Helen M. Yenko passed peacefully in her sleep on October 23, 2019, at her home in Jackson, Wyoming where she lived for 30 years. She was 89 years old.
Helen was born in Burns, Oregon on July 5, 1930, to Jack and Helen Krmpotich. She was raised in Winton, Wyoming, a coal mining camp started by the Union Pacific Coal Co. north of Rock Springs. Although there were hardships growing up during the depression, Helen spoke lovingly about the close-knit community of Winton. She would also proudly declare that she was a “coal miner’s daughter.”
Helen attended high school in Reliance, Wyoming, graduating in 1948. She was the salutatorian of her class and, not surprisingly, a cheerleader. After high school and just barely over 18 years old, she bravely made her way to Denver, Colorado and attended Loretto Heights college. Luckily, she had two friends from Rock Springs who became her roommates. All three had surnames that were not easy to pronounce, and the girls would laugh at all the ways the instructors flubbed their names! After one year, Helen transferred to the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley, as her passion was to become a teacher. She graduated with a bachelors’ degree in elementary education in 1952.
Following graduation, she for taught one year in Santa Maria, California. Helen returned home to Rock Springs where her parents resided, intending to stay only long enough to repay them for college. It was there she met and later married John Yenko. They had two children, son Steve and daughter Annette. They later divorced.
Helen was employed by Sweetwater County School District #1 in Rock Springs, where she taught elementary classes, while spending the majority of years teaching remedial reading under the Title 1 program. Helen took early retirement in 1989 after 24 years with the district. She received an outstanding teacher’s award and was congratulated by Senator Alan K. Simpson.
In the summer of 1989, Helen moved to Jackson. She had a variety of retail jobs over the years with Hide Out Leather, VandeWater’s, Caswell Gallery, Baggit and Thoenig’s Fine Jewelry. Most might remember seeing Helen walking around the town square to one of her jobs dressed to the hilt! She absolutely loved clothes. Tourists would stop and ask to take her photograph. That would delight her, but she never understood what all the fuss was about. Helen retired for good in 2012 at the age of 82. Had she had it her way, she would have still been working. Alas, declining health kept Helen mostly at home under the care of her daughter.
Helen’s loves included children, animals, clothing, jewelry, baking, the 4th of July, dancing, her friends and family. Her home was filled with everything bucking broncos, as she so loved Wyoming. Helen would bake extraordinary pastries for her family and friends to enjoy, even though she was unable to eat any of it. Every Sunday, she would drive herself out to the Stagecoach Bar for “church” and dance up a storm! She once danced on the bar with George Green!
Everyone that met Helen fell in love with her. Kindness oozed from her being, and she loved everyone in return. The term “rest in peace” does not apply to Helen, as she is most likely dancin’ and kickin’ up her heals! Helen will be greatly missed on this earth. May she be remembered for her sparklin’ heart and beautiful smile.
Helen is survived by her son Steve Yenko (Jayne) of Cora, daughter Annette Despain of Jackson, nephews John Krmpotich (Jana) and Matt Krmpotich (Michelle) of Rock Springs, Rich Krmpotich (Debbie) and Bob Krmpotich of Green River, Phillip Krmpotich (Jamie) of Casper, Michael Zigich of Chicago, nieces Sherry Byrne (Mickey) of Littleton, Colorado, Julie Jacobson of Oklahoma City, cousin Judy Salz (Jim) of Brentwood, California, and several grand and great-grand nieces and nephews.
Helen was preceded in death by her parents, aunts and uncles, brothers Bob Zigich and Jack Krmpotich, sister Frances Ashmore and nephew Mark Zigich, as well as many close friends.
Cremation has taken place. A celebration of Helen’s life will be planned sometime in the spring of 2020.
Condolences may be sent to Annette Despain, PO Box 9333, Jackson, WY 83002.
The family respectfully asks donations to be sent in Helen’s name to the Senior Center of Jackson Hole, Caregiver Respite Home Care, PO Box 4677, Jackson, WY 83001.
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