Helgren, Otto

Otto Helgren, USCS #L-167

USCS member and dealer Douglas Weisz (#11657) recently mentioned to Paul Helman that member Otto Helgren was possibly the oldest living USCS member at 100 years of age. This sounded like a good opportunity to learn about one of our early members and Paul contacted Otto’s son and that’s how this story came about. John Helgren, Otto’s son, contributed most of the information in this article.

Otto joined the USCS in March 1933, being granted membership number 167. The USCS records show that Otto was not recruited by anyone though there is a notation “U.S. MC 2465” in the column normally reserved for the recruiting member’s number. Otto collected United States stamps and US ship cancellations. In fact he joined the North Bay Stamp Club, an organization pre-dating USCS, in January 1933 and received member number A-220. (The North Bay Stamp Club was established in August 1927 and was based in Vallejo, California. Their members included Dr. Locy, York Bridell and Alfred Neuman.) Perhaps Otto’s interest in ship cancels was fueled by a brother who was in the Coast Guard.

Otto was born in 1908 and married in 1935. He had 1 son and 2 daughters. His wife passed away in 1995, just before their 60 th wedding anniversary.

Otto was from Michigan and attended Detroit Tech High School at night. His first job was at the Ford plant producing Model T Fords, stuffing horsehair into seat cushions 10 hours a day. He later joined the Detroit Post office, a job he held for 39 years. His first wage was 40 cents per hour. He started as a clerk. (Perhaps this is the meaning of the notation in the USCS record, Otto’s mail clerk number?) He remembers having to go for target practice as the clerks were issued pistols that they kept under the counter. He was later superintendent of a couple of stations and retired as Superintendent of Accountable Papers, a position responsible for ordering and disbursing all the stamps and money orders for the Detroit area post offices. He always kept a watch for stamps with errors but never found one. On his 94th birthday he joked that he had received more years of retirement pension than he had worked for the Post Office.

His postal work kept him at home during World War II, being listed as “home essential” because of his position.

Otto had a collection of over 2000 covers, including Tin Can Mail, Detroit River Post Office Boat covers and covers cancelled by ships that would be at Pearl Harbor on December 7. He was active in the Masons and told his son he was a little disappointed that he missed by one month being in Henry Ford’s consistory class. Otto was at the Detroit airport when Charles Lindberg toured the US and got a cover to mark the occasion. He loved gardening and vacationing on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, the area where he was born.

John remembers that when he was 9 or 10 years old, he wrote into a kid’s daytime TV show that had kids on with their collections. He was picked when his letter stated he had stamps from every country in the world. Otto spent many weekends getting an album ready for the TV appearance.

Otto dropped out of USCS in 2004. Today he is legally blind and doesn’t hear very well and lives in a senior home in Green Bay, Wisconsin.

By Steve Shay (#L-10,821)