Both kind and strong, Helen Jean Siver was an everyday hero who raised her four children — three sons and a daughter — with backbone.
“She was loving but she was strong in terms of standing up for our family, making sure we did what we were supposed to do,” said her son, Peter A. Siver.
She died on Saturday, Feb. 9, 2013, of respiratory failure. She was 86.
Peter Siver can still recite the verse from a poem he had to learn for a third-grade play. “My mother said, if I remembered the poem for a year, she’d give me a dime. For me, that meant two packs of baseball cards. So I said it to myself every day,” recalled Mr. Siver.
He recited this week from M. Lucille Ford’s “Heroes We Never Name”: “And what of the everyday heroes/Whose courage and efforts ne’er cease,/Toilers who struggle and labor and strive/And hope for a future of peace?”
At the end of the year, because he remembered the poem, his mother gave him a quarter.
“She made damn sure we did our schoolwork, and we all went to college; we were the first in our family,” said Peter Siver, the middle brother.
“I credit her for where I am today,” said her son, who has a Ph.D. and teaches college botany and environmental studies. “It’s a direct reflection of the way I grew up.”
He and his brothers enjoyed their natural surroundings as boys although the only time their mother got to enjoy the outdoors with them was during family vacations to Saranac Lake where they went fishing, boating, and hiking.
“She was an avid reader; all of us read,” said Peter Siver. When her children were young, Mrs. Siver favored famous American authors like Ernest Hemingway or Edgar Allan Poe. “She religiously went to the library and made us go and take out books,” said her son. With a single car for the family, this was “a once-a-week deal,” he said.
Mrs. Siver was born on Sept. 10, 1926, in Cairo, N.Y., the daughter of the late Edith M. Butler and Ferdinand H. Suttmeier. Her father’s family, the Suttmeiers, had come from Germany through Ellis Island.
Mrs. Siver grew up, an only child, in Round Top. “You took this road from Cairo to the top of a mountain,” said her son. Both of her parents worked at the school she attended; her father drove a school bus in the morning and afternoon and, in between, did repairs.
She grew up in the Methodist Church in Cairo and remained religious all her life and active in church affairs.
Mrs. Siver played basketball in high school and, before she died, took interest in her two granddaughters’ playing AAU (Amateur Athletic Union) basketball in the Connecticut State Championship.
When she was 16, during World War II, Mrs. Siver and some of her friends took turns manning fire towers in the Catskills to watch for enemy planes.
“What was exciting was, it would get cold up there and it was the first time her mother allowed her to wear blue jeans,” said her son.
The man who would become her husband, Norton Siver, grew up in Guilderland; Siver Road is named for his family. “My father and his brothers, Ed and Bill, built houses on Willow Street,” said Peter Siver.
Although he became an engineer and earned his living that way, Norton Siver had a life-long interest in woodworking and built each of the houses his family lived in as they moved from Guilderland to Dalton, Mass., and then to Cinnaminson, N.J.
“When we moved from place to place, my father would build our houses,” said Peter Siver. “We’d move in when the first floor was done, and then he’d finish the rest.”
He went on, “My father really wanted to be a farmer and raise horses. Before the war, he worked with the trotters at Saratoga. He loved that.”
After serving three years in Europe during World War II, Mr. Siver came home to Guilderland. The family farm was no more, and he got a job making truck deliveries. “That’s how he met my mom in Cairo.”
They settled happily into domestic life together.
Mrs. Siver and her husband kept a vegetable garden and she would can the produce. “We would have the stuff all winter,” said her son.
She mended the clothes for her active boys and sewed dresses from scratch for her daughter.
“She made sure we were well fed and kept us in line…She cared a lot for my friends,” said Peter Siver. “They often stayed over and ate with us. She took a liking to them all.”
Mrs. Siver was a good cook and her son was particularly fond of her macaroni with shrimp salad. “It was the only time we ever had shrimp,” he said.
For dessert, he favored her date squares and strawberry shortcake. “If I was good, I’d get strawberry shortcake,” he said.
Mrs. Siver put her nursing career on hold to raise her children.
She graduated from the Methodist Hospital School of Nursing in Brooklyn, N.Y. and practiced nursing until her retirement.
She was in nursing school during World War II and, at the end of the war, she worked in New York City, taking care of wounded veterans.
“She loved it,” said her son, adding, “She didn’t talk about it when we were growing up, until later. She went back to nursing when we were in high school and could fend for ourselves.”
A registered nurse, Mrs. Siver worked both in hospital and nursing-home settings.
Mrs. Siver’s mother had died when she was in nursing school.
When Peter Siver was cleaning out his mother’s home, he found a letter from the 1940s that his grandmother had written to his mother. “My grandmother had cancer but she didn’t want to tell my mother because she would leave nursing school….Mom saved the letter all those years. I put it in the casket with her.”
He concluded, “She was a great mother.”
Besides her son, Peter A. Siver, Mrs. Siver is survived by her daughter, Shelley Siver; by her daughters-in-law, Regina and Ging; by her grandchildren, Sara, James, Christopher, Michaela, and Emma; and by her great-grandchildren, Davyen, Mia, and Colton Siver.
Her husband died before her, as did two of her sons, David N. Siver and Scott W. Siver.
Memorial contributions may be made to the Moffitt Cancer Center Foundation, Post Office Box 23827, Tampa, FL 33623-3827. The Moffitt Cancer Center treated Mrs. Siver’s youngest son, Scott, before his death.
A service for Mrs. Siver was held in Largo, Fla. on Feb. 18 with burial in Serenity Gardens Memorial Park where her husband and son Scott were buried.
- Melissa Hale-Spencer