Helen Louise Boka 1920-2003

Helen Louise Boka, my grandmother on my father’s side, was born in Spring Hill or Ward, West Virginia on December 9th, 1920.  Her parents were Joseph and Julianna Boka and they resided in or near Ward, West Virginia, an unincorporated coal mining town in Kanawha County, for most of Helen’s childhood.

I haven’t been able to locate Helen’s birth record so far, but then I haven’t looked for it since about 1995.  It’s one of those many little things I want to take another run at someday when there’s time but haven’t gotten around to doing.  Helen was born to Hungarian immigrants.  She was the youngest of 9 according to family tradition.  I haven’t documented all of her siblings, another one of those little details I haven’t explored.

I remember her telling me she was often ridiculed because of the Hungarian ancestry and she would refuse to speak to her mother in any language but English when they were out in public.  She laughed at that in telling it to me but I can only imagine what that must have been like back then.  I’m sure that didn’t go over well with her mother, likely not with some of her older siblings either. My dad has even mentioned being taunted, teased and called “Hunky” throughout his childhood because of my grandmother’s Hungarian heritage.

I don’t remember much about Helen’s childhood if she told me anything else.  The story for me unfolds in the records I’ve been able to find and the little bits of information mentioned by family members.  Sometime later, I assume after Helen married my grandfather, Virgil Floyd Rider, on July 13, 1937, her parents moved to Cleveland, Ohio.  I’ll share more of their story in their own profile pieces.  I’m posting about each of my ancestors, one at a time, in order to share their history and hopefully find other distant family members.  I guess this is in lieu of the traditional family bible charts.

As I get older, I admire the strength my grandmother must have had to keep from losing her sanity.  From my perspective, it is just heartbreaking what she went through over the years and now that I’m an adult I imagine she had the same high hopes and dreams in her youth that most of us do and things certainly didn’t turn out the way she must have imagined.

On September 4th, 1938 she gave birth to her first daughter, Norma Jeanne Rider.  On May 6th, 1940 a second child was born,

Helen seated with daughter Claudetta on her lap and Norma Jean beside her. Sometime in the 40’s.

Claudetta Joyce Rider.  There’s some dispute where the next daughter, Velva, fits in but family resources say Velva Lee Rider was born April 24, 1941. My father Dallas, aunt Cheryl, aunt Debra, uncle Floyd and uncle Jerold all followed later on at reasonable increments. Roschella Fern Rider was born January 25th, 1951 (ironically, this is also my mother’s birthday – the month and day, not the year).

The four girls whose birth dates I’ve shared here have all passed away, each of them before they reached adulthood, two of them didn’t even see their teens.  Norma Jeanne died in a terrible accident in 1950 when she was just 10 years old.  I’ll share the details about her later on in a separate post devoted just to her. Velva Lee died at the age of four months of “milk poisoning”. A copy of her death certificate as well as some of the other people mentioned here can be found in the Rider surname folder.  The link is at the bottom of this post. Velva’s death certificate gives her name as Belva Lee.  Everyone I ever heard pronounce her name gave it as Velva and for a long time I thought they were saying Velvet, including my grandmother, so I’m guessing it was just recorded wrong on the death certificate.

Claudetta and Fern both died of cancer, and both were young adults. Claudetta died in 1961 at 21 and Fern died in 1968 at 17.  In between, my grandfather, Virgil, died of cancer in April of 1967.  By the time my grandmother was about 47 years old she’d buried 4 of her girls and her husband.  I can’t quite grasp how hard that must have been and I know when I was growing up I never really appreciated the depth of the losses she, my grandfather and aunts and uncles experienced over the years.  By the time I was old enough to start hearing of these things they had happened years in the past and most of the family would easily recite the facts about them.  Since I didn’t see the grief first hand it was easy to repeat these details as just historical facts and not really understand the emotional side of it.

It was when I had my own children that I really appreciated just how hard my grandmother’s life had been. She lived all of her adult life in the same house. The one my grandfather built for her on a piece of Rider family land handed down to him from my great grandfather.  All those many years she stayed there, until the time came in the late 1990’s when she had to move in with my aunt, having grown too frail to take care of herself.  Leading up to that move my uncle Jerold and his wife Gloria did a lot toward helping her stay in her home as long as she could.  They lived just below her, on the same piece of family land and could keep tabs on her.

Somewhere around here I have a few snapshots of what my dad calls the old home place.  The house where my grandmother lived and the place where my father was born. Or, at least my father says he was born there. Something of a prankster now and then, he used to tell me all the time when I was small that he could remember seeing the wallpaper in the bedroom as soon as he was born. Here and there he varied the tale by saying there were cracks in the walls and he could see through those to the outside.  He had a good laugh at me buying that story and it’s many variations for years until I got old enough to see that it was a joke.  When I dig those photos of the house out of their hidey hole I’ll scan them and write a brief post about it. The house is gone now, destroyed in a fire sometime after my grandmother died.

Growing up, my cousins and I spent a lot of time at my grandmother’s house.  Every holiday it was the custom for the whole family to gather there for big meals.  My dad had moved from West Virginia to Ohio before I was born, so every 3 day weekend he got we all headed back to West Virginia. A good bit of my childhood was spent there so it is as much a part of my growing up as my actual hometown. Because I wasn’t there fulltime, I don’t have quite the detail some others in my family could likely share.

During those visits to my grandmother’s house she was often telling stories of seeing ghosts in addition to talking about her younger days.  I couldn’t get enough of those and used to pester all of my aunts and uncles as well as my grandmother to tell the ghost stories.  I still love to hear anyone tell ghost stories, only the variety that are alleged to be true though.  I don’t know what I really think about them but it doesn’t matter, I still like hearing them.  I also enjoy hearing stories, over and over, about how life was before I was born.  Whether it is directly connected to my family or not doesn’t matter.  I see the same trait in my children.  They’ve started requesting the same stories over and over again, just the same way I did (and sometimes still do).

My grandmother Helen died in 2003 at the age of 82. By then she was living in a nursing home since her health finally got so bad she needed more care than family members could manage at home.

I’m sure I’ll come back to this article from time to time to revise a few details, add a little more information and just generally try to further round out her story.  There are a lot of details I just don’t have at the moment that should be here too so I’ll be making a point to collect them and get them out here.  In the meantime, the photos and records associated with Helen and all of my Rider ancestry are being scanned and stored online so that any who visit here can see them.  Just check out my genealogy file box and browse to your heart’s content. You will want to check back from time to time, there is a lot to share and it will take some time to get it all out here.

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  1. Jaclyn

    Hi Lisa,

    Just found your page! We’re cousins! My great-grandmother was Helen’s sister Esther Boka via her son Louis Mayer. I’m just finding out more about this line of my family, and I should find out LOTS more at Christmas when I meet up with my aunts and uncles; they just found many photos and records in storage.

    I’m excited to read more about your family memories. Feel free to contact me on Facebook (Jaclyn Wagner in Pawling, NY), via email, or via Ancestry.com (jaclynkwagner)… I’ve got lots of documents posted. 🙂


    • Lisa

      I’ll be in touch soon, Jaclyn, just now getting back to working on my blog (plus we’ve since connected on Facebook) – work has had me so busy the past year or so that my hobbies have had to take a back seat so I haven’t been out here to my blog 🙂


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