Northeast Times

In honoring their lives, she’s saving her own

Helen Schick, 58, of Cum­ber­land Street in Kens­ing­ton, holds a bundle of the “fire­fight­er rib­bons” she cre­ates in her home to hon­or fallen fire­men. SAM NE­W­HOUSE / STAR PHOTO

Helen Schick star­ted mak­ing me­mori­al rib­bons for fallen fire­fight­ers after she was dia­gnosed with can­cer al­most two years ago. She re­cently made rib­bons for Capt. Mi­chael Good­win’s fu­ner­al, and says the hobby is her small way of lend­ing a hand to her com­munity.

Every time Helen Schick hears about a fire­fight­er’s death, she said, her heart still jumps.

That comes from 23 years of be­ing mar­ried to one.

“Every time I hear it, they nev­er say their name,” said Schick, 58, of the mo­ments when me­dia out­lets first re­port that a Phil­adelphia fire­fight­er has died. “Every­body’s call­ing every­body to find out who sac­ri­ficed their life. It’s so scary.”

Re­cently, Schick was shaken by the news that an­oth­er Phil­adelphia fire­fight­er had fallen in the line of duty — Capt. Mi­chael Good­win, who per­ished in a fab­ric store fire in Queen Vil­lage on April 6. Good­win had spent much of his ca­reer serving the River Wards area.

Schick said she re­membered Good­win from parties at the Fire­man’s Hall years ago.

Upon news of his death, Schick did what came nat­ur­ally to her — she made rib­bons for his fu­ner­al ser­vice.

Schick pre­pared dec­or­a­tions for Good­win’s cel­eb­ra­tion of life ser­vice at St. Mi­chael’s Church on April 11. She made red and brown rib­bons – “fire­fight­er rib­bons,” she called them — which she sold to be­ne­fit Good­win’s fam­ily. She took the ex­tras and dec­or­ated lamp­posts and doors all along Cum­ber­land Street in Kens­ing­ton, where she lives, and where many of her neigh­bors in­clude para­med­ics and oth­er em­ploy­ees of the Phil­adelphia Fire De­part­ment.

“She does it when she sees some­body that dies. She does all the rib­bons and puts them every­where,” said Shick’s friend Bar­bara Shiff­ler.  Schiff­ler’s sis­ter Terry owns Luke’s Bar on Ce­dar Street, where Schick used to work. “She’s a great wo­man. She’s al­ways been there for people.”

Schick knows the names of lost fire­fight­ers by heart, she said. Fire­fight­ers John J. Red­mond and Ven­cent Acey, who died fight­ing the Rising Sun Baptist Church fire in South Philly in Janu­ary 1994. Fire­fight­er Joseph Kon­rad, who died fight­ing a fire on Tulip Street in June 1984. Her ex-hus­band was on both of those fires, she said.

“Once you’re a fire­man’s wife, you’re al­ways con­nec­ted to fire­fight­ers,” Schick said.

She also made rib­bons for the fu­ner­als of Lt. Robert Neary and fire­fight­er Daniel Sweeney, who per­ished in Kens­ing­ton’s Buck Ho­siery Fact­ory fire a year ago.

Schick has been mak­ing rib­bons for fun and selling them on the side for more than two dec­ades.

“It’s my hobby, and it gives me a little ex­tra money than my dis­ab­il­ity check,” Schick said.

She sells her bows for $1 apiece for birth­days and oth­er cel­eb­ra­tions, $3 for fan­ci­er rib­bons, and cre­ates huge amounts of bows at times of mourn­ing. She cuts and ties them all by hand in her liv­ing room.

The rib­bons Schick sold for Good­win’s fam­ily amoun­ted to about $350, and money is still com­ing in. She said in­tends to donate the money in his memory.

One fire­fight­er who saw Schick’s work at Good­win’s me­mori­al ser­vices is even ask­ing her to do wed­ding dec­or­a­tions for him.

Rib­bon-mak­ing be­came Schick’s full time oc­cu­pa­tion since she stopped tend­ing bar at Luke’s Bar about a year and a half ago, after be­ing dia­gnosed with can­cer.

“It’s keep­ing her alive right now,” Schiff­ler said of Schick’s rib­bon mak­ing.

Schick was dia­gnosed with squam­ous cell car­cinoma of the ton­sil.

Her can­cer is cur­rently in re­mis­sion, but side ef­fects from chemo­ther­apy and ra­di­ation treat­ments have dam­aged her sight and hear­ing on her left side, en­larged her liv­er and des­troyed her saliva glands, leav­ing her re­ly­ing on a feed­ing tube and un­able to work out­side of her home.

That doesn’t mean she’s lost her sense of hu­mor or love of life.

“Any­body says they can’t diet, they’re full of [it], if I can live on for­mula go­ing in my belly for a year and a half,” Schick joked.

Now she oc­cu­pies her time mak­ing rib­bon bows year-round – in part just to give neigh­bors a cheap­er rate.

“People told me a flower shop wanted to charge them $22 for a bow. And they wer­en’t even half as pretty as mine,” Schick said, laugh­ing.

“I brag about my bows, even my kid and grandkids know,” she said with pride.

She’s already ex­cited to make red, white and blue bows for the Fourth of Ju­ly.

“It’s whatever I can do to help.” Schick said. “I’m will­ing to do whatever I can for any­body. It’s not much. Whatever I can do, I will do for them, and I still can thank God I’m alive.”

Re­port­er Sam Ne­w­house can be reached at 215-354-3124 or at sne­w­house@bsmphilly.com.

You can reach at snewhouse@bsmphilly.com.

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