The Seaside Museum and Historical Society devoted much of its latest newsletter to honoring Helen Gaston for her many years of devotion to the museum. Gaston died Nov. 9. At a 2016 museum event, a proclamation was presented to Gaston by Mayor Don Larson on behalf of the city for her preservation efforts and presentation of local history. As a museum board member, Gaston served on the board for 27 years, writing grants to obtain funding, researching, planning and designing many of the museum’s exhibits.
Helen Christobel was born on July 17, 1931, in northern Wisconsin, in Rhinelander, a town of about 7000 that was involved in the logging industry. Helen was a twin sister, and one of several siblings. After growing up, she moved to Astoria during or soon after World War II where she met Robert Gaston.
They eventually married and settled down in Seaside, buying a house on Avenue S four blocks from the Prom. They raised three children, Nannette, Renee, and Robert, spending a short period of time in Eugene where Robert picked up his teaching credentials.
Back in Seaside, they ultimately traded residences with Robert’s mother and moved to that more spacious house along the Prom. With the kids raised and after Robert’s passing, Helen sold the Prom house and built a beautiful new home in the hills east of Seaside, well above even the worst tsunami, something she always worried about.
Helen had various interests, which included many volunteer positions as well as paid positions throughout her life. Change seems to be the constant.
She worked at CITA in Astoria for several years helping special needs adults obtain employment. Near the end of her life, she was still helping less fortunate people find work in the area.
Helen volunteered at church, as well as for the Girl Scouts and Brownies, and was on the boards of museums in Seaside and Clatsop County. She spearheaded the conservation and relocation of the Butterfield Cottage from near Broadway and Columbia to its present site at the Seaside Museum, escaping imminent demolition.
She was deeply involved with Camp Kiwanalong; also forest conservation along the lower Youngs River, particularly with a large tract that she and Robert had purchased decades earlier, conveying it to the North Coast Land Conservancy about 10 years ago. She helped set up and lay out the Neawanna Natural History Center at the north end of town. She managed the books for the Seaside Native American Project and was a driving force. She served on the Seaside Planning Commission from 1977 to 1987 and was its chair from 1979 to 1981. She also served on the Seaside City Council and on the Miss Oregon Pageant steering committee.
Helen was an avid reader and an expert in genealogy and several history subjects. She wrote grants, organized volunteers, and, if necessary, stood in the rain and wind for hours boiling sea water for its salt for living history programs. She wrote a highly regarded teaching curriculum on native peoples of the north Oregon Coast, laying the groundwork for students to know their cultural history better. More than once, she dispatched fellow board members into the forests to obtain sheets of suitable old-growth cedar bark, so she could process it into cloth, ropes, and hats, of the type used by the Clatsop people.
Helen adored people and welcomed strangers. When she was at home with her small children, she hosted foreign exchange students and traveling high school bands. She welcomed people that stopped by her house on the Prom to fill their canteens with water.
After putting on both of her daughters’ dream weddings, Helen helped with friends’ weddings, which eventually turned into a wedding and catering business. She was at one time referred to as the “Martha Stewart of Seaside.”
Her curiosity about others later turned into Gaston’s Beachside Bed and Breakfast, known for its hearty breakfasts and dining room view of the ocean, an idea that had yet to catch on with the larger motels and restaurants. It was recognized by the prestigious Northwest Best Places. She learned and mastered the art of French cooking before it became popular, hosted many events, and could build gorgeous bouquets from just about anything.
Later in life, she was able to travel to many different countries to satisfy her interests, visiting Spain, Italy, the Baltics, New Zealand, and Australia, plus family in Germany and friends in Holland.
She loved decorating and entertaining and did so even up into her 80s with the help of friends and family. Just before her passing, she was busy decorating her apartment in the retirement home with her daughters for the Christmas holiday.