This Alumna was in a League of Her Own

An AAGPBL baseball card featuring Helen
An AAGPBL baseball card featuring Helen

When Helen Hannah Campbell graduated from the Executive Secretarial program at Woodbury in 1934, it took her only two years instead of the usual four to complete the program. It might have had something to do with her desire to do so many other things because this alumna lived a life filled with service and adventure.

Born in Salt Lake City, Utah in 1915, Helen’s father, James “Truck” Hannah, was a professional baseball player who spent years toiling away in the minor leagues. The high point of Tuck’s career was a three-year stint with the New York Yankees—including spending the 1920 season with the Bronx Bombers, playing alongside Babe Ruth.

Prior to her time at Woodbury, Helen attended Whittier High School in Whittier, CA where she was classmates with future president Richard Nixon. Following her two-year stint at Woodbury, in the midst of World War II, Helen enlisted in the Marine Corp Reserves — reportedly the first female from the Los Angeles region to join the Marine Corp — and saw active duty stateside during the war. She remained in the service for 32 years, retiring as a gunnery sergeant in 1975.

Truck’s career as a baseball player likely imparted an interest for Helen in the game as well and in the late 1940s she became a part of the All American Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL) which had been established in 1943 by Chicago Cubs owner Philip K. Wrigley. The league served as the inspiration for the 1992 film “A League of Their Own” and Hannah joined the newly formed “Lassies,” who were based in Muskegon, Michigan, at spring training in Cuba in 1947.

Helen was the Lassies “chaperon” and her role was to keep a close eye on the players — females were held to a much stricter standard than their male counterparts.

“As chaperons, we became surrogate mothers,” Helen said in a 2004 interview. “I arranged their housing, uniforms, got their paychecks and arranged buses. But they accepted me more like a buddy.” One of the Lassies former players, Shirley Burkovich, had a slightly different view of Helen’s role on the team. She told the Los Angeles Times that Helen was a disciplinarian. “She put the clamps on you if you didn’t follow the rules,” Burkovich said.

Helen stayed with the Lassies for five years and, in 1951, she was called to active duty during the Korean War. She remained involved with the AAGPBL, however, even after it folded in the 1950s, attending reunions and helping to unveil an exhibit about the league at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY.

Helen also helped to form the Women Marines Association and served as the organization’s president in the 1960s. She passed away in 2013 at the age of 97 and was laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery.

(The cover image is Helen, at the far right, with some of the Lassies players. Courtesy of the National Baseball Hall of Fame Library)
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