Helen Spyker: Late entrepreneur, historian was ‘keeper of the story’

SHAWNEE TOWNSHIP — For decades, Helen Jean Spyker shared Allen County history with anyone who would listen.

The late businessman, known for his work at the Elmview Store and his successful opposition to the annexation of Shawnee Township to Lima, devoted his free time to the preservation of Native American culture and local history, passing on stories known or others want. say.

Spyker, 98, died Monday, Dec. 13.

“He was the keeper of the story,” recalled his nephew, Jonathon Spyker. “This community has lost a voice, and now it’s up to us to pick up that voice and continue the story.”

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Spyker defies expectations in a male-dominated era.

Born in 1924, Spyker never married or had children.

Instead, he immersed himself in Elmview Housewares, the family-owned grocery, hardware and housewares store he founded with his brothers after World War II.

When his brothers divested themselves of their share of the family business in the 1950s, Spyker continued to sell housewares at the Elmview Store, carried Hallmark greeting cards and eventually opened his own Hallmark store.

“She’s a young lady in a man’s world,” Jonathon Spyker said. “He had to carve out this business on his own and on his own terms. The world wasn’t very friendly there, and he had to fight tooth and nail.”

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Spyker became a central figure in establishing the former village of Fort Shawnee, which was incorporated in 1960 to prevent the city of Lima from annexing the industrial parts of Shawnee Township.

His brother, Joel, was the “lightning rod” of the movement, recalls Spyker’s nephew, while Helen Spyker was the “promoter.”

Spyker knocked on his neighbors’ doors and started The Shawnee Bulletin, an anti-annexation newsletter.

“I tell you it’s a good time to be alive,” Helen Spyker told The Lima News in 2010, when the village celebrated its 50th anniversary. “It’s like somebody going to a state basketball game and being a champion. It’s a community spirit like a super football game. It’s a really, really good time to live in Shawnee.

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Spyker, whose ancestors fought in the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812, became a novice historian himself, recounting long-forgotten stories about the region’s past and, at times, correcting false accounts.

He took a keen interest in Native American culture, organizing elaborate powwows and reenactment ceremonies so that cultures would not be lost to history, his nephew recalled.

“It’s important that people know about Native American culture,” Jonathon Spyker said. “That they know the story—the right story, not the stories painted because we want to take their land and take advantage of them, but these stories are people who are here.

“… He just felt they had a right to tell their story.”

The rest of the Spyker family, he said, must now carry on Helen Spyker’s work.

“There are many stories that need to be told,” he said. “He’s one of those individuals who believes in putting that story out there and making it real.”


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