On December 7, 1928, God sent one of his most radiant angels to grace our world with her warmth and loving light. On October 22nd, 2020, over nine glorious decades later, Helen Genetos Bass returned at last to the divine embrace. She was, and remains, a saint among us.
For her family, who meant everything to Helen, the shock has been intense. It’s taken us a year to write this tribute. Words will never encompass the infinite scope of her soul, of her impact on the lives of so many. But here are a few...
Matriarch. Professor. Crossword Puzzler. Mathematician. Eternal Optimist.
Feisty. Sweet. Commanding. Patient. Nurturing. Mischievous. Generous. Independent. Strong.
Helen grew up in New Haven, Connecticut as part of the Greek community. Her father, George Genetos, was a founding member of St. Barbara’s Greek Orthodox Church, and he and Helen’s birth mother, Maria Theosoglou, raised their children while running a popular hamburger and sandwich shop in Fair Haven called Grand Spa, complete with home-churned ice cream (maple pecan was her favorite flavor). Some of Helen’s earliest memories involve counting change for customers at the age of three and helping her parents hand out food from their store to struggling community members during the Depression. When her mother Maria passed away unexpectedly from pneumonia, Helen was just two and went to live with her Aunt Bessie in Cleveland, then came home again to a wonderful step-mother, Sophia Arapidou.
Helen’s keen mind made a strong impression on the teacher of her one-room classroom that covered several grades. One day, the teacher turned to find little Helen completing work from the grades above her. They promptly skipped her ahead two grades. She entered Russell Sage college at 16 and excelled in mathematics and engineering. During that time, she also met Renssalaer student Chester Franklin Bass, who would become her husband. The two married in 1949 and had their son, Frank. They then went on to jointly enroll in a doctoral program at Columbia University’s Teachers College, where they both earned EdDs. Helen gave birth to two more beautiful children, Mary and Ellen and soon joined the workforce at General Electric, one of the few women on staff. She helped to calculate the heat flux on missiles, a rocket scientist decades ahead of the curve.
Helen’s passion for teaching led her to Southern Connecticut State University, where she was a professor in the Mathematics Department for over forty years and served as its chair and dean for several years. During summers, she often taught at the Yale School of Management. She authored calculus, trigonometry, and algebra textbooks and trained several generations of future math teachers. She also taught math to non-majors and empowered those who felt insecure about the subject. She believed there was no such thing as a bad learner, just a teacher who needed to find another way to reach that learner. She was incredibly patient and never gave up on a student, always encouraging and adapting her own methods to make sure everyone in class understood a given topic. She cherished the numerous letters of heartfelt thanks she received over the decades for the way her courses changed their lives.
A lifelong learner herself, Helen devoured nonfiction books as well as mysteries, thrillers, and whatever anyone else in her family happened to be reading. She never missed an episode of Wheel of Fortune (and you’d better have that remote ready when Wheel-o’clock rolled around!), and she juggled a few TV ‘boyfriends’ throughout the years (including Peter Jennings and Matlock). This definitely confused (and entertained) the younger kids in the family. Some of us loved staying up late and watching Murder, She Wrote with Yias well past bedtime.
Helen traveled extensively with her family and often reminisced about summers spent in Kennebunk Port and Cape Cod. She infused curiosity for the world into the many generations who followed her example of how to be a resilient, optimistic, and compassionate person. As part of her saintly nature, she raised not only her own three children, but her daughters’ children as well. When Mary went to medical school at Cornell, Helen stayed in Connecticut to take care of grandchildren Sophia and Harry. After they left the nest, she lived with her daughter Ellen and son-in-law Dante and became a central figure in their home and to their four daughters, Georgia, Madeline, Samantha, and Maille. Even after retiring from teaching, she never stopped helping the kids with their homework.
As Yias encouraged all of us to fly out of the nest and set out on our own big adventures, she made sure we knew she was always just a call or text away. In her later years, she kept up with the latest technology so that she could keep up with all of us. Whether it was her novel-length text message updates or a simple Bitmoji saying “Missing you” or “Can’t wait to see you soon,” Yias’s love could be felt from any corner of the world we happened to be in. It was clear she treasured these conversations, as we often caught her reading back over them when she was missing us. Nowadays, when missing her, we read back over those same conversations. And even when we weren’t texting or calling, Yias kept watch over her flock in learning how to use the Life360 app.
It was truly a privilege to be a part of Yias’s tribe and to be embraced by her love. In everything she did she thought of others, and she knew so well how to make her loved ones feel seen, heard, and known. She showed us this love even in the smallest of gestures. She would spend at least an hour or two every afternoon preparing for her grandchildren to return home, laying out snacks and getting pads of paper ready for homework help. She would take note of our favorite treat of the week, and you would come home the next day to find that she had bought 10 bags of it just for you. She spent hours on the phone with each of us everyday, catching up, asking about our lives, helping us solve our problems, and supporting our dreams.
She was our Rock of Gibraltar. The center of our universe. We chose to orbit around her, but she always reminded us that we were our own stars, on our own dance with gravity. Without a doubt, Helen (known to many of us as Yias) was our greatest teacher in everything, from math, to how to make a good pancake, to always keeping a sweater in the car. Even through her passing, she taught us how to live a good life and how to walk gracefully back to the eternal source.
Helen is laid to rest beside her brother, Steve, her stepmother Sophia, her birth mother Maria, her sister Claire, her father George, her cousin Clara, her aunt Alexandra, and her Uncle Evdos. She is survived by her children and their spouses, (Frank and Judy Bass, Mary Bass and Khalid Khan, Ellen and Dante Pappano) as well as her grandchildren (Laura, Sophia, Steven, Harry, Georgia, Maddie, Boots, Maille), her great-grandson Miles, and her cousin Debbie Zaharides.
We love you, Yias. We’ll always be connected through the ether.
There will be a one-year memorial service to Helen at St. Barbara’s Greek Orthodox Church on Sunday, October 24th, 2021. Family, friends, former students, and any community members who want to pay their respects are most welcome to do so. There will be a brief service at Beaverdale Cemetery at 1 pm following the church coffee hour.
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