Awalt G Steffen Memorial Scholarship
A family tragedy and an unexpected move brought Helen Steffen from Ohio to Missouri where she eventually met her husband, and now she has established a memorial scholarship in his name at Northwest Missouri State University. Helen was 5 years old when her parents died within hours of each other from complications of the bubonic plague, leaving her and three siblings behind. The children were split up. Her older brother stayed with family in Ohio, Helen and her 3-year-old sister moved to St. Joseph with an uncle and his family, and neighbors adopted her 6-week-old sister. Despite being hundreds of miles apart and being raised by three different families, the siblings remained in close contact throughout their lives.
If not for that move to St. Joseph with her uncle, Helen would not have met her late husband, Awalt, whom she married in 1941. Together they built a life focused on education and serving others. Awalt served 19 years as a YMCA secretary in St. Joseph, Grand Junction, Colo., and Muskogee, Okla. In 1948, they found themselves back in St. Joseph where they owned and operated Steffen's Bookstore for 13 years. It was during this time that they decided they wanted to continue their education and become teachers. Awalt commuted to Maryville and graduated in 1957, at the age of 47, with a bachelor's in elementary education, and later earned a master's in educational leadership, also from Northwest. Helen continued to run the bookstore until Awalt started his first teaching job at Spring Garden School, at which time she commuted to Maryville and graduated in 1964, at the age of 51, with a bachelor's in elementary education.
The Steffens went on to enjoy careers in education where Awalt retired in 1974 as principal in King City, and Helen retired the following year from Hawthorne Elementary, now Coleman Elementary, in St. Joseph, while always striving to serve their community through church initiatives and programs such as Sertoma International. One project in particular that Helen is proud of is one that spanned an eight-year period and took place in the basement of their home. The Steffens, along with the help of a few others, made more than 880 sleeping bags that they donated to the local food bank.
Awalt died in 2008 at the age of 97. In memory of her late husband, Helen established the Awalt G. Steffen Memorial Scholarship through the Northwest Foundation.
Scholarships associated with Awalt G Steffen Memorial Scholarship