LAIE, Hawaii —Sister Helen Bateman, now 93 and living back home in Provo, Utah, recieved special permission when she was 86 to serve as a senior missionary at the Polynesian Cultural Center starting in May 2006. Seven years later, she’s still sharing her talents with the PCC by donating the mini Hawaiian quilts she makes at the rate of about one a week.
So far, she’s donated more than 250 of them.
When her husband, retired Brigham Young University Professor LaVar Bateman, died in 2005, she was still so healthy and vigorous that her family urged her to put in missionary papers again. After all, she and the late Elder Bateman had previously served as senior missionaries in Sydney; Hanoi, Vietnam; and Honolulu, and also as hosts at the Joseph Smith Memorial Building in Salt Lake City for 10 years.
At the cultural center, Helen Bateman worked in the islands management office and also the Hawaiian Mission Settlement exhibit, where she shared her quilting talents.
“It was a life-changing experience for her. When we came up with the idea to serve another mission, she was eager to do it. She has an exceptional amount of energy, and contributed so much,” recalled daughter Kathy Peterson, a freelance illustrator and artist who has helped her mother create a number of unique Hawaiian quilt designs. “I visited her several times in Hawaii, and it was fun to see how everybody seemed to know her.”
After being home from her first mission at the PCC for three months, Bateman returned as a volunteer in 2008, “but she had a stroke a week before she was to come home to Provo at that time,” Peterson said. “I flew to Hawaii to bring her home, but she insisted on staying that extra week until her term was complete.”
After recuperating, Bateman, who said she loves Hawaii, returned again to the PCC as a volunteer for about six months in 2010 and for another three months in 2011.
“We have been blessed to have many, many wonderful senior missionaries serve here at the Polynesian Cultural Center over the years,” said PCC president and CEO P. Alfred Grace. “Not only have they provided needed skills and expertise to support our operation, they have also helped to nurture and grow our employees from BYU-Hawaii and the local community.
“Sister Helen Bateman is one senior missionary who has continued to serve faithfully long after her official release,” he continued, “by providing a constant supply of beautiful Hawaiian quilted pillowcases from her home in Provo, Utah. As a spry 93-year-old, Sister Bateman, or ‘Aunty Helen’ as we call her, is now considered a ‘living treasure’ of the Polynesian Cultural Center. We have much aloha for this very special women.”
Emily Wolthuis, who lives in Laie and hosts Bateman when she’s there, confirmed, “Aunty Helen is amazing. At age 93 she is like the Energizer Bunny. She quilts from morning to night. That’s what she lives for.”
“I love the flowers and the people. They’re so friendly and gracious. I have wonderful memories of everything that’s happened,” Bateman said. “I love being there. It feels like my second home.”
Bateman learned to quilt as a young woman, “but it really took off when I came to Hawaii," she said. "Hawaiian quilts are now my favorite. It’s really a blessing, because I can quilt without glasses, and my hands feel like those of a young person. I don’t want to spend my life watching TV. This keeps me busy and active.”
Daughter Kathy Peterson explained the quilts her mother makes and donates are sold as souvenirs at the Polynesian Cultural Center, and the proceeds benefit Brigham Young University–Hawaii students who work there.
“She is a special lady,” Peterson said, “and making quilts has been a blessing to her and our family as well as the cultural center. She always has something beautiful and creative to work on, and keeps busy doing something she feels is worthwhile to others.
“She feels like she’s contributing to the education of the students at the PCC.”
The Polynesian Cultural Center is celebrating its 50th anniversary (1963–2013) with a weeklong event for alumni and special guests from Sept. 1–8. For more information, go to pcc50.com.
Mike Foley currently volunteers his Internet content skills for the Polynesian Cultural Center's 50th anniversary website at www.pcc50.com and other outlets.