Pansy Watts Helms

Pansy Watts Helms


While Pansy Helms, 77, of Ortega Farms, has fond memories of moving into her tidy cul-de-sac neighborhood near Timuquana Road with her husband Doyle and two young children in 1971, she didn’t appreciate what her children had to go through for school.

Helms_02The Helms were unhappy that their children had to attend so many different schools. They were bused to Smart Pope Livingston Elementary for sixth grade and to Eugene Butler Middle School for seventh grade because of Duval County’s court-ordered desegregation plan. They attended eighth and ninth grades at J.E.B. Stuart Middle School and graduated from Nathan Bedford Forrest High School (now Westside High School).

But the memories are mostly good ones, of friends made and kept. A few of Helms’ friends and original neighbors still live nearby including Janet (Bly) Jones and Betty DeGuzman.

“My husband was in the military and we relocated here from our hometown of Thomaston, Georgia, for his assignments at Mayport and NAS Jax. Our son Ken was seven and our daughter Crystal was five years old,” Helms said. “Doyle’s elderly Aunt Minnie lived in Springfield so we were happy to have family already here. We stayed with her until our home was finished.”

The couple chose a modest one-story brick home where they raised their children and where Helms would still be comfortably living 44 years later in 2015. The couple divorced and Doyle lives in Georgia.

“Many houses around here were under construction then, but there were still woods and open areas. Timuquana Road was just two lanes. There was hardly much traffic, nothing like now,” she said. “Our street was designed for 14 homes and there were approximately 40 children living here.”

During weekends and summer, neighbors played charades or card games while their children created their own fun, according to Helms. There were block parties where everyone brought their favorite dishes and ate together. Helms especially enjoyed cooking and baking and was usually asked to bring her specialties.

Helms_04 “I’m a friendly person and our house was Grand Central Station. I was happy to have my children’s friends over and always had freshly baked peanut butter, sugar or chocolate chip cookies for them. Whoever was still here at five or five-thirty ate dinner with us,” she said. “They played hide-and-seek or rode bikes within our neighborhood because everyone knew each other. For our pitch-in block parties I usually made my Mississippi Mud Cake, Fruit Cocktail Cake, lemon or apple pies.”

Both Helms children and their friends played sports through Wesconnett Athletic Association. Son Ken was quite a pitcher with his Little League baseball team and helped them attend several tournaments. He also played on a Pop Warner football team, the Bullets, and Crystal played softball. Helms was a continuous team mom for 10-plus years and never missed games.

Crystal was a Camp Fire Girl in the Bluebirds troop which met in members’ homes; her mother was assistant troop leader. The family bowled together at the old Phoenix Bowling Lanes on the corner of Lakeshore and Blanding Boulevard near Cedar Hills.

Crystal and two best friends from her street, Dawn (Wigg) Trinidad and Shenna (Cruselle) Chapman, attended school together and were all cheerleaders. Crystal remains close to Dawn who moved into the Wigg family home (her parents, Bill and Joan Wigg are deceased) on the same street across from the Helms. Shenna lives in Georgia but keeps touch with her childhood friends.

“We played kickball and Four Square games, the boys played football and our cul-de-sac was perfect for that. There were always friends at our house, or the neighbors came for dinner or holidays. I had slumber parties and we had big birthday parties,” Crystal said.  “Mom’s the best Southern cook, makes everything from scratch, no boxes, no cans. Her fried chicken makes your mouth water and there’s nothing she can’t cook or bake. My favorite thing is her Chocolate Fudge Cake with the best fudge icing you ever tasted. Everybody loves her Mississippi Mud Cake (secret ingredient, marshmallows). Mom’s a great lady. She’s been our rock…always there for us no matter what.”

Helms_03While her children were in school, Helms worked during the 1970s at the Navy Exchange, enjoyed her job and made friends. She said the best part of military life is meeting so many people; the downside is moving and leaving friends behind.

Helms went to work as a lab technician for optometrist Dr. Seymour Marco in 1980 when he opened the Jacksonville branch of Frontier Contact Lenses. She said it was a small completely manual business on the corner of Nira and San Marco Boulevard. There were traditional eight-hour shifts and 40 employees. Dr. Marco bought out the New York owners as the company grew. In 1981 he sold it to Johnson & Johnson (J & J), and Helms continued to work for the company until 2000.

“J & J had a contest asking employees to submit, then vote on names for the growing company, which we did. Vistakon was the winning name. In 1987 we moved to Richard Street off University where we began continuous operation with automation,” Helms said. Vistakon, now located at Deerwood Park, is the world’s leading manufacturer of contact lenses.

Helms supports several charities, is a member of the Red Hat Society and plays Bunco with 12 friends including Marie Jean, Jan Poley and Eloise Collins. The women have played together in each other’s homes for at least 40 years. She’s a member of St. Andrews Presbyterian and will celebrate her 78th birthday in November with her children and both grandchildren, Kayla, 24, and Kyle, 15.

By Julie Kerns Garmendia
Resident Community News

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