Birth Date

08/28/1919

Death Date

06/15/2009

Chapter


Bibliographical Information

Helen Geankoplis Boosalis was born in 1919 to Greek immigrant parents in Minneapolis, Minnesota. After graduating from the University of Minnesota, where she was a member of Zeta Eta Chapter, Helen married World War II veteran and fellow UMN alum Michael Boosalis. Their daughter, Mary Beth, was born three years later in 1948 and the family moved to Lincoln, Nebraska in 1951.

It was in Lincoln that Helen's interest in politics began. Working as a volunteer for the League of Women Voters in the 1950s, Helen helped to spearhead support for a "strong mayor" form of government in the city. This volunteer work proved to be a springboard to a career in politics. In 1959, in an upset victory over the incumbent, Helen was elected to the Lincoln City Council. She would be reelected to the City Council three times, serving until 1975. That year, Helen beat another incumbent to become Lincoln's first female mayor, a position she would hold until 1983. A highly visible mayor, Helen often actively engaged with the community and encouraged citizen involvement in government. She was not one to let others have their way without a fight, however, often facing off against the male-dominated business community that had previously been accustomed to getting what it wanted from city hall. Before she finished her tenure as Mayor, Helen served as the first female President of the U.S. Conference of Mayors from 1981-82.

After serving as Mayor, Helen was appointed Director of the Nebraska Department of Aging in then-Governor Bob Kerrey's cabinet. She served in this position for three years until, in 1986, she announced her candidacy for Governor of Nebraska. In the Democratic primary, Helen carried 77 of Nebraska's 93 counties and won the primary with 43.8% of the votes. She would lose the general election, however, to the Republican candidate, State Treasurer Kay A. Orr. The race received national attention as it was the first state gubernatorial race in U.S. history where the candidates for both major national parties were women. In an interview six months after losing the race, Helen was quoted as saying "I want to help encourage people to go beyond what they think they're capable of doing. [...] You can accomplish what you didn't dream was possible. Take a little risk. Be prepared. Set your goals high."

After her gubernatorial defeat in 1986, Helen remained an active member and leader in national and state organizations focusing on issues as diverse as historic preservation, consumer advocacy, and Arbor Day. Most notably, she served as the Chairwoman of the Board of Directors for the American Association of Retired Persons from 1996-98. Helen died, at the age of 89, from a brain tumor in 2009.


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