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Helen Wright Merck

April 8, 1924 - May 5, 2021


Helen Wright Merck passed away from natural causes on May 5, 2021 at Battle
Creek Memory Care, surrounded by her family. Helen was born in Bellingham, Washington on April 8, 1924 to Alice and Newell Wright, a logging engineer who later joined the US Forestry Department. The two had met as students in the class of 1917 at the University of Washington. Although Alice never took up a profession, her education and progressive politics with organizations like the League of Women Voters had a great influence on Helen and her older sister Joan. Helen spent her formative years in the Eastmoreland area in Portland where she graduated from Washington High School. In 1941 Helen enrolled at Oregon State, where she studied education. After teaching at Westport, Oregon, she married William Fields Merck, whom she had met when he was undertaking Army training at Camp Adair before serving in Europe during World War Il. Together with their children Mandy, Betsy, Sally and Peter, Helen and Fields lived in Salem from the 1950s, where he managed his beer and wine wholesaling company.
In 1963 Helen passed the state examination to become a psychiatric social worker at the Oregon State Hospital. She greatly enjoyed her 25-year career helping mainstreaming patients to functional members of society. A very fun project came about as Helen joined a group of mental health professionals to serve as technical consultants to the cast and crew of the highly successful expose' of the cruelties of psychiatric confinement, the Academy Award-winning film One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. The movie's creators were greatly aided by interviews with staff, including Helen, who held out for Screen Actors Guild wages for the patients used as extras, and for the clinicians' appearances in the film. (Hospital head Dr. Dean Brooks played 'Dr. Spivey' in the movie).
Helen proved to be invaluable member of the hospital staff in her career. Her love of outdoor exercise led the hospital management staff to name a recreational playing field, Merck Field upon her retirement in July 1989. Her other commitments included active memberships in St. Paul's Episcopal Church, the Democratic Party, marching for Civil Rights, and charitable work with Meals on Wheels. She was a voracious reader who regularly borrowed as many library books as possible. She enjoyed the Oregon coast and traveling with friends and family to Europe. For much of her life Helen also played a formidable game of bridge.
Helen is survived by her son Peter, of Salem, her daughters Betsy (of Oakland, California), Sally (of Edmonds, Washington) and Mandy (of London, UK) and grandchildren Drew, Peter and Alexandra, and great grandson Brody.
A celebration of life service will be held at a later date. If you would like to honor
Helen's life a contribution may be sent to: Meals on Wheels, Marion Polk Food Share, 1660 Salem Industrial Dr. N.E. Salem, Oregon 97301. In memo line please indicate "in memory of Helen Merck". Assisting the family is Virgil T. Golden Funeral Service.

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Memory Eternal to my dad's cousin Helen.  My dad was William Bruce Cole, related to Helen through his mother Harriet Wright Cole.  Helen helped arrange a date between her Kappa sister Meri Dreis and dad.  Dad actually tricked mom into a date, in part using info supplied by Helen.  I am one of three offspring of that date...after they were married!  Dad died in 2001 and Mom in 2012.  I recall meeting Great Uncle Newell several times as a child in PDX OR.  He was very nice.  Much later in life, after Dad died, I was having Mom identify a box load of old photos.  In one sorority photo she was with several of her Kappa sisters whom I recognized.  One I didn't was Helen.  I said that had I been her age and met this group, I would really have liked to date this one...Mom just smiled and said, "That's you dad's cousin Helen,"  and burst into laughter.  End of that conversation.  David B. Cole, Bruce's oldest and still an admirer of Helen's beauty