She has more children than any other woman in Catoosa, and she didn’t give birth to any of them. But make no mistake, they are all hers. Some of them call her regularly, and she has all their grade school class photos. Forty years worth of photos.

Helen Paul, aged 94 and going strong, pulled a stack of class photos out of a manila envelope. Her hands show the wear of time, but do not shake as she points to first one face and then another.

“That was a real sweet boy,” she said, and pointed to a face in the group. She could pick out face after face, after face, and recall her children, her students, her lifetime investment in the youth of Catoosa.

Helen was born Helen Hathaway Hamilton, on Oct. 26, 1912. She was the second of four children that included older brother, Paul, and younger siblings, Jim and Virginia. Virginia, now Virginia Snelling currently lives in Claremore.

Born on a farm on the outskirts of Catoosa, Helen grew up in the area, except for a year of early childhood when her family moved to Missouri. When she was born, her parents were farmers. Her earliest school memories are of riding behind her brother on a pony to the country school they attended.

“All you went to town for was salt, sugar and kerosene,” she said. Catoosa consisted of five two-story buildings at that time. “We went to town in a buggy.”

Helen remembers the Catoosa stores as well built buildings. “A man came with tools in a freight car, and he built them then added brick and stone,” she said, remembering sadly that years later many of them burned down. Mail came to the grocery store and during her childhood the first rural mail carrier started delivering to her home. Helen was about 4 at the time, and very mad at the carrier when he didn’t have any mail for the family on his first day of delivery.

Later, the Hamiltons moved into town and Helen walked to school. Miss Collier was her favorite teacher, but she liked all of her teachers. “I thought all my teachers were special,” she said.

The school was a two-story brick building. There were two grades per room and big sliding dividers that could be moved back to turn the rooms into a single large auditorium where they had pie suppers and other events.

“We had a real nice school building,” she said.

When Helen was 8 or 9 years old, she remembers a tragedy of four or five people getting shot in a Catoosa restaurant.

“Things like that didn’t happen here,” she said. “It was very sad.”

Most of Helen’s memories are good ones, though. Like in 1927-28, the year she and brother Paul and then boyfriend Johnny “Ray” Paul were friends with Gene Autry.

Autry was boarding with Ray Paul’s parents and the group became friends.

“We had parties on Friday nights,” Helen remembered.

“He’d come and play and we’d party, usually at our house. My mother liked to know where we were.”

Helen attended Catoosa School through high school, graduating in 1930. There were three in her graduating class, which included Elizabeth Foutz and Jack Holly. With 35 college hours, she started teaching at a country school house in the area. When the school was closed and the students moved into the school in town, she didn’t have enough hours to teach and had to return to college.

“It took me 10 years to get [my college degree], but I got it,” she said. She graduated from Northeastern State Teachers‚ College in Tahlequah as it was named at the time, in 1940. After teaching for a year at Verdigris, she moved on to Catoosa. Though she taught fourth grade that first year in Catoosa, the rest of her years there were spent as a second grade teacher.

“I had 50 students in one of my second grade classes,” she said. “Teachers now would die.”

In 1939 she married Ray Paul. They shared 61 years together as a married couple before he passed away in 2000.

“I wouldn’t have thought I could go on after that, but I did,” she said.

Helen’s many nieces and nephews are a comfort to her, as are her former students.

“I did not have a single problem with any of those children,” she said. “They were all little, smart children, well-behaved with mamas at home when they got home and Daddy on the way.”

She knows that life is different now and teachers deal with new problems and challenges.

Teaching was a chosen lifetime career for Helen. “I never woke up and didn’t want to go to work that day.”

Helen regrets that she didn’t write down the stories of the cute things her kids said and did. She recalled a little boy saying that he didn’t know what litter was until he got in second grade, and the time when a boy had to go home because his mother couldn’t get the car started and he had to start it for her.

In 1964, Helen retired from teaching. “I said, that’s enough,” she said.

Helen’s legacy lives on through the many children she loved and nurtured over the years, and through the Helen Paul Learning Center, an early education school Catoosa named in her honor. A 4-year-old great niece also bears her name.