Put it down to women’s intuition if you like, or Goulburn’s good fortune. In 1975, a woman was put forward for the Goulburn Soroptimists who did not meet their strict membership criteria. Two categories were needed to qualify for the business and professional cohort. Helen Morgan, a teacher at the time, fitted only one. But she was determined to join.
“I knew a lot of the women in Soroptimists and I used to think, ‘Dear, I would love to join,’ but in those days it was really hard to become a member,” says Helen.
“I think the girls at the time fiddled with [the categories] because I became ‘education/secondary school specialist teacher’.”
Not only did Helen step up to the criteria, today she is Goulburn Soroptimists’ longest serving member, with an extraordinary 46 years of service. Having been a maths teacher for the past 30 years of her full-time teaching career, and a volunteer for Southern Region Life Education, she is now continuing her exceptional community service as president of Growing Abilities, an amazing educational nursery in Ross Street where people with disabilities and retired volunteers learn horticulture while enjoying social interaction.
Soroptimists president Anne Oliver, a founding member of Growing Abilities who met Helen more than 30 years ago through their mutual interest in netball, says her friend is passionate about everything she attempts.
“She’s not afraid to speak her mind, but says so in a nice way and contributes meaningfully,” says Anne.
Among members welcoming Helen into Soroptimists were Audrey Galland, Eva Hill, Isobel Rewell, Moira James and Jean Pardey. Isobel and Moira were great mentors, as they helped so many people, from the elderly in Pencomas Lodge, to country people in Sydney with their seriously ill children in hospital.
Goulburn Soroptimists regularly prepared 150 meals for Ronald McDonald House.
Helen served as president, then regional president of Monaro, and later with husband and Rotarian, Robert, travelled extensively meeting friends from conferences around the world.
“We went on a friendship tour to Turkey – organised by a club over there – and we hosted one of their members in Goulburn,” she says. “A group of about 15 of us went from NSW and had an amazing tour.”
As passionate as ever for educating girls, Helen is supporting the cause through Soroptimists, which also works to combat domestic violence, and is lobbying for legislation in NSW to make coercive control a criminal offence.
Born at Port Kembla, Helen was among the first intake of Wollongong Teachers College.
“We did astronomy, but we also did some different maths, projective geometry, set theory, logic and Boolean algebra – all maths related and I really enjoyed that,” she says. “I love teaching maths; I love teaching anything to be quite honest.”
Helen’s career began at Primbee Public School, near Shellharbour, with 48 kids in the class.
“Two-thirds of them had English as a second language, a few didn’t have any English at all when they came to school,” she says.
The deputy principal, Laurie Munday, was just the role model she needed.
“I was a newbie, 18 at the time,” says Helen. “He was understanding and helpful.”
Years later, teaching physical education (PE) casually in Goulburn, OLMC principal Sister Angela Mary recruited Helen for PE, then noticed she was a qualified maths teacher. The following year she was teaching mathematics.
Helen later returned to university for four years’ distance education to get a degree in secondary mathematics.
For the past 30 years, she has taught maths.
“If you are going into teaching, you must have a love of kids, of course, and a sense of humour because if you haven’t, you won’t last,” she says.
Some students were a challenge, yet all is forgotten years later when they have grown into adults, see Helen in the street and say, “Oh, Mrs Morgan, can I give you a hug?”
These days at Growing Abilities, Helen sees people learning to grow plants and growing personally through social interaction. She believes horticulturalist Kirstie Chalker and nursery assistant Mel Brown have done wonders with the nursery.
“When they [participants] first came, they didn’t know anything,” says Helen. “Now they can do propagating, repotting, weeding and watering.
“We all sit around and have morning tea under a tree or out in the open if the weather is fine enough. It’s really lovely.”