Story and photo by Kerry Phelps Dale

Helen Wiley laughs robustly and often because she sees the humor in most everything, and “it beats the alternative.”

Every year Helen and neighbors put on a yard sale featuring Mabel the Mannequin who stands in the corner of Helen’s living room next to the full-sized cutout of John Wayne she purchased as a Christmas present for her former husband. They make a striking couple, and John just might be asked to return for next year’s yard sale, “and occasional visitations with Mabel,” says Helen.

“She’s the star attraction,” says Helen of Mabel, who sometimes changes outfits and wigs during the yard sale just to appease her many fans. People come from Middleburg and beyond for the word of mouth and Facebook-advertised affair. All proceeds from Helen’s driveway go to Upperville’s Mount Pisgah building fund, one of her favorite community charities.

Helen’s sense of community is equal to her sense of humor. She’s been on the Warrenton Horse Show board for as long as she can remember and is serving her second term as president. Also on the board of Windy Hill
Foundation, Helen takes pride that Windy Hill mostly serves the Middleburg, The Plains and Marshall communities.

“Windy Hill is about locals,” says Helen of the foundation’s service in providing programs and affordable housing to the elderly and families.

Several times a year Helen helps fill food baskets for the Churches of Upperville Outreach, where she finds the fellowship of working alongside community folks to be fun and fulfilling.  “It’s one of my favorite things,” she says.

Helen has her long-term volunteer commitments, but she can be caught helping out all over the community in various ways. Over her lifetime in the Piedmont region of Virginia, from her childhood in Warrenton, to her married life in The Plains, to Middleburg where she has lived for 30 years, Helen has volunteered with Trinity Church, Hill School, local churches, and is there for family and friends whenever needed.

Her home’s walls are lined with countless framed photographs chronicling her full and eventful life. They predominately feature the faces of those she loves, from her grown daughters, Elizabeth and Sheila, and her grandchildren, Molly and Will, to her long-time friends. There’s a black and white photograph of Helen as a child sitting in a gigantic silver trophy bowl from Warrenton Horse Show and just a few feet away a reenactment in color of the same bowl brimming with her two young daughters. There are pictures of her late beloved Jack Russell, Thorn, and newer ones of her 3-year-old cherished Jack Russell, Holly. In these photos, Helen is surrounded by the then and now of a life well lived.

“I just love looking at these photos,” she says.

A smile spreads across her face and then rolls into a ripple of laughter: Helen, sharing what are perhaps her greatest contributions to her community. ML