Where Food, Drinks & Stories Are Shared

Helen Curtis

April 19, 1924 - August 19, 2022
Portage, MI


Life Story Visitation

Saturday, August 27, 2022
11:00 AM to 1:00 PM EDT
Betzler Life Story Funeral Homes
Kalamazoo Location
6080 Stadium Drive
Kalamazoo, MI 49009
(269) 375-2900

Please join us for a Life Story Visitation where food, drinks, and stories will be shared.

Driving Directions


At the family's request memorial contributions are to be made to those listed below. Please forward payment directly to the memorial of your choice.

Centrica Care Navigators
7100 Stadium Drive
Kalamazoo, MI 49009
(269) 345-0273
Driving Directions
Web Site

Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church
507 S Westnedge Ave
Kalamazoo, MI 49007
(269) 345-5389
Web Site


Below is the contact information for a florist recommended by the funeral home.

Taylor's Florist and Gifts
215 E. Michigan Ave.
Paw Paw, MI 49079
(269) 657-6256
Driving Directions
Web Site

VanderSalm's Flower Shop
1120 S Burdick St
Kalamazoo, MI 49001
(269) 343-2671
Web Site

Life Story / Obituary


Spunky, determined, and resourceful, Helen Curtis lived a life rich in family and friends. Having grown up in a time of tremendous hardship, Helen welcomed every moment as a gift. She was extremely hardworking, met life's challenges with confidence, and enthusiastically celebrated its delights. A go-getter, Helen was always on the move. Whether working many jobs, making her family's supper, cheering on her loved ones' endeavors, or traveling, it was always clear that her greatest joy was her family. A fiercely loyal and loving mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother, Helen will long be remembered and so dearly missed.

The 1920s were an age of dramatic social and political change. Post-war peace, and a booming economy with rising wages and falling consumer prices, gave rise to a higher standard of living for many. The world quickly changed with the inventions of washing machines, vacuum cleaners, the band-aid, and the first automobile with a combustion engine. Even for those who struggled during these times, tremendous confidence marked this roaring decade. It was truly a time when a person's success was largely determined by their ability to identify their desires and then work to make them a reality. Nowhere was there more hope for a better future than in Worcester, Massachusetts, as Peter and Sophia (Sotir) John welcomed their eldest daughter Helen to their family on April 19, 1924.

Helen's parents were immigrants from Albania. Each made their journey to their new country separately but ultimately met one another and married. They settled in Worcester with a community of other Albanians living in tenement housing. Two years after Helen was born, the family welcomed their daughter, Georgiana. In time, their son, Louis, and another daughter, Dorothea, completed the family. Their early years were difficult, and as the Depression loomed, times became even tougher. Food was scarce and only after his family finished eating would Helen's father eat the remaining scraps.

After high school, Helen found work to help provide for her family. While walking home from work, she caught the eye of a young man attending a trade school. Soon, Helen and Vernon Curtis were dating and a romance ensued. During their courtship, Vernon enlisted in the Army to serve his country in the war efforts. Before he deployed overseas, the couple decided to get married in Oakland, California. As Vernon shipped out, Helen returned to Massachusetts, her family, and her job. Marrying outside the church and expecting a child while her husband was away, presented many challenges for the young couple.

In 1944, Helen and Vernon's daughter, LaVerne, was born while Vernon was still away. In 1945, Helen, along with her parents and siblings, ultimately decided to move to Michigan for a fresh start and hopes for a better future. They settled in the Detroit area and soon after opened Pete's Grill on Vernor Highway. Long before the days of ready-made meals or groceries delivered by Gordon Food Service, everything at Pete's Grill was homemade. The family's workday began before the sun at 4 A.M. with starting stock for soups and preparing the day's specials and desserts. Helen, her brother, and her parents were the true cooks, and the restaurant was well known to Detroit Police and employees of the original Detroit train station.

