(Photo) Grandniece Rebekah Ashton with Helene Suydam.
by Sharon Snyder
Los Alamos Historical Society
Helene Suydam, one of our revered residents, enjoyed a very special milestone this
past week. On August 25, she turned 100 years old! Helene celebrated the day with
a small party hosted by her niece Sarah Ashton and grandniece Rebekah Ashton.
Family members traveled from as far away as North Carolina and Washington to
be here for the celebration and join a few of Helene’s friends on the patio at
Helene has lived in Los Alamos for 72 years, but as it is for most Los Alamos
people, life began elsewhere. She was born in 1919 in Philadelphia, PA. Her
college years were spent at Swarthmore, where she earned a degree in
mathematics. After college, she took a job at Dahlgren, the Naval Proving Grounds
in Virginia, and worked on the Norden bombsight. Dahlgren was also where she
and her future husband, Bergen “Jerry” Suydam, came to know Norris Bradbury,
who eventually brought the couple to Los Alamos in 1947.
“We came in ’47,” Helene noted in an interview for the Voices of the Manhattan
Project. She spoke of the trip to Los Alamos, and particularly remembered the last
night on the road before they reached their destination. “The last night we spent in
Raton,” she said, and because the town was overflowing with people attending the
horse races there, she and Jerry stayed in a small room over the town’s drug store!
“The next morning, we drove to Santa Fe, checked in with Dorothy McKibbin, and
then came on up to the Hill.” They stayed in the Big House until they were
assigned a place in the just-being-developed Western Area.
Helene continued, “I asked my husband to find out what colors they were painting
the inside of the house. Well it turned out they were painting the walls cream and
the trim green, which to me did not appeal whatsoever.” Jerry went back and
suggested that they paint the trim cream, too. “Architects should hire women when
they start doing the interior designs!” she added.
The Suydams stayed in the Western Area house until being assigned to the
Oppenheimer house. Understanding the historic importance of the house they were
occupying, she and Jerry made an effort to keep it as close to the way it was when
the Oppenheimers lived there, limiting renovations or changes through the years.
History owes them a debt of thanks! In the mid 1960s, the Suydams bought
Oppenheimer house when they were give the opportunity. In 2003, the couple
signed a living trust agreement with the Los Alamos Historical Society, giving title
to the Society with the stipulation that the couple could live there as long as they
Through the years many friends have passed through the doors of the Oppenheimer
house, a structure that dates back to the Los Alamos Ranch School days. Among
the good memories for Helene are afternoons playing bridge or enjoying the
company of her friends Betty Lilienthal, Jean Potter, Pat Metropolis, and Carol
Stein in a game of poker or visits from neighbors. Helene was also active in her
community and a steadfast volunteer for the Los Alamos Historical Society.
Quoted material is printed with gratitude and permission from the Atomic Heritage
Foundation and the Voices of the Manhattan Project.
These articles are written by the Los Alamos Historical Society Staff. Many of these articles were originally published by the