Alumnus Gary Helm ('70) writes about time as a student at Bethel
by Bethel University
Most authors will admit that even their more fantastical works of fiction were influenced by life experiences. This is also true for Bethel College alumnus and author Gary Helm (‘70). Taking inspiration from many different areas of his adventurous life, including his time at Bethel, has helped him write numerous books, anthologies, short stories, and poetry.
“Basically everything I write is the story of me; even the science fiction has a lot of me in it,” said Helm.
Many years after his time at Bethel, Helm wrote two fictional retellings of his time as a student in the late 1960’s at a small, church-related school in Tennessee. In Serpent and Doves and its sequel …Sufficient…, his protagonist deals with issues and experiences that many college students face, while watching and experiencing historical events unfolding across the country.
Originally from California, Helm, and his protagonist Stephen Mitchell, entered higher education at a tumultuous time in United States history. College students were starting to express their beliefs and opinions on topics such as the Civil Rights Movement and the Vietnam War. Helm was able to use his first-hand account to comment on this distinct time in history, allowing those who also had these experiences to reminisce, and others to learn what it meant to be a college student at a private school in the South.
During his time as a student at Bethel College, Helm was heavily involved in the Baptist Student Union and worked in the library and as a dishwasher in the kitchen. Helm states that he washed every one of his peer’s dishes at one time or another. While he claimed to not be a traditionally “good student” he has spent the majority of his life using reading as a way of continuing his education.
A few years after his graduation, his wife enlisted in the United States Air Force, starting their adventurous life living in many different places across the world including Spain, Germany, and Italy. Helm spent his days continuing his writings while taking care of the house and children during a time when society traditionally dictated that as the wife’s role. What was originally named the Wives’ Club of the United States Air Force is now known as the Spouses’ Club largely due to Helm’s involvement during their various placements at bases overseas.
“There are so many incidental things that happen [during our lives] because of how we were so opposite,” Helm explained.
During a particularly long temporary duty while the family was stationed in Venice, Helm was inspired by his wife’s separation from him and their children, as well as the people he met during that time, to write another novel called Sometimes in Dreams. He considers this book in the tragic romance genre, which is outside of his typical writing style.
Several of his writings deal with science fiction themes including The Design, Other Doors, and World Without End. He related heavily to authors such as Isaac Asimov and Ray Bradbury, both of whom he has met, in both writing themes and educational styles. While Bradbury visited Lancaster, California to conduct a seminar, Helm was able to have him sign the one volume of poetry that Bradbury ever published. Helm’s copy, a present from his uncle, has traveled the world with him during his many life adventures. “It’s really precious to me. I’ve carried it so much that it’s a rag now.”
Helm and his wife settled in Lancaster after her retirement from the Air Force, but that did not stop their adventurous lifestyle. Using long road trips as their way to explore new places, the Helm family has trekked across the country and into bordering countries many times for the sake of adventure. Recently, they made their way back to Tennessee for Bethel’s 2022 Homecoming celebration, starting at the beginning of the month so they could visit with friends and take in the sights. “I just got a huge road atlas for our wedding anniversary in preparation for our trip,” he said.
The Bethel University library currently houses copies of each of his books, under the name G. Lloyd Helm, with his two newest ones added during his visit in October for Homecoming. When asked about his plans for the future, he stated that he sees no end in sight for his writing, and plans to continue to enjoy his wife’s military retirement with many more adventures to come.
Bethel University was founded in 1842 and is one of the oldest higher education institutions in Tennessee. Offering over 35 different degrees in person on the main campus located in Mckenzie, and numerous certificate, associate, bachelor, and master degree programs online, Bethel offers something for those in each stage of life.
For more information about the University, visit bethelu.edu or call 844-BETHEL-1.