Always a go-getter, Helen worked additional jobs to make ends meet, and when her husband returned from the Pacific War, he greeted with a smile his 18-month-old, well-cared-for, daughter for the very first time. Helen and Vernon purchased a brand-new house in Detroit. Four years later their daughter Louise was born. As Helen’s parents’ only grandchildren, they were treated like royal princesses through the years. As a mother, Helen's greatest goal was for her girls to have what she didn't. Though she raised her girls with a firm hand, they never doubted her love for them. She taught her girls the rewards of hard work and to never to take anything for granted. Both of her daughters worked during high school and enrolled at Western Michigan University. Vernon wasn't supportive of his girls furthering their educations as "girls just get married and have kids anyway." So, with signature determination, Helen worked three jobs to support their college endeavors. Both girls ultimately received their undergraduate and graduate degrees while Helen proudly stood by them.

For 36 years, Helen worked at Ford Motor Company in the Food Service area, where she was respected and loved by all. A hardworking and committed employee, the only time she ever lost time from work was once for surgery. She loved meeting people and taking on a variety of additional jobs. Helen's influence was great, and she secured employment for her two sisters and brother after the restaurant's closing. This ultimately provided all of them with very secure retirements.

Travel became a priority for Helen and Vernon, and they were able to visit many places with the Detroit Theater Organ Club and Army reunion group. Eventually, the years took a toll on the couple, and they ended up separating but remained friends until Vernon's death in 2001. Never one to be still for long, Helen took a job at Dearborn Federal Credit Union. Once again, she met many new friends but kept her relationships up with the "Ford Girls."

After a long-time friend passed away, her husband came in search of Helen. Though she resisted his attentions, John Sydor was persistent. His efforts were rewarded, he moved to Michigan from Arizona, and he and Helen married. Following their nuptials, the couple decided they didn't want to stay in the Detroit area and made plans to move to Portage to be closer to her daughter. Louise and her husband designed and built a beautiful home in Portage with all of Helen's and John's wishes. They totally trusted Louise and her husband to do the right thing, and neither of them visited while the house was in progress. The first time they saw their new home was when their moving van pulled up to it.

For 27 years, they loved being in the Portage area, so close to everything and where Helen got to spoil her two grandsons. She would go to their house every day before and after school so their parents could get to work. Sadly, at the age of 90, John passed away in 2013. Eventually, Helen and her siblings wanted to be near one another. So, Louise moved them all to Kalamazoo, building two more houses and getting them settled in the area.

Because of Helen's energy, strength, and perseverance, she decided to get her second knee replaced at 93! Her doctor said he would only do this on someone with her spunk. Serendipitously, StoryPoint Assisted Living in Portage was just opening, and she moved in for respite care. The experience was so positive she decided she would stay and move into an independent living apartment. StoryPoint remained her home until her passing. While Helen's family is extremely happy to celebrate her 98 years and have had her in their lives for so long, she will be greatly missed as a mother, grandmother, person, and friend.

Helen Curtis, of Portage, Michigan, age 98, died on August 19, 2022. Helen was preceded in death by husbands, Vernon Curtis and John Sydor; siblings: Louis John and Georgiana Libby. Surviving are her children: LaVerne (Brian) Motter and Louise (Michael) Kenny; grandchildren: Michael Jr. (Amy) Kenny, Todd Kenny, Andrew (Shana) Kenny, Peter (Ashley) Kenny, and Elena (Bill) Carr; great-grandchildren: Ryan (Katy) Kenny, Kyle Kenny, Eva Kenny, Ella Kenny, Liam Kenny, and Jack Kenny; and sister, Dorothea John.

Please join us at a Life Story Visitation where food, drinks, and stories will be shared on Saturday (AUG 27), 11 A.M. – 1 P.M. at Betzler Life Story Funeral Homes, 6080 Stadium Drive, Kalamazoo 269-375-2900. Private burial. Visit Helen's webpage at BetzlerLifeStory.com to archive favorite memories and photos, and sign her guestbook. Memorial contributions may be made to Centra Care Navigators or Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church. The family would like to thank her nurse, Holly, from Centra Care, and the aides at StoryPoint for her care.