HELEN GERACIMOS CHAPIN
October 6, 1926 – June 9, 2012
Helen Geracimos Chapin passed away on Saturday, June 10, 2012 after a several years of declining health.
Born in Honolulu in 1926, the daughter of Greek immigrants Pota Demetrak and George Geracimos, Helen was both the product of and witness to immense social and cultural change in the Hawaiian Islands and the nation. From barefoot days in Waikiki, to horseback riding on the Big Island where her Uncle George Lycurgus ran the Hilo Hotel and the early Volcano House, to Punahou School, to her first foray into journalism at the Hilo Tribune-Herald, Helen was truly a daughter of Hawaii. These early experiences shaped Helen’s lifelong interest in multiculturalism, ethnic history, and journalism. She attended the University of Hawaii, but left for the Mainland before finishing her undergraduate degree. In 1957, having survived a bout of polio in the 1954 epidemic, she came back to Honolulu with two young daughters, to live with her mother and finish her B.A., in English literature.
Ukulele in hand, she returned to the mainland for graduate school at the University of New Mexico, which provided the educational program in literature she sought, along with the opportunity to support her family. In Albuquerque, she met and married Henry (Hank) Chapin. They went on to have two sons. Helen taught English literature at the University of New Mexico, at Kentucky State University, and at Wilmington College in southwestern Ohio, and completed her doctorate at Ohio State University. Throughout these years, she was active in the Civil Rights and anti-Vietnam War movements, from founding the Scott County (Kentucky) Improvement Association and integrating a Brownie troop in Georgetown, Kentucky, to working with Quakers in Yellow Springs, Ohio, against the War. In the meantime, she became interested in the literature of American ethnic immigrants, in her own ethnic roots, and – as an early feminist – in the changing role of women.
In 1978, spurred by the illness of her mother, Helen fulfilled her wish to come home to Hawaii. She found a new role for herself at a then-small college – now a major local university – called Hawaii Pacific; at HPU, she was able to spread her wings and re-enter professional life in Hawaii with great enthusiasm. In 1979, the Hawaiian Journal of History published Helen’s article “From Sparta to Spencer Street: Greek Women in Hawaii.” She taught literature and mythology, administered HPU’s off-campus programs on local military bases, and rose to the position of Dean and Vice President before “retiring” in 1995.
The following year, Shaping History, Helen’s landmark study of the role of newspapers in Hawaii, was published by University of Hawaii Press. Helen continued to participate actively in civic and professional organizations, serving as President of the Hawaiian Historical Society and editor of the Hawaiian Journal of History, President of the Oahu Alliance for the Mentally Ill, President of the Media Council, a member of Pen Women, and of the Society of Professional Journalists, which named her to its Hall of Fame in 2002. A second major publication, A Guide to Newspapers of Hawaii, 1834 – 2000, was released by the Hawaiian Historical Society in 2000. It was distributed to school libraries throughout Hawaii, and for years thereafter, Helen received requests from high school students for help with their Hawaiian history projects.
She is survived by her husband Hank and her four children (Georganne Chapin of Upper Nyack, NY; Julia Bozzo (Michael), of Bellingham, WA; Henry E. (Chip) Chapin and Nicholas King Chapin, both of Honolulu); three grandchildren (Ernesto Echeverria, Gina Bozzo, and Deanna Bozzo); her niece Jill Smyth of Kailua, HI, and nephew John Wassman of the Big Island; and many other nieces and nephews and beloved family members and friends on Oahu, in Hilo, and on the Mainland. Her sister, Constance (Connie) Geracimos Wassman preceded her in death.
Helen will be remembered as a person who was at once an accomplished scholar, a loving mother, wife, cousin and “auntie,” and wonderful friend and mentor to many. A celebration of her life will take place at 3 pm, Saturday, June 16, at the King Kamehameha V Judiciary Center, 417 South King Street, Honolulu.
People wishing to make donations in Helen’s honor may do so to the Helen G. Chapin Scholarship Fund, Hawaii Pacific University, 1164 Bishop Street, Honolulu, HI 96813 ; or the Hawaiian Historical Society, 560 Kawaiahao Street, Honolulu, HI 96813. No flower deliveries, please, on Saturday.