There’s a very real spiritual center at Burbank First United Methodist Church. It’s heard in the voices of the world-class choir, and it’s felt in the neighborly brunch that follows the Sunday service.
There’s also a unique community center to the church family, and she sits at the edge of a pew.
Here is Helen von Seggern, hair swept up into a tasteful bun, brass buttons shining on her emerald coat. She’s been at the church longer than anyone — including herself — can remember. Some know her as the church preschool teacher of more than 40 years, others call her a fellow world traveler or a Sunday service faithful.
To everyone, she’s just Helen, and she’s the center of the little world of the church.
“To have somebody like Helen, she helps that (mission) as a community church,” said Tim Wells, the lay leader at Burbank First United Methodist.
At the church’s after-service brunch, she’s surrounded by friends. Many come to wish her well and say happy birthday — this month she turned 100, and the church is going to throw her a third birthday party in a few weeks. That’s after her parties with family in Utah and Big Bear.
She throws the conversation right back to them, telling one young man she’s expecting to see the photos of his recent wedding. Another man comes over to wish her well, and she wants nothing more than to give him a review of the music at the service.
“I thought it really fit the season. Gosh, that was good,” she says while patting his hand.
Von Seggern’s review means something. She still serves on the church’s music committee and gives a monthly report to church leadership.
“When I first came here five years ago, I would get return emails from her that said ‘Sent from my iPad,” said Senior Pastor Wayne Walters. “That blew me away.”
Her computer, von Seggern says, keeps her connected to the Burbank Library and the Joslyn Center. It helps her stay in touch with friends all over the world — many of whom she’d met on church trips to Jordan, Rome, Jerusalem and Russia.
She says there is no secret to a long life, save one mantra: “Always have something to look forward to.” When asked about a “bucket list” von Seggern says she knows what she does not want to try: Skiing.
Instead, she is content filling her calendar with long, daily walks and exercise classes at the YMCA a few times a week. It seems she’s always been one to fill her days with work.
Von Seggern and her husband moved from Escondido at a time when Lockheed was expanding and housing was hard to find in Burbank. A friend had just put her house on the market, and the von Seggerns were among the first to know. They moved into the Angeleno home shortly after.
While raising her children, von Seggern began teaching classes at the Burbank Adult School, retiring after 43 years in 2003. During that time, she also taught preschool at Burbank First United Methodist.
Some of her former students and their parents were gathered in the church social hall Sunday. Each had a different story to tell, and a different topic von Seggern wanted to know about.
“You look back and think: Everybody adds something to your life. You’re blessed you had that gift. I consider every day a gift and I’m glad I can do so good with that,” she said.