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Farewell, Helen Woodson, world peace leader

Helen Woodson happily out of jail for last time, 2011, after resisting nuclear weapons.--Photo by Felice Cohen Joppa

By Jane and Henry Stoever

Helen, from your phone calls to us—usually from prison—we grew to love you. The first call from you to Henry was cloaked in mystery. You asked for help returning some equipment the next day, and you assured Henry he’d hear more the next day. He did, but his services were not needed. The equipment—a jackhammer and compressor—had been taken by the military. You, Helen, got sentenced to 18 years in jail for your Silo Pruning Hooks action in 1984. Father Carl Kabat, OMI (Oblate of Mary Immaculate); Father Paul Kabat, OMI; Larry Cloud Morgan, called White Feather; and you had busted into a missile silo near mile marker 45 on I-70. You poured blood and jackhammered away at the concrete platform protecting the silo. Its missile was aimed at Russia.

Arrived! Helen Woodson, fresh from a total of 27 years in prison for resisting nuclear weapons and other evils, happily walks toward Jack and Felice Cohen Joppa at the Greyhound terminal in Kansas City, MO., in September 2011.–Photo by Felice Cohen Joppa

You meant peace and, for that, served 12 years of the 18-year sentence, the longest sentence given to any peace resister. We heard you tell the judge something like this: “Don’t you give me a lesser sentence than the longest sentence you give to any of these men just because I’m a woman!”

During your prison time, you became notorious for helping women get out of jail. You’d do an action, serve time, compose requests to judges on behalf of cellmates, come out of prison for a few weeks, and do another action. Resistance, especially against nuclear weapons, was your second life’s work, after your earlier life’s work of raising special-needs children.

Fluent in Latin, you played “Jubilate Deo” (rejoice in God) on our piano and sang it at the top of your voice, along with Jane. Your friends Felice and Jack Cohen Joppa, founders of The Nuclear Resister (nuclearresister.org), collected funds for you during your imprisonments. They brought some of the many books they’d stored for you to our home to welcome you from jail for the last time in September 2011. You lived with us for 6 months, partly because you had kept asking states if you could live there and the first 5 states said absolutely not—you were too well-known a recidivist. Finally Henry said, “You could live with us!” What a deal, for you and us!

Having been accustomed to living in cells all on a single floor, or using elevators, you had to teach yourself, the first night with us, to climb stairs—up was easier than down. Soon, Henry shopped car lots for you, finding a Buick at the Honda lot(!), and taught you in the church parking lot to learn to drive again.

Jane had looked forward to having you look out the second-floor bedroom window on our backyard of trees and birds and squirrels, life in abundance. But you pulled the curtains and shut the bedroom door, so accustomed were you to finding safety in a closed-door cell.

From left: Felice Cohen Joppa, Henry Stoever, Helen Woodson, and Jack Cohen Joppa pose in Jane and Henry’s home September 2011 after leaving prison for her last civil resistance.–Photo by Jane Stoever

After about 6 months, you moved to the gracious Catholic Worker home of Charles Carney and Donna Constantineau, where you happily got your first post-prison cat. You found your Kansas City, KS, church home at St. Rose Philippine Duchesne Catholic Church. Social worker Charles, two years later, helped you move into a Kansas City, MO, apartment, purposely on the same block as St. Vincent de Paul Catholic Church. You made fast friends at both Traditional Catholic churches. Lawyer friend Christie King of St. Vincent spoke for you to hospital staff after your heart attack during your short time (9 days?) before dying in the hospital. The St. Rose Philippine women’s auxiliary cleared out your apartment, and that community held the funeral Mass gratis.

The week you went to the hospital on Friday, Jane got to visit with you on Monday and Wednesday. During both visits, you insisted you wanted to die—“I’ll be happy in heaven!” You refused to go to urgent care because it seemed to you, after 3 days of vomiting, that you were getting better by yourself. And what you really wanted to do was to let go, to go to God. In the hospital, both Jane and Henry got to visit you, and you were studiously noncommunicative, eyes shut mostly. At the first visit, you held Jane’s hand and listened to her, and when Henry began to speak, you reached out your hand to him, sure sign you recognized him.

Blessed Heaven to you, Helen! We miss you!

And to all readers—please see Helen’s obituary at https://www.muehlebachchapel.com/obituaries/helen-woodson

—Jane and Henry Stoever, longtime nuclear weapon resisters of a lesser breed than Helen, belong to PeaceWorks Kansas City. © 2023, Jane Stoever, Henry Stoever, Christie King, Felice Cohen Joppa, Jack Cohen Joppa, Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike 4.0 International License.

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