Each adult student throughout the history of UW-Green Bay’s Adult Degree Program has a story of challenges and successes that is uniquely their own. However, very few of these stories are as well-chronicled as that of Nadine “Dene” Hellman, class of ’93. Hellman, now 86 years old, lives in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. She is the author of four books, including two collections of poetry written with her daughter, Annie O’Dell.
Dene was born in 1929 and grew up in Baxter, Iowa, the daughter of a painter and a schoolteacher – two professions that would impact the rest of her life. From a very early point in her life Dene knew that she wanted to write, feeding off the inspiration of female World War II correspondents in hopes of studying journalism. However, her more traditional parents had other plans, wishing than she would, instead, complete her two-year teaching certification at Iowa State Teachers’ College (now the University of Northern Iowa) in Cedar Falls, IA. She did complete the certification program and married (the last woman in her graduating class to do so) a school teacher at 21 years of age. This marriage lasted until 1965 and in 1967 she married Werner Hellman, a Holocaust survivor. This marriage, which lasted until Werner’s death in 2001, showed to her the depths of her own strength and courage.
One example of that strength came after the couple moved to Baraboo, WI where Werner accepted a job as an engineer working on the Duncan Yo-Yo. In the fall of 1982 Dene opened the local newspaper and saw an ad promoting UW-Green Bay’s Extended Degree Program, a degree program for adult learners who wanted to complete a bachelor’s degree. Dene contacted the university immediately and started taking Saturday classes in the spring of 1983.
During Dene’s second semester at UW-Green Bay she took a course from Dr. Peter Kellogg, Associate Professor Emeritus of Humanistic Studies and longtime instructor in the Adult Degree Program. She wrote a paper for that class which greatly impressed Dr. Kellogg, causing him to encourage her to “turn this paper into a book.” Years later, with the encouragement of Dr. Kellogg and with the stories of her husband’s tragic experience in Nazi-controlled Germany and his life thereafter, this paper written at UW-Green Bay became the inspiration for her book, The People Under the House: A Case of Survival. Dene graduated from UW-Green Bay in May, 1993 with a Bachelor of Arts in General Studies with an Emphasis in the Social Sciences. Dene was 63 years old.
In addition to her writing, Dene spent years as an activist with the women’s rights movement in America. For several years she chaired a Coalition on the Status of Women, one of the earliest groups to address women’s problems in rural areas. (www.denehellman.com.)
Dene is still in touch with the University. Her books, The People Under the House: A Case of Survival and The Ninety-Ninth Reunion (both printed by Second Wind Publishing) are available from the UW-Green Bay Cofrin Library. To learn more about Dene and her amazing life or to purchase her books, please visit her website.