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Joel Sayre
November 19, 1956
A California baker with an Olympian's heart devotes time and money to honoring—and enshrining—athletes of all nations, races and creeds
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November 19, 1956

Mr. Helms's Happy Hobby

A California baker with an Olympian's heart devotes time and money to honoring—and enshrining—athletes of all nations, races and creeds

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Every four years in this country there is a feverish, last-minute scramble to raise enough money to send our Olympic team overseas. A region that always oversubscribes its quota is southern California. There are two reasons for this. One is that southern Californians consider track and field a major spectator sport. The other is the Helms Foundation, which in 1952 raised $75,000 for the Olympic Fund and this time more than $100,000.

The Helms Athletic Foundation, of 8760 Venice Boulevard, Los Angeles 34, is an establishment unique in the closely allied worlds of sports and public relations. Founded as a nonprofit institution in 1936 by a millionaire baker named Paul Hoy Helms, it could have happened nowhere but southern California.

Its prestige and influence extend to the earth's far places. The late Sir Frank Beaurepaire of Australia, the only swimming champion ever to be knighted, once presented the foundation with a large black opal. Through its overseas representatives, the foundation in the past has been able to contact and accolade such remote heroes as Emmanuel Ifeajuna, a high jump phenomenon of Nigeria, and Jos� Telles da Con�eicao, Brazil's 200-meter flash. Last year its managing director flew to the Red Sea port of Jedda and presented King Saud with a handsome cup mounted on a marble base in appreciation of His Majesty's encouragement of sports among Saudi Arabian youth.

The foundation has struck off replicas of Olympic Games medals (one for a second prize in literature) to replace those lost by their winners during the bombings of Germany. It took the King and Queen of Greece to see American football and did its best to explain the intricacies. When Jim Thorpe, "the world's greatest athlete," died destitute in California, it not only arranged his funeral but aided his widow with funds. Every year the foundation picks its own All-American Basketball Team and helps put on the Los Angeles Coliseum Relays, which generally draws gates close to 60,000.

More than 100,000 visitors annually tour the foundation's headquarters in Helms Hall, a good-looking, two-story building in Los Angeles' Culver City section, not far from the movie studios there. Gene Tunney, in town on a tight schedule, thought he might be able to fit the hall in with 10 minutes; after he arrived, he canceled an important lunch date to stay most of the afternoon and ended up by sending the foundation his world heavyweight championship belt.

The foundation possesses a sports library of about 7,500 volumes, ranging from A Dissertation on the Olympick Games by Gilbert West ( London, 1766) to the latest works published in the U.S. on just about any phase of American or international sport you'd care to name. To mention only a few items on the Helms shelves: a complete set of that irresistible sporting and dramatic weekly the New York Clipper (1853-1924); Mary K. Browne's wonderful collection of tennis photographs; all of Barney Oldfield's personal scrap-books from the time he was persuaded by Henry Ford to give up bicycle racing and drive Henry's hurtling, tiller-steered chariot, "999"; a treasury of press clippings, lovingly collated in 17 volumes, that record the unstable career of Lightweight Champion Battling Nelson, including that stifling night before the Dempsey-Willard fight in 1919 when the Battler stripped to his underwear and took a cool-off swim in a concessionaire's tank of lemonade.

The library's facilities are available to any sports historian or researcher. Lately they were used by an eastern scholar busy with a monograph on World Hammer Throwing Since 1900. Horse racing is the one branch of sport the library is not fat in: it keeps current tabs only on the meetings at Santa Anita and Hollywood Park. Nonetheless, a quartet of researchers once spent nearly a month in the stacks devising an unbeatable horseplaying system. They have not been heard from since.

Recently the foundation entered the fields of sports historiography and publishing, bringing out two delightful reprint booklets, The American Game of Football and College Boat Racing (both appeared originally as magazine articles in 1887), and is now engaged in writing treatises on The Mile Run and Sports Trophies. These four booklets are the first of a projected series. Like everything else the foundation produces or is concerned with, they will be distributed gratis.

In addition, the foundation maintains a sports question-answering service and tries its best to answer any question not obviously idiotic, such as "Who will win the Rose Bowl game this season?" Most of the reasonable questions submitted give the foundation staffers little trouble, and some of them are a downright cinch.

For instance, take a question like: "What was the highest score ever run up in intercollegiate football, and who made the longest drop kick?" The staffer assigned to this query needn't even crack a book. All he has to do is stroll down the hall to the foundation's sports museum, find the proper display case and make notes from the ball Georgia Tech used in 1916 to beat Cumberland, a Tennessee university specializing in law, 222-0—with the game shortened by 15 minutes. ("In 1900," the staffer might add in his answering letter, "Dickinson beat the Haverford Grammar School 227-0, but this can scarcely be reckoned an intercollegiate contest.") Nearby in the same case are the shoes worn by Mark Payne of Dakota Wesleyan when in 1915 he drop-kicked one against Aberdeen Normal for his 63-yard record.

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