Rum distillers, tobacco farmers, tavern owners and friends and family near and far are mourning the death of Patrick Lee Helbert. After a long convalescence, Pat passed away Saturday, Dec. 22, 2018, at Kenwood View Health and Rehabilitation Center in Salina, Kansas, while his beloved Kansas Jayhawks men’s basketball team was still undefeated. He was 63.
Before a debilitating stroke in 2001, Pat had worked for Kansas Color Press, the Lawrence Paper Company and many other businesses, but he pioneered the concept of the seasonal employee, gracing employers with his presence from September through May but often returning to a previous engagement with the sun, lawn chairs and cooling beverages from June through August.
After his stroke, Pat suffered left-sided paralysis for the rest of his life. During that time, he showed exceptional courage and grit and for many years was able to live on his own. It was only in recent years that he allowed himself to be cared for on a daily basis. His indomitable spirit carried him for 17 years to his peaceful death and allowed him to fight his way through paralysis, renal failure, diabetes and COPD. His love for life, friends, family and good times was legendary.
Patrick Lee Helbert was born in Salina, Kansas, on Nov. 16, 1955, to Robert Lee and Carrollyn Jean Stull Helbert. He is survived by a brother, Michael Helbert, an attorney in Emporia, Kansas, and Michael’s wife, Sandra, and their children, Paige and Michael; an aunt, Marilyn Short of Belle Plaine, Kansas; many devoted cousins; and longtime companion Jonielle Frazier, who, friends suspect, is being considered for sainthood by many world religions.
Pat served for 45 years as captain of the honorable order of Space Cadets, a social group founded at Oliver Hall on the University of Kansas campus in 1973. The Space Cadets trace their origin to the 1960s when Pat and one of his earliest recruits bonded in the third grade over their mutual admiration of the song lyric "There’s a place in France where the alligators dance and the people lose their pants."
Despite being the life of some legendary parties and you-had-to-be-there-to-believe-it escapades, Pat will be most-remembered with love by family and friends for his kindness, generosity, inclusiveness and unfailing courage. "He was more than a good time," said his cousin Hans Helbert of Oklahoma City. "He was a good guy. His personality could light up a room."
Plans call for cremation, with the remains to be distributed near some beloved purveyors of restoratives in Lawrence, Kansas, and Key West, Florida. A memorial service and celebration of life will be announced and held at a later date. Memorials can be made to St. Luke’s Hospital of Kansas City, the Williams Fund at the University of Kansas or the Shriners Hospitals for Children. Those wishing to do so may send the memorials to Michael Helbert, 519 Commercial Street, Emporia, KS 66801.