Helen Stahl: the woman Jerry 'The King' Lawler admires

Published: May. 11, 2016 at 7:53 PM CDT|Updated: May. 18, 2017 at 12:29 AM CDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn
The sign on The Hardeman County Arts Council that Helen Stahl created (SOURCE: WMC Action News 5)
The sign on The Hardeman County Arts Council that Helen Stahl created (SOURCE: WMC Action News 5)

HORNSBY, TN (WMC) - As thousands of WWE wrestling fans cheer him, line up for autographs, and admire him, Jerry 'The King' Lawler will be quick to point to the name of the art teacher he credits with playing a key role in him being right where he is today.

In fact, Lawler celebrated his 40 year anniversary in the wrestling business in 2015 by releasing a documentary series titled "It's Good to be the King, The Jerry Lawler Story," and one retired Memphis teacher was a 'must include' in Lawler's mind.

"The people at WWE told me that I could have anybody I wanted to on the video, and the first person I thought of was Helen," Lawler told The Bolivar Bulletin-Times in an interview in June 2015.

Helen Stahl was Lawler's art teacher at Treadwell High School. It was there that Stahl saw his artistic potential and ability, and where she made the move that could have potentially changed Lawler's course of his life.

Stahl submitted Lawler's art portfolio to what was then Memphis State University, without Lawler's knowledge. The teenager was soon awarded a full-tuition commercial art scholarship to MSU, as well as a college deferment from the military draft to Vietnam.

Lawler credits that decision by Stahl to changing his life.

However, making a difference was not confined to the walls of the classroom for Stahl.

One of Stahl's other former students became the Memphis Fire Department director. While he was Fire Department Director, Charles Smith was searching for a way to raise money to create a fire museum. The fire department needed money for a feasibility study, and Smith turned to his former art teacher.

Stahl agreed to help, and she painted a print that included her father, who was a retired Memphis firefighter, in the picture to be sold as a fundraiser. The portrait raised $48,000, enough for the feasibility study. Smith credits Stahl with making the fire museum a reality. It was a reality that opened its doors in 1998, thanks in part to Stahl's painting.

"They named a fire truck after her as a way to thank her," friend Charlotte Sipes said. "At the time, she was the only woman to have been honored in that way from what I am told."

Stahl taught at Treadwell from 1951 to 1981 and then retired, but her retirement didn't stop her. She continued giving back until her death on Sunday at the age of 86.

Upon learning of her death, Lawler tweeted his thoughts and a picture of him and the lady he admired and loved.

Stahl retired to a farm in Hornsby, Tennessee, in Hardeman County, where she continued to paint, give back, and touch lives.

One of Stahl's most notable and visable works is the sign outside her beloved Hardeman County Arts Council, displayed prominently on Highway 64.

"She painted it, she cut it, she did everything but hang it I think," Sipes said.

Sipes, who works with the Hardeman County Arts Council, has seen the endless efforts - many unseen by most people - that Stahl put in to the Arts Council.

"She made most of the things for Hee-Haw, the cow for the stage, most all of it," Sipes said.

The Hee-Haw show is the most popular show of the year at the Arts Council, which is also a fundraiser for the American Cancer Society.

Stahl graduated from South Side High School and majored in industrial arts at Memphis State in the early 1950s. She later attended the Memphis Academy of Arts and received a masters degree in arts from Ole Miss.

Her career included commercial art, consultant to advertising agencies, in addition to her teaching. She received numerous national, regional, and local awards. She was featured in several publications and was an Honoree at the West Tennessee Regional Art Center in 2009 and honored as a Memphis Master Artist in 2013.

Her watercolors depict a wide range of subject matter, mostly of rustic faces of a slowly fading Southern era, Civil War events, local landmarks, and everyday happenings.

In addition to being a talented artist, Stahl built bridges, fences, gates, tables, chairs, operated a chainsaw, and split wood. She loved to work on cars and restored a Model T Ford, a 1978 Corvette, and a 1973 MG convertible. She also built a six foot Grandfather clock and hand painting the lettering and numerals so they looked like the original manufactured one.  She even restored a piano and installed the strings.

"There's so many things we still don't know about her because she was a very humble person," Sipes said. "She was always so free in giving of her talent and her time."

Copyright 2016 WMC Action News 5. All rights reserved.