CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- She's what you would call a pillar of the community, volunteer extraordinaire, fervid supporter of the American Heart Association (both parents died of heart disease), the West Virginia Symphony and any cause related to nutrition and dietetics, the career field she pursued with the same passion she brings to volunteerism.
Dozens of framed photographs crowd the tabletops in her elegant Kanawha City home, many featuring her two sisters, her beloved "lifemates." Photos of family and friends and pictures of her in fashion shows and at charity galas reflect the busy and vital life of Helen Lodge.
A scrapbook filled with newspaper pictures and clippings chronicle her civic activities and her contributions as a guru of hospital dietetics at CAMC General Hospital.
Now, that vibrant life is clouded by ovarian cancer. It doesn't stop her. With characteristic grace, dignity and optimism, she embraces the gift of every day, grateful always for any opportunity to volunteer.
"I grew up in the Montgomery area. I always related to the story about Boys Town. 'He's not heavy. He's my brother.' That was Montgomery. I've written a book on Montgomery's history.
"My father worked for Carbide in Alloy. We were all from the same economic background. It was a wonderful place to grow up.
"My two sisters and I were close in age. People thought we were triplets. Mother always taught us, 'Remember, you don't have to always agree, but remember, you are always sisters.'
"We all went to West Virginia Tech, so we stayed at home. My father died at 54 and my mother died 13 months later. So the sister relationship was much stronger than for kids who went away to college.
"We babysat for three or four families. Three were physicians. One wife had been a dietitian. I was in pre-med. She kept insisting I take a class in dietetics. I liked it. So I took another class. I cannot think of another career I would rather have had. At that time, most female physicians ended up behind a desk doing administrative work.
"I started in dietetics in 1968 at Charleston General. Later, I took an internship at Jewish Hospital in Cincinnati.
"I liked the clinical aspect of dietetics. I loved talking to patients. I enjoyed the challenges. At General, we had two hospital tube feedings, and we made them. We mixed things like milk and cod liver oil and orange juice. Now there must be over 500 commercially made. When I went into dietetics, it was not a science-based field. Now it is very much so.
"I also truly enjoyed the management part of it. I was called director of dietetics and food services. The hospital was growing. At one time, we had over 1,000 beds, including Arthur B. Hodges. I opened that food service, too.
"Any time I've gotten an award, I always credit the CEOs at CAMC, because they gave me the flexibility to combine volunteerism with my profession.
"I met [Dr. Willard Pushkin] at the hospital the first week I worked. We worked together on a lot of projects. We did a 560-page diet manual used at CAMC and a lot of hospitals where I did consulting -- Long Island, Connecticut, New Jersey. So it served its purpose.
"I stopped dietetics when Willard was diagnosed with lung cancer. We had a very special relationship.
"When we had joint accreditation at the hospital, the administrator who did the inspection said it was the finest diet manual he'd ever seen, including Cook County in Chicago.
"When I came to Charleston, I knew I wanted to become involved in some kind of volunteerism. Having lost both parents to heart disease, I decided on the Heart Association. With my background in dietetics, it was easy to do that. We had workshops and gave talks on heart disease and stroke.
"We had three board members. I became president. Three years later, we had 32 people on the board. We taught CPR in the downtown stores. To raise money, we had Boat Day on the river and a Fly Day where people could fly over Charleston.
"A few years later, a friend asked if I would be willing to sell tickets for the Community Music Association. I did that for a couple of years and won a prize both years. Another friend asked if I would be interested in the Symphony. So I went to their galas and meetings and other events, but I was never asked to do anything.
"I think it's important to get a new member engaged. A lot of our organizations in Charleston aren't doing that. We were having a coffee at the Governor's Mansion. I told my secretary I was going to the coffee and then I was going to drop out.