Helen Warfel

Teacher, writer, mother

Helen Margaret Kirkpatrick Warfel died on January 30, 2013 in her apartment at Casa de las Campanas in Rancho Bernardo, San Diego. She was 93.

Mrs. Warfel was born on January 1, 1920 in Pomona, California. As a child, she lived in Eagle Rock and spent her teenage years in Hawaii. Her time there impressed her so much that she retained a lifelong love for all things Hawaiian, returning to the islands as often as possible over the years. 

She attended Eagle Rock High School and, in the family tradition, graduated from Occidental College. In September 1942, she married fellow Oxy student C. Guy Warfel. They had 2 children, Margaret Helen Warfel and Chester Guy Warfel, Jr.

Mrs. Warfel earned her teaching credential and master’s degree at Claremont Graduate School and won Ford Foundation grants for Innovation in Elementary Education while teaching at Sycamore Elementary School in Claremont, California.

Grant F. Sontag first met Mrs. Warfel in the fall of 1960 when his mother walked him from their new house on Indian Hill Boulevard to Sycamore Elementary School where he was starting first grade. He remembers waiting outside by the courtyard when the door to Room 10 swung open.

“There stood this tall (almost 6 feet), gracious, soft-spoken woman who said, simply, ‘Come in children,’” Mr. Sontag said. “I fell in love with her right then and there.”

Sycamore was on the cutting edge of education in the 1960s, and Mrs. Warfel was particularly brilliant, he noted. Everything in her classroom was meticulously organized and labeled and she employed a puppet named Mighty Mouse to help impart lessons. He lived in a tall closet only Mrs. Warfel could reach, he recalled, and he only spoke in a whisper into her ear, so she had to tell her students everything he was trying to teach them. Mr. Sontag and his peers were mesmerized each time Mighty Mouse made an appearance.

“She had an instinctive love of children, and she used such creative methods of teaching,” Mr. Sontag said. “When we would paint, she would put our finished artwork on an easel and call us one by one to sit next to her and tell her what the piece was about. 

“If I said, for example, ‘This is an elephant sitting in a tree eating cotton candy,’ then that is exactly what she would write beneath the picture in her steady hand and beautiful printing,” Mr. Sontag continued. “There was no challenge to our worldview as there might be elsewhere: ‘Elephants don’t sit in trees and they certainly don’t eat cotton candy.’ Helen affirmed us as individuals and helped us blossom.”

Mr. and Mrs. Warfel became like surrogate parents to Mr. Sontag, who developed a lifelong friendship with his first-grade teacher. He would visit them at their home in La Verne and also enjoyed several getaways at the Warfels’ small, rustic cabin in Idyllwild. One memorable visit, remains a cherished memory.

“It rained durng the night and the temperature dropped below freezing,” he remembers. “In the morning when we opened the door, all the tree branches had a thin coating of ice.

“The sun was out and there was a gentle breeze, making the rubbing branches sound like chimes,” Mr. Sontag continued. “We bundled up and went for a walk, surrounded by this winter wonderland. It was simply enchanting.”

Mr. and Mrs. Warfel spent several post-retirement years on the South Pacific island of Saipan, where they worked with the local school district to improve education for the islanders. After their island years, they relocated to Fallbrook, California in 1978 where they were closer to their children. Mr. Warfel started another career in manufacturing, and they traveled extensively. The Warfels, who were classical music aficionados, were also active in the Fallbrook Music Society.

Mrs. Warfel was a voracious reader, who delighted in biographies and children’s literature. She was an accomplished writer herself, and several of her children’s stories were published in school textbooks. In addition, she researched and wrote A Quiet Man, a Kirkpatrick family history and biography of her father, Harry Allister Kirkpatrick. She began writing short, poignant poems (she called them “rhymes”) as a teenager and continued authoring them well into her 80s, much to the delight of her family and friends. Mrs. Warfel was a gifted individual, according to family. She regularly presented her children and friends with charming and colorful artwork on handmade cards. Mrs. Warfel is survived by her children, Margaret (Marty) and Chester (Chet); by her grandchildren, Darren, Chris,  Alex, Guy, Kirk and Sarah; and by her great-grandchildren, Isabella, Samantha, Luke, Liam, Oliver and Emerson.

“God bless you, Mom, and thank you for being such a good and loving mother, friend and teacher,” her children shared. “We miss you and know that you are now truly at peace.”

Her ashes will be interred in a family area at Forest Lawn Cemetery in Glendale, California. In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations be made to Mrs. Warfel’s beloved Fallbrook Music Society, PO Box 340 Fallbrook, CA 92028.




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