Dr. Geraldine Helton Personifies Women's History in Henry County

With February celebrating Black History, followed by this month’s Women’s History Month, there’s no better time to highlight the life of former Henry County educator, Dr. Geraldine Helton. She personifies these two national celebrations locally, as one who played a significant role in the history of Henry County, with ties to the Henry County Water Authority (HCWA) as well.

Dr. Helton, 92, is a Henry County native who lives in McDonough, but who also owns property in Locust Grove, where she grew up on her family’s farm located adjacent to where the HCWA Cubihatcha Outdoor Education Center now sits. She visited the Cubihatcha Center this past summer with her family – including children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren – for a family history day, where she could share stories from her past with the younger generations. 

During her family’s gathering at the Cubihatcha Center, Dr. Helton also reminisced with long-time friend Warren Holder, HCWA Board Member from District 1 (Locust Grove) where Cubihatcha is located, and the HCWA Cubihatcha Center staff about the history of the land where they work, which now serves as the Authority’s center for public education and outreach.

While visiting the Cubihatcha Center, Dr. Helton also reflected on how far her home county has come in terms of growth and development, as well as diversity, where more than 52% of its population is African American, with approximately the same percentage of women, according to the latest U.S. Census.

“When I was a child growing up, there were only dirt roads and no stop lights in Locust Grove,” recalls Dr. Helton. The growth she has witnessed in Henry County coincided with the growth of the Water Authority, as the path of Interstate 75 cut through 27 acres of her family’s property, around the same time the interchange at I-75 and Highway 155 facilitated construction of the first water lines within the HCWA system. 

Born in 1930, Dr. Helton is the youngest of the 11 children of John and Sheneal Walker. Two of her siblings died young, but the Walkers raised nine children on their family farm in Locust Grove. Dr. Helton learned the importance of education from her mother, who worked at the Locust Grove Institute – a local college that offered classes until its closing in 1929 – doing the laundry for students to earn enough money to send her own children to college.

Dr. Helton is a manifestation of her mother Sheneal Walker’s dream to put her kids through school, as Dr. Helton’s five degrees, including her doctorate, would attest. 

She and her late husband Robert Helton, who also was an educator for Henry County Schools in addition to being an elected member of the Henry County School Board, have three children.

Dr. Helton’s oldest, the late Dwight Helton, was the first African American student from Henry County to attend the U.S. Military Academy in West Point. Her daughter Jacques Helton Lee graduated from Simmons College in Boston and is a retired banker. And her youngest, daughter Alfreda Helton Robinson, was one of the earliest African American female students in the history of Georgia Tech, which had been an all-white, all-male school prior to her admittance.

Thanks to a strong work ethic that was instilled in her by her parents, Dr. Helton spent 40 years as a teacher and administrator for Henry County Schools, including 15 years in the classroom and as a librarian at Shoal Creek Elementary, which was an African American school prior to the choice integration of Henry County Schools. After teaching and overseeing the library at Shoal Creek, she joined the faculty at McDonough Primary School in the late 1960’s, where she was one of the first two African American teachers there, following integration. 

After teaching at McDonough Primary School, she became an administrator at the County Office of the Henry County Board of Education, where she served as the Curriculum Director for all Elementary Schools in the County, as well as the Director of Librarians for the entire Henry County School System. She retired from Henry County Schools in 1994.

“My parents were hard workers, and my father used to say that if you had a dime, you should only spend a nickel and save the other nickel,” says Dr. Helton. That frugality of John Walker resulted in him obtaining 500 acres of land, which allowed him to leave 50 acres to each child and his wife after his passing. Dr. Helton still oversees her 50 acres that back up to the Authority’s Cubihatcha Outdoor Education Center.

Some of her memories of growing up in Locust Grove in the early- to mid-20th Century included trips her family would take by wagon to Lester Mill, and how she knew where every local distillery was located along the way, since people made their own whiskey back then. Her family raised chickens, pigs, and cattle, while farming their land for all types of fruits and vegetables. The Walkers were completely self-sufficient, and Dr. Helton doesn’t recall anything they ate that wasn’t cultivated on their land. 

Among her list of chores as a child, Dr. Helton recalls sweeping – yes, sweeping – their front yard, which consisted of sand and Georgia clay. In her free time, she loved taking shortcuts and creating her own paths as a young girl to find places to play and fish, which foreshadowed her future as a trailblazer in education in Henry County. 

She recalls one of her favorite spots to fish was Long Branch Creek, which she visited often with her mother, who was an outstanding angler. That local fishing hole now forms one of the HCWA’s five drinking water reservoirs – Long Branch Reservoir, which is also referred to as the James H. Rowland Reservoir – located within the Cubihatcha Center footprint.

As a former educator and administrator for Henry County Schools, Dr. Helton was thrilled to hear of all the educational programs the HCWA hosts at its Cubihatcha Outdoor Education Center, such as the annual field trips in the Fall for every third grader (Cubihatcha Kids) in Henry County Schools, and the upcoming Kids Fishing Day, which is scheduled for June 10, 2023.

When asked what she thinks of the future of Henry County, including the HCWA Cubihatcha Center in Locust Gove, where she used to play and fish as a young girl, she thinks it’s bright, indeed.

“I think they (the HCWA) have done a marvelous job, and I hope they continue what they’re doing and even expand on it,” she says. “We have too many people who don’t appreciate Locust Grove, but Locust Grove is a wonderful place that’s home to me.”


Captions for photos (from top to bottom):


Dr. Geraldine Helton in front of the HCWA Long Branch Reservoir at the Cubihatcha Outdoor Education Center in Locust Grove, which is located just across from land she still owns that was handed down to her from her father.


Dr. Geraldine Helton’s family visit the property she still owns next to the HCWA Cubihatcha Outdoor Education Center in Locust Grove. Pictured are (left to right) granddaughter-in-law Tamika, son-in-law Sylvester, great grandchildren Shealee, Grady, Sylvester III, Savannah, Sarah, Santoine, and daughter Jacques.


HCWA District 1 Board Member Warren Holder (front right) interviews Dr. Geraldine Helton (front, left), with her family, about the history of the HCWA Cubihatcha Center, which is located where she grew up in Locust Grove and adjacent to property she still owns today.


HCWA District 1 Board Member Warren Holder (left) chats with long-time friend Dr. Geraldine Helton (right) at the HCWA Cubihatcha Outdoor Education Center, near where she grew up in Locust Grove.


Dr. Geraldine Helton (second from left) is pictured with her family at the HCWA Long Branch Reservoir, just across from where she grew up on land she still owns in Locust Grove, next to the HCWA Cubihatcha Outdoor Education Center. Her family with her during the site visit includes (left to right): son-in-law Sylvester Lee, great grandchildren Savannah, Sylvester III, Santoine, Shealee, Sarah, Grady, and daughter Jacques Helton Lee.


Media contact:      Chris Wood, Ph.D.

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