Petra (Wiegand) Heleniak, 70, died on September 12, 2017 at home in Dunellen, NJ surrounded by her family.
Petra was born in Dermbach, Thuringen (East Germany) to Walter and Else Wiegand. At the age of 5, she was smuggled to West Germany and grew up in the state of Hesse. After graduating from nursing school, she began working in a West Germany hospital where she met her husband, Edwin. After their marriage in 1969, they moved to his hometown of Dunellen where she lived for almost half a century.
In NJ, she worked on her English skills by watching soap operas such as General Hospital, passed the required GED and U.S. nursing boards, and worked as a Registered Nurse at Muhlenberg Hospital in Plainfield, NJ prior to the birth of her first child.
Petra was firstmost a mother. Although she worked for a few years as a part-time nurse at Raritan Valley Hospital in Green Brook, NJ and was the volunteer school nurse at St. John’s Parochial School in Dunellen, NJ, she became primarily a stay-at-home mom. She was the homeroom mom for at least one class for fourteen years, and volunteered in St. John’s School and Deutsche Sprachschule PTAs. “Mrs. H” also was a second mom to many of her children’s friends and classmates.
Scouting was an important part of her life. She was both a Girl Scout and Cub Scout Troop Leader. Petra was especially proud of her GS Senior Troop #469 who all received their Gold Scout Gold Awards, staying together even though the girls went to five different high schools. She made sure that her scouts understood the importance of volunteering, whether it was hosting monthly birthday parties at the Regional Center or assisting at Dunellen Recreation Department events.
Around the time her children left the nest, she started managing apartment buildings that were owned by the family, in addition to aiding in her husband’s private nutritional practice. A hands-on landlady, she was the proud owner of several power tools and knew the layout of her favorite hardware store by heart.
In 2004, she fulfilled a dream that she and her daughter had talked about for years: opening up a small gift shop, Heidi’s Cottage in the same location where her father-in-law ran the Dunellen Furniture Store. It was a way for her to not only use her crafting and design skills, but to share beauty with her community. Customers not only dropped in to see what was new but to chat.
Petra had a life well-lived. She was always on the look-out for everyday adventures, whether it was sleeping on the top of the Empire State Building with her Girl Scout troop (twice), winning hula hoop competitions, using the good linens and dishes on a regular weekday, hosting Austrian exchange students for several summers, or trying something marked “new and improved” at the ACME. Having already learned how to play the recorder, guitar and piano, she took cello lessons in her sixties. She also became an American citizen after years of government bureaucracy and lost paperwork.
During her five year journey with ovarian cancer, Petra continued to cherish the gift of a new day: trying new restaurants, traveling on both inaugural Raritan Valley “One Seat” trains direct to NYC, and even tried her hand at farming, renting chickens for a summer. She also spent as much time as possible making memories with her family and friends.
She leaves behind her favorite daughter Heidi and favorite son-in-law Glenn Donatiello of Dunellen; her favorite son David, favorite daughter-in-law Donna, and favorite grandson Jonah of Dunellen; favorite brother Rudi Wiegand of Germany; special friends MiRi Choe and Kay Yavorski; her “adopted” children, extended family, friends, customers, tenants, and the town of Dunellen. Petra was preceded in death by her husband, Edwin and her parents.
Viewing is on Friday, September 15 from 6pm to 8pm and on Saturday, September 16 from 9am to 10am at the Mundy Funeral Home, 142 Dunellen Avenue, Dunellen, NJ. Burial will be private. A Celebration of Life will be held at a future date.
In lieu of flowers, contributions can be made in her honor to the Friends of the Dunellen Public Library, 100 New Market Road, Dunellen, NJ 08812 or Steeplechase Cancer Center (https://www.rwjuh.edu/shcf/donate-now.aspx); although doing something nice for someone without wanting anything in return would be great too.