ST. PETERSBURG — People who came into the bank where Helga Holsten was a teller were sure to remember her this way:
Impeccably dressed in coordinated pants outfits. Laced in fine gold and gemstone jewelry, a ring on each finger. Eloquent German accent.
"She was always was just so, everything in place," said Audrey Harris, her former co-worker at SunTrust Bank in St. Petersburg. "She was so good to the customers, so compassionate."
But they didn't know everything.
"Oh, gosh, she was a remarkable lady," said Harris. "She lived such a life."
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Mrs. Holsten grew up in the Sudetenland of western Czechoslovakia during World War II. At 17, she was forced to flee the country for Germany.
She took a clerical job at the Palace of Justice during the Nuremberg Trials. In the building, Nazi leaders were prosecuted for war crimes. She passed out security badges.
She had raven hair, red lips and an intense gaze. She caught the eye of Herbert Holsten, a German-born lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army who worked as a translator during interrogations.
He was older and mature. She was drawn to his stability, something she never had.
They married in 1948 and traveled for his military career. While living in Tokyo, Mrs. Holsten developed a talent for watercolor painting. She became skilled at poker and loved bingo — she once won an entire set of sterling silver tableware.
The family settled in Virginia, then St. Petersburg. Her husband took her on cruises, picked her up from work and escorted her to company gatherings.
"We had dinner at each other's houses," said her former co-worker, Joe Slick. "It was just like a family."
In 1990, Mrs. Holsten's husband died. "He was a big personality and she having been an Army wife was sort of in his shadow," said her daughter, Mimi Andelman, who is an editor at the St. Petersburg Times. "When you have a spouse go, you don't know how the other is going to react."
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She surprised them.
She didn't wallow. She embraced life in its new form.
She took care of her health.
She got her ears pierced and wore fabulous diamond studs.
She started volunteering in the community and making friends.
She indulged her love of baseball, following teams including the Tampa Bay Rays. When her son-in-law brought her a ball signed by baseball legend Frank Howard, she beamed.
She never missed a Tampa Bay Buccaneers game.
She watched Star Trek, particularly the old ones with Capt. Kirk, and Law & Order.
She loved superhero movies. She could go toe-to-toe with her grandsons about Spider-Man.
She sent her grandchildren checks wrapped in a box, wrapped in another box, wrapped in another box. She taught them about art.
She visited her hometown, then Nuremberg for the first time since she left. She spoke to strangers, read signs in German and charmed her way into the Palace of Justice courtroom.
She helped out residents in the St. Petersburg nursing home where she lived. She followed sports, even with her health failing from several ailments.
She was very ill for days, but when her family told her about Rays players competing in the All-Star Game in July, she perked.
She died Friday at age 80.
"It's crazy," said her daughter. "You don't think someone who gets to be a certain age is going to find new passions, and she was the kind of person who did. She really came alive."
Stephanie Hayes can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8857.