The late Helen Haskell Remien inspired many in our community and beyond to greater creativity, boldness, and optimism, to claim their talents and live more fully. In 2007, this grew into her opening Joy Center, expanding the depth and reach of her impact.
Helen described Joy Center as “a charming cottage in the woods in Ishpeming that’s a creative sanctuary for people in our area and elsewhere to come and play and dream and expand…. a beautiful place where you can connect with your biggest, highest part, and also connect with the community.”
As Helen explained, “I had a seed of a dream in me thirty years ago. At that time I was wondering if I wanted to be part of the academic world, in an institution, and teach writing, or part of a place in the community where things like writing workshops could be held in which everyone could be included. I wrote in my journals in the early 90s that there should be a place in the community where we can drum and sing, and dance, and have writing workshops, and events like ones I loved when I went to Omega Institute and Kripalu, and that I would love to be a part of something like that.
“About twenty years ago, I began encouraging people to find their own creative paths.
Then in the spring of 2007, I started to feel dissatisfaction…. It was no longer enough to teach writing in my house and yoga in the basement of my husband’s dental office.”
“When I built Joy Center, I kept expanding my mind—‘This will be a place where I will teach yoga, writing, creative workshops. And people can offer other creative things. It will extend our home in some way when our kids come back to visit….’ I realized, ‘Oh, my gosh! There are so many awesome dreams people are having in the community!’ And at that point there weren’t the places available now offering yoga and energy work and so on.”
“For example, Amber Edmondson and Raja Howe knew they were poets, but didn’t know they were book binders yet. They sold a book at Out Loud, our open mike night, then began offering book-making workshops at Joy Center. Now they have their own shop. Kerry Yost had never sung in public until one night at Out Loud, and she just blew everyone away.”
“Early on, Joy Center took on its own life to be a safe place where people could take a seed of a dream, like I did, and allow it to blossom.
Sometimes their offering has stayed at Joy Center, and sometimes it flourishes far beyond. And I get to play with people that way, and be the person who holds the space and is a cheerleader for people’s dreams.”
“I think people feel something when they walk into the physical building because it’s really welcoming and beautiful…. People feel safe to really be brave and find parts of themselves they haven’t felt before, or to love themselves more deeply than they’ve loved themselves before. Joy Center was built with a really positive, high vibration…. It was such fun working with a young man who put his heart and soul into it…. We really co-created together, him doing the actual work, and me doing the dreaming.” (1)
Helen’s dreaming supported some as-yet-unknown dreams of others. Singer/songwriter Kerry Yost explains, “She made you feel like what you were doing was important and worth sharing, and created a space for it to become important and worth sharing through her support and encouragement and also through the community she built at Joy Center. She gathered all these people who wanted to create meaning in their lives, and gave them a space and encouragement to do that.”
“As a bigger-than-life kind of person, she had that level of impact in everything she did—within the writer community, yoga community, artist community.
Even though she had such a far reach, Helen still made me feel like that reach went directly to me specifically. I think she had that effect on many people.”
Her biggest impact on me was with my music through her encouragement and sometimes outright loving pressure to make something of what I was doing. Most of my music is just in my house for me. Helen would say, ‘Kerry, so when are you coming to Out Loud to play music next? Here’s the calendar, pick a day when you’re going to have your show at Joy Center.’ I’d be like, ‘I don’t know, Helen. Nobody needs to hear that.’ Next time I’d see her, she’d say ‘Okay it’s January; what day do you want to do that?’ and I’d turn her down again. This went on for a solid three months.
Helen could have kept what she built for herself, but instead she used her resources and energy to build Joy Center for others to utilize. She was also like, ‘And it’s for me too!’ I love that she was so real about it, unabashedly so! She took her dream and made that same dream accessible to others and encouraged them to do it because she had the privilege to do that for herself.
I remember going to Joy Center and hearing Christine Saari read excerpts of her work and being completely entranced by the stories of her childhood. I got to hear Keith Glendon play ukulele in front of people for the first time. She created space for people both physically and in a very deeply spiritual way.
