Obituary of John F. Helinski
John Francis Helinski, Major (USAF retired), born the first of 3 children by Frank and Catherine “Kay” (Dziurzynski) Helinski, on 8 June 1942 in Cleveland, Ohio.
John spent much of his youth helping his mother, who had MS, take care of their house and his younger siblings Joe Helinski and Ann Helinski (Jablonski). He also worked as a paper boy, in a grocery store, in a greenhouse, and in his grand daddy’s butcher shop to help support the family.
In 1959, at the age of 17, John graduated from St. Stanislaus High School and was accepted into the US Air Force Academy as the youngest cadet in the class of 1963. John, at 6’4 and about 250lbs, played offensive lineman on the football team and earned the nickname “Tank” from his classmates.
After graduation in 1963, John married his wife of 60 years, Mona Gay Kurek, and attended civil engineering school at Wright Patterson AFB, OH. He then moved with Gay to McClellan AFB, CA. He and Gay were expecting their first child by the spring of 1966 when John was deployed to Thailand in support of the war in Vietnam. Shortly after his return from the war that winter, Gay gave birth to their first child, Holly Gay, who unfortunately passed away a few hours after her birth. In the shadow of their loss, John and Gay managed to get pregnant with twin girls. They were then transferred to Syracuse New York in 1967 where John attended Syracuse University and earned a Master’s degree in Engineering Management. They also had the birth of the twins, Mona Catherine and Laura Gay in April of 1968. Unfortunately, another tragedy occurred with the loss of Mona Catherine, but a miracle occurred with the survival of Laura and Gay. About a year later, in the summer of 1969 John was sent to South East Asia again, this time to Bien Hoa Air Base in the Republic of Vietnam. After 6 months in Vietnam, John returned to the US and the family moved to Reese AFB, in Lubbock TX. About 9 months later, in the winter of 1971, his 4th child was born, a boy named Brent David. In October of 1972 John and his family were transferred to Bitburg, Germany where they lived for three years before being transferred to Colorado Springs. Here John continued to work as a civil engineer at the Chidlaw Building, NORAD, Peterson AFB, and Falcon (Schriever) SFB. In July of 1984 John retired from the Air Force and got a job with TRW. After a few years with TRW he formally retired and began to focus on his charity work primarily with the Boy Scouts of America with Troop 127 as their Charter Organization Representative, at the District Level John helped form Frontier District by merging 2 districts. He served on the Pikes Peak Council District Board many years and served as the District Popcorn Kernel.
He earned a number of awards including the Silver Beaver. Other charities included Christmas Unlimited (President), the Front Range Business Group, the USAFA AOG, USAFA Parents Club (President) and the Catholic Church, volunteering at his children and grandchildren’s schools, being part of the PTA at local and state levels. While in the PTA John and Gay were an integral part of starting school crossing zones at schools in Colorado Springs. Along with his charity work, John loved to golf, hunt, garden, play cards, and cook especially his famous “hockey pucks”, Nell’s cookies.
In the spring of 1999 John contracted a serious staph infection, which eventually led to the removal of the toes on his right foot, and his decline in overall health including beating prostate cancer until it returned in January 2023. After battling Charcot foot for years, John decided to have an amputation of his lower right leg in the spring of 2022. He was very proud of this hard decision but worked hard to learn to walk again and continued to grow stronger and feel healthier.
John continued to do charity work, take care of his family (which grew to include 6 grandchildren) and what limited recreational activities that he could for the remainder of his life, which ended on 5 July 2023 in a battle against cancer.
John was a staunch patriot, devoted Catholic, a man proud of his Polish heritage, and the dedicated patriarch of his family. He is remembered as the most humble, honest, thoughtful, and selfless man most people will ever encounter. John always did what was “right,” even if it was not in his best interest. Every deal he ever made, John let the other party fare better on purpose, as he would rather lose a little than ever feel he took advantage of someone. To know him was to love him, and his love for his wife, children and grandchildren knew no limits and showed in all he did for them. Moreover, he treated all of his friends like family, including his family’s friends. When God took this “Gentle Giant” from the Earth we all lost something precious, but his legacy lives on not only through his family, but through all of the people’s lives that he touched.
He was preceded in death by his parents, sister Ann, and two daughters Holly Gay and Mona Catherine. John is survived by his wife, Gay, daughter Laura (Doug Troutman), son Brent (Allie) Helinski, brother Joe, and 6 grandchildren; Bailee, Benjamin (Benji), Katherine (Kate), Lainey, Holly, and Annika. We all miss him dearly and will be forever thankful for the abundance of love he gave to us and to the world.
August 10, 2023 16:00 Rosary and sharing - Air Force Academy Community Chapel
August 11, 2023 13:00 Funeral Mass - Air Force Academy Community Chapel,
Interment at USAFA Cemetery, followed by a reception at the Air Force Academy Community Chapel
In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions can be made in John Helinski’s name to Boy Scouts of America Pathway to the Rockies Council or USAFA Association of Graduates.