Meet the Board: Helga Thompson
Helga Thompson dedicated her career to educating children. Now, as an OPRI Board member, she dedicates time to protecting retirement benefits for teachers like herself.
Born in West Germany, Helga’s family immigrated to the U.S. when she was six years old. Helga describes her life growing up as calm and quiet, her father working in a saw mill while her mother stayed home. Their family melded American traditions into their life while keeping many German traditions, including speaking German at home. As children, they were encouraged to assimilate into the American culture.
When she began school, she knew no English. In fact, Helga said she owes her love of teaching to her first-grade teacher, who helped her immensely.
“She was the most wonderful woman,” Helga recalled. “She taught me how to read before I knew what the words meant.”
Helga went on to become a middle school math and science. She spent most of her 35-year career in the Salem-Keizer School District, and continued as a substitute teacher for another five years. She especially enjoyed teaching algebra and showing her students how it was used in daily life.
“My goal was always to show the kids the practical end of things, how they could use it and how it affected them.”
Along with teaching students, Helga also worked with the Ames Education Foundation doing workshops for teachers all over the country, helping build science curriculum. She also received her administration certificate degree, but she chose to stay in the classroom until she retired in 2005.
“As a lifelong teacher, it was the best job in the world,” she said. “It’s the most rewarding thing anybody can do.” Now, she gets to enjoy catching up with former students on Facebook.
Helga joined the OPRI Board in 2015, when she realized that she could help protect what people have worked for. She sees the strength of the organization that they can combine efforts with other groups to make a more powerful voice.
“I decided, if I’m not going to help protect my own retirement, I shouldn’t depend on other people. And this way I can help some of my colleagues, and help protect what we’ve worked for for so long. Every retiree should belong to a PERS group like OPRI to stay on top of things.”
Helga is now enjoying her retirement. She loves to spend time with her grandkids, bake, cook, and continuing to add to her cookbook collection (she has 2,500 volumes). She also loves to travel on cruises with her husband, Jim. Together, they have taken trips through the Panama Canal, eastern Caribbean, and Alaska. She and Jim celebrated their 52nd wedding anniversary this year. They have two children and five grandchildren.