A History of the Burns Family
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Don and Helen  

OVERVIEW
1 - D.A. Burns
2 - Big Lake
3 - Ada & Guy
4 - Ebba & Elna
5 - Don & Helen
6 - Dave & Wilma
7 - Bob & Betty

Farewell

--from Don's memoir--

Having no success in getting another job teaching, my father invited me to come to Seattle.  The clean spot on the rug led them into the rug cleaning business, which rapidly expanded into the largest carpet services business west of the Mississippi.  I worked with my father and brothers for about 20 years.  The youngest brother Robt left and went off to college to become a doctor.  In 1960 I became bored with rugs and spots and decided to try to go back to teaching.

I applied along with Helen for large numbers of positions.  Those who interviewed seemed interested until a wk or 2 later they received the reference letter from Akron.  I thought the whole problem over and decided to call long distance the principal under whom I taught in Akron.  His response was, “I’m glad you called.  This has been on my conscience all these years.  I was forced by the superintendent to give you a bad record and I’m glad that I can correct it.”  He sent a glowing letter to the Seattle School Board of my teaching ability.

After my experience in the church, in the colleges and public schools, the workplace and the community, I came to the conclusion that the most important role I could play was not to help people get into heaven but to make a better world.  I felt that my most important role was not cleaning rugs but in dealing with the many problems of hunger, homelessness, sickness, lack of opportunity, war, endangered environment, prejudice, etc.

Helen and I joined Church of the People, an independent church that had a social focus.  I became chairman of the Social Action Committee.  Helen became active in the cooperative movement.  I joined the NAACP and the socialist party.  There developed a concern for affordable health care.  We organized a dinner and invited a doctor from Kansas City to speak.  He was a Dr. in the only medical coop in the U.S.  110 people showed up and a committee was formed which led the way to Group Health Cooperative in Seattle, which has now spread to Vancouver, WA.

Our church social action committee began a drive against racial segregation.  There was a restaurant on Beacon Hill that refused to serve blacks.  Our committee members along with some blacks went to the restaurant.  We filled all the seats.  They ignored the blacks and asked for our orders.  The whites refused to order until the blacks were served.  We left with the threat that a continuance of their policy would see us back again.  We picketed with the CIO at a skating rink that refused to rent skates to blacks.  Eugene Debs was invited to town to speak at a dinner.  A hotel claimed that it was all booked and had no room for him.  Our committee and some 25 members filled the seats holding signs describing their prejudice.  The hotel gave in after 2 hours and gave Debs a room.

The minister and a number of parishioners became interested, the ACLU principally because of discrimination against blacks and women.  I became a card-carrying member and served on the board for 6 years.

Probably the most interesting and exciting activity of my life was sailing.  I bought a 42-foot sloop and sailed it in Puget Sound and Lake Washington.  I joined the Corinthian and Seattle Yacht Clubs, organizations that sponsored the races.  Membership was referred for participation.  With the help of Bud Anderson, we were able to win 6 awards with 12 race victories over the three years that I raced.

The races took me into every corner of Puget Sound and Lake Washington.  Some of them were overnight.  The Starling was one of the fastest boats on the Sound, at least it had one of the highest handicaps.  Because of this handicap we would on occasion cross the finish line first but end up second.

 


Helen Cleo Bridges Burns
(1913-1979)

With a wide welcoming grin, lips displacing freckled cheeks, Helen greets us at the porch door and illuminates an afternoon dark with cloud. We've come to stay this summer night, my sister and I, and our aunt's warm enveloping hug lets us know she wants us there. We unpack our "grips" under her tolerant eye, and are comfortable at once.

We roam the house while she prepares the meal we'll share tonight: A book-filled room beckons. Here are her real treasures -- some tattered and musty, some cheerily bright in new paper jackets. We make our childish selections, Huckleberry Finn perhaps, or Wizard of Oz, and move on, past the fireplace festooned with masks, and into the house's warm center: The kitchen, where, bending over our dinner's treats, and under a battalion of kettles and pots, she looks up, and smiles indulgently, as we slip up the narrow stairs to covet Penny's toys in secret explorations.

The house has a magic, conferred by our uncle and aunt, and shared with us. Down the flower-scented drive, we enter the solitude of the backyard. The magic's strongest here in summer's dusk: A pear dangles miraculously from an apple-laden tree, friendly druids seem to live in every shrub. We hide, and seek, 'til Don and dinnertime arrive.

The house is steeped in twilight as we grow fatter on potato salad, and merrier under the spell of our aunt's stories, and her affectionate repartee with Don. Cigarette in hand, spectacles tending to slide ever so slowly earthward, she regales us with tales of bumbling administrators, ingenuous students, impossible faculty meetings, 'til we've laughed ourselves giddy.

She asks about our school then, and cares about our answers. We feel important, and we'd like to stay a while.

But too soon it's time for sleep. Aunt and uncle take us to our room under the eaves, and snuggle us under warm striped blankets, and kiss us goodnight. And in the peaceful and loving quiet of the night, we read ourselves to sleep.

[Tribute to Don and Helen, written by Kath Vaughan after Helen's death in 1979]