MARYSVILLE — There was just something special about Andy Helton. After the March 2, 2012, tornadoes ripped through Southern Indiana, the Marysville native never hesitated to help the people of his community in any way possible.
Family and friends have fond memories of the man riding his white scooter around the devastated area to provide supplies to those in need, so much so that they swore he was everywhere at once. Yet he never expected a thank you. That was Andy’s way.
While delivering some paperwork in mid-May, Andy was forced off the road by a passing car, wrecking his moped in the ditch. He sustained severe injuries to his leg which required hospitalization and several surgeries. Two weeks later, for reasons unknown, Andy died in his bed. He was only 47 years old.
“Andy is what kept this place going. It’s like he did what he was supposed to do. Then he was gone,” Marysville resident Lisa Clapp said. “He was a Godsend.”
Now, a makeshift memorial to the man many considered such a blessing stands beside the remnants of a tangled semi door. Both the snarled metal inscribed with a biblical passage and the monument to Andy serve as a reminder of that fateful March day and the good and bad things that ensued from it.
At first look, some people might not have figured Andy as the hero type. When he was younger, friends nicknamed him Alan Jackson — after the country superstar — for his long hair. His mother Pat Helton said he always has worn his hair past his shoulders. Even after it was cut, it seemed to always return to that one length.
“Andy just didn’t seem like the guy you’d first pick out to organize and take care of everything. We’re quick to judge people sometimes by first glance,” recovery volunteer and Scottsburg Mayor Bill Graham said. “He wasn’t the person in charge, but he was the person that had it all figured out.”
Graham, who first met Andy the Sunday after the tornadoes, told a story that demonstrated Andy’s love for his community. Clear lines of communication and leadership weren’t always available toward the beginning of the relief efforts. Graham said it wasn’t unusual for different aid organizations to vie for people they hoped to help. Andy witnessed this happening once and decided to set things straight.
“In the first few days after the tornado, there were a lot of groups out there and nobody really knew who was in charge. A lot of different groups tried to take charge,” Graham said. “And I’ll never forget one of the comments that Andy made that wasn’t directed at anybody or anything. These are his very words, ‘This ain’t no holy war. We’re here to take care of everybody.’ I think he described it just as well as anybody in just saying that.”
Oregon Township Trustee William Bussey had known Andy since his childhood, as his kids and Andy attended New Washington High School together. Bussey remembered him as being a man of his word, someone that was highly resourceful, and wondered if Andy’s four years of military service might have helped with his success. Regardless, Andy was in it for the long haul and was well aware of the amount of time and energy the recovery efforts would take.
“He said, I know for a few people this is going to pass over in a few weeks or a few months, and it’s going to take longer than that. It’s an ongoing thing. I’m sure if he was still here, he’d still be trying to do things for the community,” Bussey said.
PUTTING IN THE WORK
Throughout his life, Andy was never afraid of hard work. He and his father Jim Helton worked as pipefitters together, a job Andy enjoyed and at which he excelled. Years ago while at a worksite, Andy fell 40 feet and landed on his back. He struggled with the pain, and eventually had a hard time continuing in the pipefitting business due to the injury. Despite the discomfort from his physical ailments, his assisting the town in recovery efforts gave him a renewed sense of purpose.
“Andy loved this town and a lot of people probably thought he was lazy or a bum because he hadn’t worked for so long,” Pat said. “He’d get depressed over this disability stuff, about things not going right for him. I think it really made him feel like he belonged somewhere and that he really did something for other people. I think he was really happy with himself.”
Graham agreed. He said much like someone who finds unknown strength when dealing with an emergency, Andy too discovered something unknown from within. Although his own house was damaged and the home of his parents destroyed, he never thought about his own needs. He was too busy helping everyone else.
“It pulled skills out of Andy that either he didn’t know he had or he hadn’t been using in a long time,” Graham said. “The people of Marysville are extremely proud people and they needed help but they didn’t want to take help. And Andy had a way of getting through to those people and finding out what they needed and getting them to accept things they needed that nobody else could do.”
In recognition of his volunteer work, Graham presented Andy a flag from Sen. Richard Lugar’s office. But Andy wasn’t finished helping people. His mother said he had hoped to continue assisting disaster relief victims through either the American Red Cross or another governmental agency.
A PROMISE HONORED
Even though he no longer inhabits this earth, Andy’s dreams and legacy live on. Before his accident, he had asked Graham to make a special promise.
“He’d say, ‘Yeah, I know you’re a big shot. In a week or two you’ll forget about all of us in Marysville.’ He knew he could say that because we were that good of friends,” he said. “And out of the clear one day, he said, ‘I want you to make me a promise.’ And I said, what’s that? And he said, ‘Promise that you’ll get the Marysville school rebuilt.’ I promised I’d help do that and I certainly will.”
Having been converted into a community center, the old school had become a meeting place for residents of Marysville. Like so many other buildings, the storms had damaged it. Andy saw the importance to the community of having a centralized gathering place.
Renovations to the school are under way with new windows and a roof having recently been added by volunteers from March2Recovery. Bussey said people can donate money to help with the expenses. Those interested may mail checks to the Oregon Township Trustee, Tornado Fund, 14220 N. New Market Road, Marysville, IN, 47141.
“I promise everybody that gives a nickel that it’s going to go toward that community center,” he said.
Besides the memories of his good deeds, Andy is survived by his wife Carla, two children, two stepchildren, his parents and a sister. His also leaves behind a whole town that he had positively affected.
“If anyone deserves to be honored, it is Andy Helton,” Graham said. “He gave his life to helping others, that’s for sure.”