Nancy Pearce Helmbold (2007)

Nancy Pearce Helmbold came out of Abilene, Texas, where she was born in 1918 to a typewriter salesman and his wife, a born teacher with a special gift for languages. Although she had swept the Texas state high-school Latin contest four years in a row, she graduated from the University of Texas in 1939 with a degree in liberal arts because Latin was "too square." She began work for the FBI as a secretary in San Antonio, where she translated Spanish calls and letters. During the occupation of Japan after World War II, the harbor of Tokyo and many of the islands that were scenes of the most intensely fought battles were filled with Japanese mines. Nancy learned Japanese in order to translate the nautical documents that located these mines. Her language skills literally saved lives from 1946 to 1950. But as her colleague Peter White said, "Her life was devoted to teaching Latin." Thanks to the G.I. Bill, she was able to leave Japan for Berkeley in 1950 where she continued her study of East Asian languages, but a couple of Latin courses changed her direction for life. She received a Ph.D. in 1957 and a year later married the Berkeley Hellenist William Clark Helmbold in 1958. She taught at Mount Holyoke and the University of Oregon before joining the University of Chicago in 1963 following her husband's departure from Berkeley. In Hyde Park, she taught Latin at all levels, including intensive summer courses, and was known as famously stringent in maintaining standards for punctuality, precision and intensity. Her specialty was Latin 301 to 303, the introductory sequence for graduate students not in the classics. Even after her retirement in 1989, when she received the Burlington Northern Faculty Achievement Award for her teaching, she continued teaching well into her eighties. Her great passion outside the classroom was grand opera which she attended over fifteen times a year with two of her former students. She said, "I would like to think that some of my students will read Latin poetry for the rest of their lives." Her colleague Elizabeth Asmis said that her passion for teaching Latin "never left her." Nancy Helmbold died of natural causes on October 30, 2007.

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