Helen really did see and want to help people where she could.
She invited me to be the Joy Center gardener, even though I knew nothing about doing that, back when I was a broke part-time social worker, part-time musician. I always felt very cared for by Helen. She’s so special to me, and everyone, for good reason.”
Keith Glendon recalls, “I found Joy Center when there was a lot of chaos in my life. And in finding it, I also found the heartful community that I didn’t have here even though I’d moved back to my hometown—people like Kerry Yost, Matt Maki, Christine Saari, and all these folks that would turn up at Out Loud and nourish a part of me that had been put away for a long time. That really began the rebirth of my creative self, my authentic self, my healing self, my musical self. Joy Center was a great place of friendship, safety, respite, and renewal.
“I’d been about to go back to school for my MBA, but I didn’t really want to. I was just searching for something. I went to a grueling three-hour session of a 12-week GMAT prep course and thought, ‘What am I doing?’ I went to Out Loud that Thursday and discovered Matt Maki was starting an Artist’s Way class. I thought, ‘I could do this thing I don’t bleeping care about, or I could do this class with this weird dude who’s a poet. Why would I condemn myself to a future in what I don’t want to be doing?’”
“My experiences at Joy Center also began to influence my children with both poetry and music. Now I have a teenage daughter who’s very adept at busking and singing and art-making.”
“Helen even inspired a big project of mine.
During one of her monologues at Out Loud, she said, ‘It feels so much gooder when I’m able to step into my bigness.’ I said, ‘Hold on—can I use that?’ And that became the title of Gooder with Bigness, a Shel-Silverstein-meets-Dr.-Seuss kind of book I’m creating with Hancock artist Katie Jo Cudie.”
“Joy Center literally changed the course of my life. It resuscitated an essential me that had not had nearly enough nourishment and exposure and attention.”
Ishpeming resident Cece Korpi’s time with Helen at Joy Center led to a turning point in her life too. She explains, “A friend recommended her yoga class. When I found out it was an hour-and-a-half, I said, ‘I cannot do a class that long, but I’ll give it a try.’ Helen welcomed me with open arms. When the first class was finished, I felt like—“What?! I don’t’ want to go home. I just want to stay here!”’
Helen loved life and people, and shared her joy every day.
At the end of yoga class she would say, ‘All is well,’ and I would think ‘You do not know my life!’ But I took more classes and I learned all is well in this moment.
Helen was so accepting of everybody. By spending time with her and going to a lot of Joy Center offerings, I became more accepting of myself and others. Her joy and compassion were contagious. I came out of my shell and became more confident.”
Like Helen herself, though Joy Center is no longer with us physically, its spirit continues to inspire. Keith Glendon describes a “Joy Center Junior” shed in his backyard where the adults can do art and music. In the spirit of Out Loud, Keith is working with Marquette’s Unitarian Universalist Church leaders to offer Music & Myth Monday, where youth can play music live, or music they like, or read mythology they’ve enjoyed that has spiritual meaning.
UP Poet Laureate Marty Achatz continues the Out Loud tradition each third Thursday on Zoom. All are welcome to join in, whether as listeners or by taking a turn on the Zoom “stage.” You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org for info.
You can also dip into Helen and Joy Center’s creativity and beauty through Undone with Wonder, a poetry collection Helen had been working on now painstakingly published by poet friends Gala Malherbe, Marty Achatz, and Ron Ferguson, with an inviting cover photo of Joy Center’s entryway by wellness consultant and former Joy Center manager Pam Roose, and a warm introduction to Helen by local author B.G. Bradley. Copies are available at the Marquette Regional History Center gift shop and Blackbird Boutique in Marquette. All profits go to the Peter White Public Library.
Ideas are also percolating for a Joy Festival later this year. See the Summer 2023 issue of Health & Happiness UP Magazine for more info.
1 Health & Happiness U.P. Magazine, Spring 2020 issue, copyright 2020.
Excerpted from the Spring 2023 issue of Health & Happiness U.P. Magazine. Copyright 2023, Empowering Lightworks, LLC. All rights reserved.