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Local News

An Extraordinary Life: Joliet woman never turned down opportunities to help

Joliet woman never turned down opportunities to help

Helen Lakota
Helen Lakota

JOLIET – Jerry Lakota of Joliet recalled the ready answer he and his brother Lou Lakota of Shorewood had for the police when they – as teens – were stopped for walking near Broadway Street at 2 a.m.

“We’re going to church,” Jerry said. “Our mother told us we had to go.”

It was Holy Week and members at their church, St. Mary Nativity in Joliet, took turns keeping a round-the-clock watch until Easter Sunday. Skipping church was never an option on Sundays and holy days for their mother, Helen Lakota.

But Helen Lakota also was loyal to SS. Cyril & Methodius Catholic Church in Joliet, as Helen graduated from the eighth grade at its former parish school. Every year in early December, Helen insisted the entire family attend the church’s traditional Christmas vigil dinner, said Karen McDermott of Joliet, Helen’s daughter.

“Even though we grumbled about the way they made the [dried mushroom] soup,” Karen said. “It wasn’t the way our family made the soup.”

Take Helen’s devotion to church and family, along with her knack for making friends with everyone and a policy of never refusing to help, and it’s easy to see the trail of loving humble service Helen left behind.

Because it really didn’t matter if Helen was singing in St. Mary Nativity’s choir or serving as female deputy for the Will County Sheriff’s Department in the 1960s, which she did when her brother Joseph Trizna was sheriff, Lou said, and occasionally needed a female officer for strip searches.

Helen had grown up helping her mother with laundry and canning, Jerry said. Her work experience before she married Louis (deceased) was cleaning homes for customers, Lou said. After her marriage, she moved into Louis’ childhood home and cared for her father-in-law for 18 years before his death, Karen added.

A member of St. Mary Nativity since her early teens, Helen met her husband in the church choir, where he continued to sing until his death and where Helen continued to sing until 10 years ago, when she could no longer climb the stairs.

But Helen never stopped singing, Jerry said. She just moved her singing to the pews.

Through the years, Helen was also an active member of the St. Mary Nativity’s Altar and Rosary Society, Medical Mission and the Joanites. Helen also was the first president of the school’s Mother’s Club, at the pastor’s request.

Helen cooked at Joliet Central High School and then ran the cafeteria at the Will County Jail, again when Joseph was sheriff, Karen said. For 35 years, Helen assisted Louis at his Lakota Jewelers in Joliet, although she was never an official employee.

As Helen grew older, being on the receiving end was hard for her, especially once she was no longer able to drive, but she always said, “Thank you,” Lou said. Even in the last days before her Dec. 16 death at the age of 97, Jerry added, Helen was apologizing for needing help.

The hardest part now, Jerry said, is cleaning out the Lakota homestead, for Helen was also very frugal and wasted nothing. But that wasn’t the reason why Helen never wanted to leave her home.

Once, when Jerry had suggested downsizing, Helen had objected saying, “Do you want me to leave your father?” Helen was so devoted to Louis that she even slept with his picture on her pillow, Karen added.

“My dad used to say, ‘Why are you keeping that? Do you think you’ll live to be a hundred?’ ” Lou said. “Well, she almost made it.”

• To feature someone in “An Extraordinary Life,” contact Denise M. Baran-Unland at 815-280-4122 or

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