June 19, 2011
Nicholas Helburn was born on Dec. 20, 1918 in Salem, Mass., to Willard and Margaret Helburn and grew up in Cambridge. He attended Shady Hill Elementary School and graduated from Cambridge High and Latin School. He enrolled at Harvard but left after one year to spend a year working in the New Hampshire mountains. He completed his undergraduate degree at the University of Chicago and received an M.S. in agricultural economics at Montana State. After World War II he earned his Ph.D. in geography from the University of Wisconsin. During the war, Nick was a conscientious objector whose alternative service was building bridges in Tennessee and working as a “smoke jumper” in Montana.
Nick was an avid educator, mentor, outdoorsman, traveler, gardener, ecologist, peace activist and advocate for alternative lifestyles. At the beginning of his career, he moved with his first wife, Tess Loth Helburn, to Bozeman to start the Department of Earth Science at Montana State College. Nick, Tess and their sons, Steve and Peter, lived in Bozeman for 17 years. Nick and Tess built a house designed by modernist architect Richard Neutra that is now registered as a historic building. Nick spent a year in Turkey in the early ’50s on a Ford Foundation grant, and the research from this time resulted in a book about dry land agriculture and village culture in Anatolia.
Nick moved to Boulder in 1965 to direct the High School Geography Project, one of the “New Social Studies” curriculum projects sponsored by the National Science Foundation to develop a new approach for teaching geography in high schools. He became the first director of the Educational Resources Information Center (ERIC) for Social Studies. He joined the geography department at the University of Colorado in 1971 and chaired the department for three years. He was also elected president of the American Association of Geographers. During its formative years, he served on the senior faculty of the University of Phoenix that was developing a unique college curriculum for working adults.
Nick and his second wife, Suzanne Wiggins Helburn, married in 1969. They bought a piece of land in Longmont, Colo., with a group of people in 1971 and started an intentional community there. For 34 years Nick and Suzanne devoted themselves to organic gardening and an experimental and socially conscious lifestyle at the “farm” on Nelson Road. They moved back into Boulder in 2005. A lifelong advocate for social justice and nonviolence, Nick attended the Boulder Friends Meeting and was a long-time member of the Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center. In 2002 the Peace and Justice Center recognized him as “Peacemaker of the Year.”
His friends and family have always admired him for his broad intelligence, quiet humor, enjoyment of all the wonders of life, and his graceful and judicious disposition. Nick’s survivors include his wife Suzanne Helburn, his son Steve Helburn and daughter-in-law Benjaporn Helburn, his son Peter Helburn, his stepdaughter Sherry Wiggins and son-in-law Jim Logan, his grandchildren Wendy Helburn Mather, Nathan Helburn, Joseph Logan, Michael Logan, Brian Logan and Dana Logan.
Donations may be made to the Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center, P.O. Box 1156, Boulder, CO 80306, USA. Phone: (303) 444-6981, Fax: (720) 565-9755, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.