William (Bill) Charles Helvey Jr. started drawing with his mom’s eyebrow pencils when he was a child. He was an artist from then on, said his wife, Julia Helvey.
Because he grew up on a farm, it was unusual that he decided to go to college, Julia Helvey said. A high school art teacher who noticed his talent was the reason he went to Missouri State University for his bachelor’s degree and then to MU for his master’s degree.
Her husband loved the outdoors; it inspired most of his art, his wife said. He became a very adept photographer. He brought his camera with him everywhere he went, taking photos all over the country.
“Wherever he was, he had his camera, and he was out shooting pictures of whatever was there — whether it was a mountain or a mud puddle,” she said.
There are 10,000 paintings in his computer inventory. He exhibited his artwork at shows in Jefferson City and Columbia with Julia, who said they’d bring out 40 paintings at a time. He told his son that the best sky he ever painted was a series of hot air balloon paintings.
Many people don’t know he was also an independent film maker, Julia Helvey said. He created animated films, a lot of them educational ones about the human body and anatomy, she said. Her husband had loved old Western movies since he was a child. He would try to watch one movie every day, she said.
The Helveys bought their current house 24 years ago. The potential art space in the basement made the decision for him.
“He would have bought it without a roof ... He had a framing room. He had a dark room. He had two easels set up to always be painting on and two (or) three computers going all the time,” his wife said, laughing.
She said he loved doing for others, which was evident in his career as a teacher. He taught at Marshfield High School, Lincoln University, Central Methodist University and Stephens College.
“He just kept learning all the time and kept teaching all the time,” Julia Helvey said.
Her husband taught at Stephens College after he thought he had retired for good, she said. He taught figure drawing to students there, which was a specialty of his. He taught there for four or five years, Julia said, and he really enjoyed it.
“(The students) had to learn all the muscles and all the bones of the body. ... He had a lot of health and science background,” his wife said.
He enjoyed teaching in small settings, too. He taught mostly photography classes for the Missouri State Teachers Association at the Bunker Hill retreat. People who attended his classes there have been reaching out to his wife to offer their support after his death.
An assignment he gave to a class at Bunker Hill consisted of a list of 50 things. Each person would have to come back with photos of at least half of them, she said.
“This was their weekend to get out and explore,” she said.
He also taught 3- and 4-year-olds how to draw and paint, she said.
The couple met when they attended Mt. Vernon High School. Both of their last names started with “H,” so they sat next to each other frequently when classrooms were arranged alphabetically. They were always close but began dating senior year, she said.
Their son, Howard Helvey, went on photo shoots with his father as soon as he learned to walk. Howard Helvey now does photography, with an interest in architecture and nature as well, Julia Helvey said.
Another son, Harold Helvey, frequently went on bike rides with him. When the Katy Trail first opened, they would ride 20 miles a weekend on it together, she said.
Her husband also loved flying. He received his pilot’s license in 1972 and flew for 14 years, she said. He co-owned two planes with some of his friends.
He also was passionate about the 4-H Club and was a judge at the Boone County Fair for 40 years, his wife said.
The morning he died, there was a bright red sunrise that he could see from his bed. There was a red sunset in the evening too. With his love of nature, this was something he noticed.
“He didn’t take a picture of it that day, but he noticed it,” Julia Helvey said.