Helen V. Froehlich: The Lake’s Generous Benefactor
Helen Voltz Froehlich’s life spanned most of the 20th Century. According to Theresa Treadway Lloyd, she was a nature lover, floriculturist, writer, photographer, mountain climber and perceptive world traveler with a keen sense of adventure.
Widely traveled, and an author of children’s books, she was also a generous patron of the arts and active in community service in Huletts Landing from the time she moved there in 1973.
When she died at the age of 91 she provided generously for the lake she loved so dearly. The Helen V. Froehlich Foundation, headquartered in Chicago, Ill., was established in March of 1993 with a mission to assist with the conservation and preservation of the environment related to Lake George and the Lake George Basin.
According to Karen Cortese, a trustee of the Froehlich Foundation at Northern Trust Bank in Chicago, Mrs. Froehlich left a charitable trust in perpetuity to support organizations involved in the preservation and conservation of Lake George. “That is the official standard which we use when we consider grant applications,” she said.
Born in 1901 to Daniel W. Voltz and Julia Stofe Voltz, she was the middle child of three sisters; Louise (Bollman), Helen (Froehlich) and Ruth (Cullen). According to her niece, Ann Bollman Goldsmith, she was born and raised in Chicago and graduated from Vassar around 1924. Goldsmith said she married Forrest Kerr shortly after graduating. Kerr was a geologist for the Canadian government and was assigned to mapping the Yukon. Not wanting to be a stay-at-home wife, Helen accompanied her husband into the wildness, often times being the only female in camp, Goldsmith said. “She even shot a moose on one of their expeditions,” she exclaimed.
Tragedy befell the young couple when, after only a few years of marriage, Kerr was side-swiped by a truck in the mid-1930s and died as a result of the accident. “Aunt Helen moved back to Chicago to be with her parents,” Goldsmith said. “After her father passed away she and her mother moved to Pasadena, California, where the family had kept a house for heath reasons,” she said.
Goldsmith went on to say that her Aunt Helen grew tired of her life in California and wanted to regain her independence. Upon her return to Chicago, the family lawyer, Edmond Froehlich was smitten by Helen. “He said to her ‘I may not be the man of your dreams but I have always loved you and I want to take care of you for the rest of your life’”, Goldsmith said. “He was 20 years older than her, had never been married before and he was very well-off.”
Edmond and Helen were married in 1940 and built a house in Highland Park, Ill. “She was a fabulous writer and her writing appeared in several American and Canadian publications,” she said. In 1970 she authored two illustrated children’s books, Helga’s Magic (87 pages) and Grave Allegra (121 pages), under the pen name of Helen V. Kerr, which were published by Ives Washburn, Inc. of New York City. Goldsmith said Edmond died at age 91 in 1970. “He took a nap one afternoon and never woke up.”
According to Goldsmith, since her Aunt Helen never had children, Mrs. Froehlich considered her and her brother MacWilliam “Macko” Bollman as her own. “My husband Ely and I moved to Glens Falls in 1965 and she wanted to be near us. The Goldsmith family had property since 1904 on Lake George in Huletts Landing so we often took her on trips to the lake and she immediately fell in love with it,” she said. Goldsmith said in 1968 Mrs. Froehlich and Carel Goldschmidt bought Taft Point from Harriet and Harrison Bird and divided the lakefront parcel among family members.
At the age of 72 Mrs. Froehlich built a breathtaking landmark house perched on the secluded three-acre peninsula, located about a mile and a half north of Huletts Landing. The property is surrounded by the lake on three sides and has Spruce Mountain as a backdrop to the east. She named the property Rivendell, for the elfin home of the Tolkein books. “Rivendell was perfect, whether you liked food, or sleep, or work, or storytelling, or singing or just sitting and thinking best, or a pleasant mixture of them all,” wrote J.R.R. Tolkein in “The Hobbit.”
According to Maxine Bird, whose husband Gillette is Harrison Bird’s nephew, Mrs. Froehlich spent the winters at Rivendell and cross-county skied to get her mail. “She was a great naturalist and conservationist,” Bird said. “She was really ahead of her time and she had a great love of the outdoors. Everybody called her Aunt Helen. We were all like cousins.” According to Goldsmith, Rivendell is currently owned by Mac and Lucy Bollman who spend part of the summer there each year.
Goldsmith said Mrs. Froehlich’s constant companion at the lake was her dog Frodo and the two of them frequently hiked with her friend Marion Gregory. “She came as a new person into the community. She was even a member of the volunteer fire department,” she said.
Mary Arthur Beebe, former executive director for the Lake George Association, said Mrs. Froehlich attended every annual meeting. “She was always very quiet and conservative. She was a modest lady who didn’t wish to be noticed,” Beebe said. “I met with her several times and always found her to be very refined and intelligent…a person of substance.”
Goldsmith said that during the 20 years Mrs. Froehlich lived in Huletts Landing she became involved with several area organizations including the Lake George Opera Festival and the Hyde Collection. “She was very involved in the community but she was happiest in the wilderness,” she said
Mrs. Froehlich passed away on Sept 3, 1992 and according to her attorney, Tom Burchfield, in March of 1993 the Helen V. Froehlich Foundation was registered in the State of Illinois with its headquarters in Chicago.
Thanks to Mrs. Froehlich’s foresight, the Lake George Association just reported in their Fall 2008 newsletter that since 1994 the organization has been awarded over $5 million in grant money from her Foundation.
Grants of similar value have been awarded to the Fund for Lake George, the Lake George Land Conservancy and the Darrin Fresh Water Institute.
In a short story Mrs. Froehlich authored about her life with Kerr entitled “Rock Doctor’s Wife” she wrote, “When you are a very small human being alone on a hilltop you understand that for a moment that such things (all the problems of our lives) don’t matter. There is a buoyant sense of peace that stays with you even after you get back to the turmoil and start struggling and worrying again. Underneath there is balance. We find that we have the strength for the battle knowing that, whatever happens, the good earth has always nurtured its people and will still be there for wiser generations to enjoy.”
“And like the good earth, Aunt Helen’s wisdom and love of this land will be with us always,” Ann Goldsmith said.