Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

My classmate, Marlene, dies in a New Ulm house fire February 16, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 11:08 AM

Marlene (Schmidt) Gulden, senior class yearbook photo, Wabasso High School Class of 1974.

WHEN I HEARD of a house fire in New Ulm that claimed two lives Valentine’s Day evening, I considered for a fleeting moment that the victims might be known to me. My mom has lots of cousins living in the area. But, New Ulm is a fair-sized community, so what were the chances?

That all changed Monday evening, when I opened an e-mail from my Wabasso High School classmate, Sue. She delivered the news that our classmate, Marlene (Schmidt) Gulden, and Marlene’s husband, David, perished in the fire.

Although I have not kept in touch with or seen Marlene in some three decades, the news still hit me hard. I expect that classmates will die perhaps of a heart attack, cancer or motor vehicle accident. But a fire? No.

According to information published in The New Ulm Journal, the Guldens were pulled from their smoke-filled home and given CPR, but later died at the New Ulm hospital. The news story continues to explain how firefighters were hampered in their efforts when a second fire truck, and then snowplows, became stuck in the couple’s long, narrow, snow-filled driveway.

Truly, the deaths of Marlene and David are a tragic loss not only to their families and friends, but to the New Ulm community.

And within the community of Wabasso High School, Class of 1974, Marlene’s death, especially, has left us with aching hearts. In a class of 89 students, you know each other pretty well.

While Marlene wasn’t in my circle of closest high school friends, I certainly considered her a friend. Really, we were all friends.

When I think about Marlene, I remember her physical beauty—she had lovely straight hair that framed a beautiful face. She always looked nice.

But mostly, I remember her quiet inner beauty. And her kindness, yes, her kindness.

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


6 Responses to “My classmate, Marlene, dies in a New Ulm house fire”

  1. Kristin Says:

    It’s always a shock to find out about the passing of someone you once knew, especially in a sudden, meaningless death. I’m sorry to hear of Marlene’s passing.

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Thank you for your kind words. A tragic death is always especially difficult to handle. My sympathies go out to the families of Marlene and David Gulden.

      • Greg Budig Says:

        A couple years after I graduated from high school in Morris, MN, one of our classmates was killed in an accident on a western North Dakota oil rig…it was so soon after graduation it really hit a lot of people hard. Now as we reach our 30 year reunion this summer, I think of a couple more classmates who have died over the years.

        It’s nothing new to lose track of the people who we shared so much of our early lives with, I guess that’s the sad part of growing up and moving on.

        Over the last year or so, I’ve been able to reconnect through Facebook with a number of old MHS class of 80 folks, has been a nice experience, I feel like we are having a reunion on the internet.

        Thanks Audrey for a beautifully written tribute to your friend, hopefully we can all take the time to remember who we were and the friends we had.

      • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

        Greg, your comment was right on target in so many ways. Although I may have lost touch with Marlene since our graduation, she was part of my formative teen years. When I attended my 35-year Wabasso High School reunion this past summer, I really felt a strong bond that transcends time and distance.

        In 35, now nearly 36, years, we’ve lost only two classmates, which is actually quite amazing. Yet, two is two too many because hearts are aching. These losses are especially deeply felt in small classes like mine at Wabasso and yours at Morris.

        Thanks so much for taking the time to share your thoughts, Greg. I appreciate your insights as someone who, like me, grew up on the Minnesota prairie.

  2. Rachel Marks Says:

    I just stumbled upon this while googling the horrifying incident that happened almost a year ago. I am Marlene’s youngest daughter, and it meant a lot to me to see this. She was so beautiful and kind…This really touched me. Thank you.

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Dearest, Rachel,

      I cannot begin to imagine the pain of losing your mother so tragically in that horrible house fire one year ago on Valentine’s Day.

      If my words of remembrance have given you even the smallest bit of comfort, then I am thankful.

      The Wabasso High School class of 1974 will always remember your mom as kind and sweet and beautiful.
      Please know that we are thinking of her, and of you, her family, on this one-year anniversary.

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