Doherty celebrates 100th birthday


Author Oscar Wilde once compared memory to a diary that we all carry around with us.
If that’s true, Helen Doherty has a masterpiece of literature stored in her brain, and she can retell nearly every bit of it.
From the day of her birth 100 years ago Saturday, Feb. 14, through her life in the Depression, her time as an Army nurse in World War II, and the polio epidemic of 1946, Doherty’s life story is as interesting and compelling as any novel you could find on a shelf at the library.
And it all started right here in Maple Lake.
“I was born on a Sunday,” Doherty recalled with a faraway smile on her face as if she were reliving a favorite story told to her countless times before. “My dad was at a masquerade ball the night before (at the famous Bohemian Hall) but Mom was home, and I guess my grandma was with her. The only thing I remember about the house was the bathroom. We had relatives visiting from New York and he was a photographer. I remember his negatives hanging in our bathtub.”
Doherty was born on the farm her grandfather Thomas settled two generations earlier. His parents, including Doherty’s great-grandfather Mathias Hudek, were immigrants from Czechoslovakia.
“They came over on the ship, but it was off course,” Doherty said with a grin. “Instead of landing in New York, they landed in Key West.”
The grandmotherly Maple Lake woman is full of anecdotes like that.
She’ll tell you of the country school teacher from Maple Lake who parked his horse and buggy in her family’s barn every day when he came out to teach. Although only five at the time, she remembers asking if she could tag along with him to school one day. “There was nothing for me to do at home,” she said.
Then she’ll coolly recall his name, which was Paul Madigan, even though it was 95 years ago, and tell you how he went on to become the warden at Alcatraz.
That’s also how she started school a year earlier than her classmates. Back then, most children started school at the age of six, not five. Since then, she has always been “a year too young,” she said.
“I was 12 when I started high school when I should have been 13. I graduated when I was 16.”
Even getting into college proved challenging because of her age, but she did it, and in 1935, she graduated from St. Mary’s Hospital School of Nursing in Minneapolis.
As a nurse in the exciting 1940s, she always seemed to be where the action was.
After a year at a 50-bed hospital in Wisconsin, she moved to California where her sister, Florence Menth, was working as a nurse.
“One of the first things I did when I got out to California was become a special nurse for a burn victim. I even remember his name, but I won’t tell you,” she said. “He went on to become a well-known politician.”
After that she moved on to another medical center until she discovered that the doctor was a morphine addict and the nurse “wasn’t a nurse at all.”