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Hernando neighbors | Helga Carlson-Curtis, 86

A variety of careers, stitched together

At camp at Suncoast Elementary School this month, Camryn Clark, 8, works with Helga Carlson-Curtis on a comfort pillow for a soldier. Camryn drew her dog, Lucky, on hers: “Every day before school I pet him and it gives me good luck. I wanted to send some of that to the soldiers.”

LANCE ARAM ROTHSTEIN | Times

At camp at Suncoast Elementary School this month, Camryn Clark, 8, works with Helga Carlson-Curtis on a comfort pillow for a soldier. Camryn drew her dog, Lucky, on hers: “Every day before school I pet him and it gives me good luck. I wanted to send some of that to the soldiers.”

How long have you lived in Hernando County, and where do you live? Where did you live previously?

I moved to Hill 'n Dale in 1981. Prior to that, I've lived in Macon, Ga.; Indiana, Pa., and New York City.

Who are the members of your family?

My first husband, George Groh, and I had three daughters. Charlotte Whitescarver lives in New Jersey, Hilary Curtis lives in Brooksville, and Cynthia Curtis-Cresci lives in Texas. After George passed away, I married Ben Curtis, and he and I had two children. Daughter Alison Curtis lives in New York, and son David Curtis lives in Brooksville.

Tell us about your career.

After high school, I attended the Traphagen School of Fashion and later the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City.

While attending school, I also worked part time with Western Union. I was working the day (Dec. 7, 1941) the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. I remember that day because, right after that, the government slapped an A-1 priority rating on me. I was transferred to the office that handled most of the defense plants, and I worked 80 to 100 hours a week during the war.

When my first husband passed away, I went back to work for Western Union. This time my job entailed sending news releases for members of the United Nations, which led to working for Morad Aryeh from Iran. After turning down a position in Tehran because of my children, I was transferred to an office with a very high crime rate. After I was held up three times with a gun, I quit.

The next job I took was with Cornell Hospital in New York, where I worked in the cardiac division. But at the same time I was still attending F.I.T. at night, taking tailoring classes. I always loved clothes.

I moved to Richmond Borough on Staten Island and opened my own studio, where I designed anything and everything pertaining to clothing. I was called back to the hospital as supervisor of the cardiac department. The traveling (more than an hour and a half each way) was difficult, and my children needed more of my time, so I went to work at the Staten Island Hospital.

After a couple of other jobs, I bought my own business, an art gallery. I was an agent for many artists, the most famous being John Noble. While operating the gallery, I was also taking chromolithography and journalism classes at New York University.

After four years, I sold the business and moved to Indiana, Pa., where I taught at the local university, introducing fabric and yarn into their art department. I would later buy a boutique business with my friend, Joanni Cantor, selling clothes. We did very well, but I never enjoyed selling "ready-mades"; I like originals.

After selling the boutique, I moved to Macon, Ga., where I did various things: worked in a museum, drove a bus and was a columnist for the Macon Telegraph and News. My mother's health began to fail, so I moved to Brooksville to be closer to her. For the next 10 years, I wrote a column about everyday living for a local newspaper. After that, I worked at the library in Brooksville for four years. I was also involved with starting the Hernando County Art Council.

As my mother's health continued to worsen, I took a part-time job at an antique shop in Clearwater, which allowed me to spend more time with her. The rest of the time I spent doing designs from home.

After my mother passed away, I spent six years working for the YMCA. Today, I work as an independent contractor with Hernando County Parks and Recreation Department, doing crafts with children during summers and holidays.

What other kinds of activities are you involved in now?

I'm very involved in helping the soldiers serving overseas. I joined the "shoebox" brigade sending items to soldiers, and during the summer months I help children enrolled in summer camp programs design squares for quilts that I sew together, sending the completed quilts to soldiers serving in Iraq. I've sent more than 20 quilts.

Most recently, I'm in the beginning stages of making comfort pillows for soldiers serving in Afghanistan, after hearing that soldiers want them.

Do you have any special hobbies?

In addition to sewing, I write children's stories taken from true experiences. I just finished "The Christmas Wish," about a little boy who is unhappy with a train set he gets when he really wanted a rocking horse. I'm also working on "The Ice-Man Never Cometh," set in New York during the Depression.

What are your favorite things to do in Hernando County?

Reading the St. Petersburg Times on Sundays, especially the Perspective and Latitudes sections.

What do you think would make Hernando County a better place to live?

The Planning and Zoning Commission should think twice before letting developers come in and build stores and apartments that we already have enough of — empty ones at that — and also check with the Southwest Florida Water Management District about our depleting water supply. Saying no doesn't take much effort.

Also, it would be great if we had a bus taking residents from Hernando County to museums and the Dali exhibit in St. Pete, along with plays and concerts in Tampa.

Tell us something about yourself that most people don't know.

I worry about everything: people without jobs, children left alone, the state of education and those suffering with mental depression. It's a horrible thing to beat. I worked with people at the hospitals; I've seen it.

And right now I'm busy designing and making quilts especially for African-American toddlers who don't have anything. I want everyone to be a success and happy.

Hernando Neighbors is an occasional feature of the Hernando Times. Do you know someone who would make a good profile? We'd like to hear from you. Contact Jean Hayes, community news coordinator, at jhayes@sptimes.com or (352) 848-1438.

A variety of careers, stitched together 07/19/08 [Last modified: Saturday, July 19, 2008 12:05pm]
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