Powerful faith turns tragedy into grace


SCAPPOOSE – Jeff and Bev Heller are active members of St. Wenceslaus Parish here. They provided immense support and overcame great challenges.

Bev was born in Woodburn and lived there during her high school education. Jeff was born in Scapoose and moved to St. Helens, where he attended high school. They met at the University of Portland in 1978, Bev graduating with a nursing degree and Jeff graduating from high school. Jeff attended UP on a basketball scholarship, playing every four years.

The couple dated for several years and married in 1983.

Jeff was not raised a Catholic. He discovered the Catholic faith through Bev and learned it from the pragmatic Msgr. Frank Campbell.

Jeff calls his entry into the church “the best decision I have ever made.”

They attended the parish of Madeleine in northeast Portland, where Mgr. Campbell was a pastor, but then decided to look for parishes closer to his home. They found St. Wenceslas and quickly decided that was the right solution for them.

“What attracted me was all the social activities, like the turkey dinner,” Bev said.

Jeff explained that he liked the involvement of young people in the parish. The Heller children all participated, some as altar servers and all in religious education.

Jeff and Bev are deeply involved to this day. Bev is a reader and extraordinary minister of holy communion. She served on the parish finance council for 20 years. Jeff is a usher and a host.

For the annual St. Wenceslas turkey dinner, they had a hard and important job: making gravy. No one else wanted the arduous task.

One of the Hellers’ greatest contributions to St. Wenceslas was the construction of the parish hall. Lumberjack and carpenter, Jeff provided the room with its parquet. Bev helped select the paint and was a great help with the purchase of tables and chairs.

The Hellers’ oldest son, David, was a starting basketball playmaker and a 4.0 student at Central Catholic High School. In 2005, at the age of 17, he died in his sleep of an enlarged heart.

It was a difficult time for the Heller family and also for the parish. The parishioners were unusually close to David, who knew theology better than most adults.

Jeff and Bev both said their faith was stronger because of the tragedy. They also said that the community of St. Wenceslas was particularly supportive and helped them through this difficult time. Jeff noted that for several months after David’s death, parishioners provided free hot meals to the family.

After the death of their son, Jeff and Bev established the David Heller Foundation. The organization is dedicated to helping pay for heart tests for teens, especially student athletes. The Hellers are also working to secure defibrillators for local high schools. Over the years, the couple have donated numerous defibrillators and provided key assistance to cardiac screening organizations. They also offer a scholarship in honor of David to students of St. Wenceslas Parish.

The Hellers host an annual dinner and auction, the proceeds of which support the foundation.

It’s rare to find people as dedicated and loyal as the Hellers. Their faith withstood even in the midst of trials and inspired them to help many other people. They continue to shine as vibrant examples of the love of Christ, and their generosity to all who need their help shines the most.

Louie is a member of St. Wenceslaus Parish and a student at Valley Catholic School in Beaverton.

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