DUNEDIN — Helen Kamp zips between her appointments in her 1998 Honda Del Sol. There's the "breakfast date'' with her husband, Bill, the rehearsal for the Dunedin Community Chorus and the volunteer hours to fill at Dunedin Mease Hospital.
The retired Pinellas County school secretary, 84, stays busy. But with the end of each summer come memories of returning to school, as a child growing up in Palm Harbor and later as a school employee, in a far different time.
When she was a child, her school-day mornings began in the Hartley House — now known as the Palm Harbor Museum — at Curlew and Belcher roads. Thomas and Ida Hartley were her grandparents, and after Kamp's parents split up in 1935, Kamp lived there with her mother, Lucy, and three siblings.
The house did not have electricity or indoor plumbing. "We would get dressed in the morning after splashing water from a basin on our faces,'' she said. "We used kerosene lamps for light. I remember sitting around the dining room table together doing our homework, all using the light from a lamp.''
To catch the school bus, Kamp and her siblings had to walk west to County Road 1 to catch the one bus that served the then-isolated pocket of Pinellas County.
"The younger children in the area would be dropped off at Dunedin Elementary and Dunedin Junior High, while the other children went on to Clearwater High,'' she said. "There were so many mornings when we'd all be flying in a dead run up the road, but we knew as long as the bus driver saw our heads bobbing up the hill, he'd wait for us.''
Kamp's first job with Pinellas County Schools was in 1963, working as a secretary for principal Daisy Riviere at Ozona Elementary. Kamp's daughter, Melanie Tinny, who died in 1987, was a student at Ozona then.
"We loved Ozona. Most of the children were from families involved in fishing, which was a big part of life in Ozona at that time,'' Kamp said. "I had known Daisy through my church, Curlew United Methodist. She was a smart but stern principal, and a mentor to many.''
During the almost 30 years she worked for the school system, Kamp served not just at Ozona, but also at Palm Harbor Junior High (now known as Palm Harbor Middle), Dunedin High and Clearwater Discovery School, where she retired in 1991.
When she is asked which school years stand out the most in her memory, she immediately thinks of the early years of desegregation. "By then I was at Palm Harbor Junior. I think the teachers handled (desegregation) smoothly, but it was so hard on those children who had to be bused in,'' she said.
"I will say that Palm Harbor was not kind to blacks, and that goes back to when I was (a teenager)," she said. "We all knew there were people in the (Ku Klux) Klan in Palm Harbor back then, in the 1940s. They are long gone now though.''
In her family, racism was not tolerated, Kamp recalled. "My mother, my grandfather, my grandmother all raised us children to be kind to everyone — blacks, whites, everybody,'' she said.
One important friendship Kamp made during her years as a secretary is a reflection of that part of her upbringing. Delorace Coleman, an African-American woman who grew up in Safety Harbor, now works as a teacher's aide at Paul B. Stephens Exceptional Student Education Center.
"Helen is all love," said Coleman, 53. "She loves everybody, and that's why I was drawn to her.
"I first met Helen, who I now call my 'other mother,' when I was a freshman at Dunedin High, getting in trouble in school. I was yelling about some people who I felt did not treat me right, and she took the time to tell me not to think like that. From that point on, I wanted her in my life.''
And Kamp wanted Coleman in her life too. "We've always kept up with each other. I'm so proud of her,'' she said.
When Kamp, who now lives in a Dunedin condo, thinks back on her life's choices, she considers her job with Pinellas County Schools as "more than just a way to make money,'' she said.
"My work gave me so much in life. It gave me friends, and I loved, just loved, working with the children.''
Piper Castillo can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 445-4163.