Al and Helen
In 2005 the Martin County Community Foundation received the largest single
gift it had ever received. It came from the estate of Al and Helen
Friesenhengst. This gift created the Al and Helen Friesenhengst Endowment
Fund for Martin County . This unrestricted fund began to make money grants
to area charitable organizations in early 2007.
When meeting with Al and Helenís daughter, Mary Nickless of Loogootee, she
shared a scrapbook giving us a glimpse into the lives of these two
remarkable citizens. This story will attempt to capture parts of their lives
that few of us knew.
Scrapbooks are great for capturing memories. Smiles from a wedding day are
remembered in the pictures, and the stories in word. The stories seem to end
when the people in the scrapbook are no longer with us. But Al and Helen
Friesenhengstís legacy will never end, and the smiles they shared in a
scrapbook will be mirrored by the countless number of people that have been,
or will become, recipients of the generosity of this couple.
The oldest of five siblings, and the son of German immigrants, Alís enormous
talents would ultimately propel him to a successful career as an
entrepreneur that few rival. While still in high school, Al earned the
respect of his fellow students by being elected as president of the student
council, drama club, along with numerous awards. Al graduated from Western
Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio in 1936. He had received a scholarship
enabling him to do so. The value of him receiving this scholarship, and thus
an education in business, which he vigorously applied, became multiplied
thousands of times throughout his career.
Along with his wife Helen, who was his business and life partner, they
accumulated retail store outlets in seven Southern Indiana towns, including
Shoals and Loogootee. Al and Helen passed on their business savvy to
numerous employees, many of whom eventually purchased and operated those
stores after Al and Helen began to exit the businesses. There are many
pictures in the scrapbook of events honoring employees and the passing of
ownership of the stores to them. In all cases Al and Helen and the employees
are smiling broadly, indicating the mutual respect and admiration they
shared for each other.
Besides the business side of Al and Helens life, there is a whole range of
community life that they were involved in. From investment in rental
housing, assisting in securing funding for industry expansion, and community
infrastructure improvement, and economic development, the Friesenhengst
brought instant credibility to many projects that are still thriving today.
Al was the first President of the Shoals Lions Club and the sponsor of the
Troop 80 Boy Scouts for 10 years, and Past Master of the White River Lodge
No. 332 F & AM of Shoals.
Stephen A. Deckard, a former MCCF Board Member, and Publisher of The Shoals
News, stated, ďThis nice gift to the Community Foundation is certainly a
continued example of the involvement of Al and Helen for the good of Martin
County. Al and Helen were acute business people who always supported the
important endeavors of the community. They saw, within the foundation, an
avenue to keep good programs sustained. Martin County people were very
important to the Friesenhengstís and this unrestricted fund gift will
benefit many generations. Their hard work and positive attitudes will be
honored, and remembered forever.Ē
Faith played an enormous role in Al and Helenís life too. They shared their
beliefs with many through the United Methodist Church organization. As a
gifted speaker and motivator, Al traveled thousands of miles to help nurture
and inspire his fellow Christian brothers. Helen also was a tireless
contributor of time and talent to her faith.
Beyond the borders of Martin County are many others on whom this couple has
had an influence. Through their many generous gifts several young people
have already received financial assistance through scholarships. Al and
Helen knew well the value of education and strived and succeeded in passing
on their good fortune to others.
Al and Helen also excelled in their family life. They adopted two sisters
and raised them as their own. People who do this are of the most caring and
giving of us all. Mary and her sister Nancy (deceased) grew up in a home
filled with love. Also their childrenís children, the 4 grandchildren and 6
great-grandchildren gave Al and Helen some of their greatest joy.
The scrapbook records Alís death in 2000 and Helenís death in 2005. Many
times a personís story stops there, but with the twenty charitable
organizations that have received monetary gifts, and the numerous lives they
touched while with us, Al and Helenís successful legacy and influence will
The Martin County Community Foundation is thrilled and honored that Al and
Helen remembered it with this gift, and pledge to act in accordance to the
amazing examples they set.
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