Helen Gaines Schiffhauer was born in Houston to Jack and Sarah Gaines. She died peacefully in her home July 5; she was 78.
She was part of that famous baby boom generation, and the oldest of six girls. Her novel-like Texas childhood during the rise of the oil industry took her family to West Texas’ Permian Basin. Her childhood consisted of piano and ballet lessons with softball thrown in for good measure, all the while surrounded by a myriad of family pets, dachshunds, canaries, and ducks to name a few. Though her family was a household of girls, there were many rough and tumble incidents in which Helen led the pack. While their mother was furiously baking cakes for different events, the girls traipsed off to the local cemetery climbing iron fences; a few stitches were required from that impaling adventure. Another time their mother looked up in horror to see one of her children’s legs dangling through the ceiling after a failed attic exploration, only spackle and a tape and float job were needed from that mishap. When Helen needed a break from the bustle of a large family, she could be found reading, a pastime she loved for a lifetime. If her younger siblings tried to disrupt her, she would promptly eject them from the playroom, like only a big sister could.
Her family would later return to Houston where she graduated from Spring Branch High School in 1962. She followed in her parent’s footsteps and attended Rice University. In the height of the 60s as the counterculture challenged the norms, Helen’s adventurous spirit took over, and she drove cross-country to California on the back of a motorcycle.
Upon her return to Houston, she met an art professor, Robert Schiffhauer. They married in 1967, and welcomed their daughter, Samantha, a couple years later. Befitting an artists’ manner, they traded paintings for the medical costs of her birth. They then moved to College Station, where Robert joined the TAMU faculty. Helen dabbled at conventional life, staying home caring for Samantha and welcomed her second child Lael into the world. She sewed clothes for the family, crafted Halloween costumes and Christmas decorations, and was an outstanding gardener and cook. In her spare time, she earned a degree in philosophy from Texas A&M in l976, one of the early female graduates. She gave her children the traditional 70s childhood. They ran amuck with neighborhood kids in the park across the street. Treetops explored, bike ramps built, holes dug in the hopes of reaching China on the other end of the Earth. But too, Helen was fiercely committed to their education. She went without material comforts so they could provide private schools for Sam and Lael. Of course, music and art lessons were required with softball and soccer thrown in for good measure. Other cultural experiences like Round Top Music Festival or hearing Jane Goodall speak were parts of their childhoods.
A conventional life couldn’t hold Helen, she would eventually return to Houston where she continued moving in the art scene while working in the legal field. Her homes were always filled with plants, artwork from some of the best in the region, eclectic furniture and beloved pets. She frequented River Oaks consignment shops, she had a great eye for quality furniture pieces. Later, after the passing of her parents, she returned to the Bryan/ College Station area to live closer to her grandchildren. She lived humbly and quietly finding the companionship of furry loved ones easier to manage than people at times.
Helen is preceded in death by her parents, Sarah and Jack Gaines. She is survived by her daughter, Samantha Krinhop and her three children, Zane, Vaughn and Grace; her son Lael Schiffhauer and his daughter Kaelyn; and Lael and Samantha’s father, Robert Schiffhauer. Additionally, she is survived by her sisters Laura Foster, Julia Persons and husband Richard, Mary Hysmith, Jackie Winters and husband Warren, Sarah Jane Gaines; and countless nieces, nephews and grand-nieces and nephews.
A private family service is planned. In lieu of flowers, the family requests that a donation be made in Helen’s memory to the Aggieland Humane Society.