
Temperature: 6 C to 9 C
Wind Speed: 28 mph
Wind direction: North
Temperature: 4 C to 12 C
Wind Speed: 15 mph
Wind direction: North