Helen Ann Sorensen Brown
1930 - 2007
Helen Brown, a singer, pianist, organist, and clarinetist, taught in Seventh-day Adventist academies for thirty years before retiring to Ooltewah, Tennessee, where she served as pianist and choir director at a Presbyterian church for seven years. In addition to teaching keyboard and wind instrument lessons during her years as a music teacher, she directed band, choirs, and handbell ensembles.
Brown was born in Pelican Rapids, Minnesota, the youngest child of eleven born to Maurice and Petra Sorensen, who both had natural musical gifts. The father had played violin in Denmark before emigrating to the U.S., and although he had not brought his instrument with him, he enjoyed singing for his own pleasure in his new life in America.
The children all sang and learned to play instruments and participated in music ensembles at home and in school. At Christmas time the brothers would sing choir music they had learned in school as they and their father cleaned up following the holiday meal, while the women visited in the next room.
An older sister, Evelyn, later Lauritzen, gave Helen her first piano lessons. She proved to be an apt student with absolute pitch and the ability to remember a melody on one hearing and then improvise the accompaniment. She attended Sheyenne River Academy, where her sister Mae and her husband, Arnold Wallenkampf were teaching, before transferring to Maplewood Academy in Minnesota, where she graduated in 1948.
Helen enrolled at Union College in Lincoln, Nebraska, but then returned home in her first year to help care for her father. Earlier, while attending MWA, Helen had met Charles Arly Brown at a music festival at Oak Park Academy in 1947 during her junior year. A year later, when she arrived at UC, where he was beginning his second year at college, they renewed their friendship.
After helping her mother care for her father, Helen traveled to California, to attend La Sierra College, now University, for the spring semester of the 1949-50 school year. When she had left to help her mother, she and Charles had begun corresponding, and in the summer of 1950 as she returned to Minnesota, they became engaged and then married. They settled near Grand Rapids, Minnesota, where he worked in the iron mines until he was drafted into the army. Shortly after they were married, she was hired to teach in a nearby church school when their teacher left.
Following his discharge from the army in February 1952 because of a medical condition, the Browns returned to Minnesota, where he resumed work at the mines. She was hired that fall to teach at the church school on a permanent basis, a position she would hold for the next two years. In 1953, he enrolled in the agriculture program at the extension school of the University of Minnesota in Grand Rapids.
At the end of that year, Highland Academy in Tennessee hired him to manage their farm. During their two years at HA she taught piano and worked in the library. In 1956, they moved to Sheyenne Academy, where he managed the farm and she taught piano until March 1957, when they returned to Minnesota.
In 1959 they moved to California, where Charles entered La Sierra College, now University, and then completed a degree in agriculture in 1962. During his last year at LC, Helen taught piano and organ at San Pasqual Academy at Escondido. Following his graduation from LC, he was also hired by SPA .
In January 1965 the Browns moved to Angwin, where he taught in the agricultural program at Pacific Union College and she taught music in the grade school and then worked as the secretary in the music department at the college. In 1968 they returned to Minnesota to work at Maplewood Academy, he to be dean of boys and she to teach music. For the next two years she taught piano and organ and directed the band.
In 1970 they moved to Lincoln, Nebraska, where they stayed for two years before moving back to California. She taught piano and some drama classes at Rio Lindo Academy from 1973 to 1982 and, after a one-year stay at Laurelbrook School in Tennessee, where she served as girls' dean, she returned to RLA, where she taught until 1987.
In 1987 Valley Grande Academy in Texas invited Helen to teach music and Charles to be boys' dean. In the next three years, she revitalized the music program, teaching voice, piano, organ, and band instrument lessons and directed the band, choir, and handbell choir.
All through the years she had taken college music classes whenever possible. During her time at VGA she completed a degree at Southwestern Adventist College, now University, in home economics. Although she had been scheduled to get a degree in music and had taken enough credits to receive one, the college stopped awarding music degrees in the year she was scheduled to graduate.
In 1990 she accepted an offer to be the principal at a nearby junior academy that, although it had just completed construction of a new facility, was having difficulties in maintaining a viable enrollment. That summer, the Browns recruited so many students that when school began that fall the number of students had doubled, creating an overflow enrollment.
At the end of that school year, they were invited back to VGA, where she revived the music program, which had not done as well in the year after she had left. They stayed for four more years at the academy and then retired in 1995.
Following retirement, they moved to Tennessee, where they assisted for three years without pay in the program at Heritage Academy, a self-supporting school. They then moved to Ooltewah, Tennessee, where they were residing at the time of her death.
Sources: Interviews, Charles Brown, 29 July and 18 August 2009; Evelyn Sorensen Lauritzen, 28 July 2009; Obituary; IAMA enrollment form.