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Helen Heller in the spotlight as Escondido Legend

ESCONDIDO — In the fifth of eight 2021 Escondido Legend biographies, the Escondido History Center introduces Helen Heller. The Center will present a $1,000 honorarium, in her name, to an outstanding senior from a high school in Escondido.

Helen Heller was a pioneering business woman, a dedicated philanthropist, a caring mother and grandmother and a role model. Helen Hill Heller was born Dec. 18, 1910 in Waitsburg, Washington, the middle of five children, to parents who moved the family bakery from Minnesota to Iowa, then Washington, and finally to Long Beach. Attending California Polytechnical High School, she met Homer Heller. His family had moved from Nebraska to Colorado and finally, at the age of 14, with his 18-year-old brother, hitchhiked to Long Beach.

In September 1933, Helen and Homer were married, and in 1940, with their two young children, moved to Escondido as the new owner-partners of the Ford automobile dealership.  Just 11 months before Pearl Harbor, they became sole proprietors of Homer Heller Ford due to their partner’s illness.

When Homer Heller died in a private plane crash in 1959, Helen took over the Ford dealership.  The Ford Motor Company was strongly opposed to women in the role of business owners, and she had to fight to retain the franchise. She asked her son, Don, then 19, if he would be interested in learning the business. When he answered “yes”, Helen took on the Ford Motor Company, and after successfully managing the franchise for 10 years, Don Heller became the general manager.

Helen Heller now had time and resources to serve her many community interests.  She was a sponsor and founder of the California Center of the Arts, Escondido, and a charter member of Escondido’s PEO Chapter B. In the 1940s, Helen and Homer led other civic leaders to establish Palomar Medical Center. Helen led campaigns to improve the Pediatric Care Unit, and was, throughout the years, dedicated to volunteering in many roles at the hospital, and convinced administrators to establish a gift shop which was named in her honor in 2002.  Beginning in the 1960s, Helen served on the Escondido Boys and Girls club and was instrumental in building the gymnasium. The family and Escondido youth benefited from Helen’s leadership in the 4-H Club, Brownies and Girl Scouts.

Although the “old” Palomar Hospital being torn down and the Homer Heller Ford dealership franchise has been sold, Helen Heller, a 2001 Escondido Times-Advocate “Women of Merit,” was an instrumental leader in Escondido. Now she is a 2021 Escondido Forever Legend.