Helen M. Santoni, a retired state government worker who had a great capacity for friendship and a love of travel, died of breast cancer Monday at Gilchrist Center in Towson. The Parkville resident was 94.
“I’ve known Helen for many years,” said Vera Signorelli, who lives in Oak Crest Village, in Parkville. “She was one in a million and had so many friends. She never complained because she was always concerned about everyone else.”
The former Helen Marie Greensfelder, daughter of Henry Greensfelder, a Bethlehem Steel Corp. steelworker, and his wife Katherine Ptak, a seamstress, was born in Baltimore and raised in Highlandtown.
She attended St. Brigid’s parochial school and was a 1945 graduate of Patterson High School, where she met a classmate, Henry A. Santoni, who would become her future husband.
“They met at Patterson High School and knew each other but didn’t date,” said her daughter, Jane Santoni, of Towson. “She was babysitting a cousin one day in Patterson Park when he came up and saw her sitting on a bench. So, they started dating and walked or took the streetcar to Hearts and Hatches dances and other dances. I always said Patterson Park played a role in my parents’ lives.”
The couple married in 1951 at the now-closed St. Brigid Roman Catholic Church in Canton. During the early years of her marriage, Mrs. Santoni worked as a secretary at the old Esso Oil Co. refinery in Canton, while helping her husband, a pharmacist, establish Sheldon Pharmacy on Belair Road in the city’s Parkside neighborhood.
“Back in those pre-Amazon days, when pharmacies made deliveries, that’s what she did,” her daughter said.
After her three children were grown, Mrs. Santoni began working for the state of Maryland in 1976, first in its unemployment division in Eastpoint, and later in budget and fiscal matters at State Center near the Fifth Regiment Armory in Baltimore. She retired in 1995.
She and her husband enjoyed traveling throughout North America and to Italy which were favorite destinations.
A longtime resident of Benton Heights Avenue in Gardenville, Mrs. Santoni was an active communicant of St. Anthony of Padua Roman Catholic Church, where she was involved with the parish’s community outreach ministries.
After her husband’s death in 1997, she relished her role of caring for her grandchildren and three sisters, Eileen Moulds, Pauline McCarn and Patricia Marek.
“She savored socializing with friends over a glass of ice white zinfandel, and delighted in staying out later than her grandchildren,” wrote a grandson, Matthew Kovalan-Santoni, of Pittsburgh, in a biographical profile of his grandmother.
“My husband Bill, and Henry and Helen, grew up in the old Italian neighborhood in Highlandtown, and they did lots of things together in those years,” recalled Mrs. Signorelli. “And after I married Bill, we all became real close friends, and went to a lot of parties and affairs together.”
The two women were drawn closer to each other through a shared tragedy: each lost a young son.
Mrs. Santoni’s son, Henry A. “Skip” Santoni Jr. was 9 years old when he was playing in the street one day in 1963 and “fell and hit a curb which resulted in a lacerated liver,” Ms. Santoni said.
“I lost a son and she had lost a son and that made us closer,” Mrs. Signorelli said. “And we shared a lot of lunches together over the years.”
Mrs. Signorelli, who had moved to Oak Crest Village, urged her friend to move there, and finally in 2019, Mrs. Santoni moved to the Parkville retirement community.
“She was such a very friendly and outgoing person, and once she moved to Oak Crest Village, she made even more friends,” Mrs. Signorelli said. “Everyone liked Helen.”
“My mother loved a good time and made friends wherever she went. She was warm and kind,” her daughter recalled. “She was interested in other people’s lives, and old people and young people liked her. She never lost a friend but just made more.”
A memorial Mass will be offered at 10 a.m. August 28 in the chapel at Oak Crest Village, 8820 Walther Blvd., Parkville.
In addition to her daughter, she is survived by two sons, Bruce Santoni of Westminster and Doug Santoni of Seattle, Washington; three other grandchildren; a great-grandson; and many nieces and nephews.