Home     About Alumni   .   History of Pioneer Week    .   Contact us 


NELL41.JPG (45859 bytes)



Pioneer Week Gazette May 1980 (published by Graphic Fox)

Mary Helen Casamajor was the Little Nell in 1941. One of the more popular of Chico State's long succession of Little Nells. It was, in fact, her immense popularity that exploded into one of the more memorable episodes of her colorful lifetime.

It seems that some time back-when the West itself was just emerging from adolescence and Pioneer Day was still in its infancy-the heart and core of the event was a tradition. The "bad guys" must kidnap Little Nell and hold her hostage while the sheriff and his posse combed the countryside to execute a heroically righteous rescue in the nick of parade time.

But those days had fallen into limbo-had, that is, until a select group of Mary Helen (then) Erwin's best friends and admirers put their heads together over a soda at Price's Confectionery and gleefully resurrected the tradition.

In Mary Helen's own words:

"It was Thursday. two days before the parade.. I was at home getting ready for a field trip, when these four characters (referring to Ray Lobdell. Bob-now Judge-Carter. Jerrv Maddux and Bill Norlie) burst in and grabbed me. Of course my mother made a big show of protesting (it added to the excitement) but they hustled me into a car and drove north up the valley to Shasta Darn.

It was part of the fun that Little Nell should try to escape. And it happened that the girl on the Information Desk at the dam was a former Chico Stater.

l wanted to get word to my Sheriff (Herman Kostiz. now a retired Industrial Arts teacher living in Dunsmuir). but I didn't dare tell her and I didn’t have anything to write on so I could slip her a note. I made a pretense of going to the bathroom and wrote a message on a paper towel, but the boys were 'way ahead of me. They intercepted the note and the girl at the desk never did know what was going on.

To foil any possibility that Pd left other messages (I hadn’t). they drove south again this time down the West Side of the valley. Ray came back into Chico to find out what was happening and returned to report that the whole campus •was in an uproar- everybody cutting classes to take part in an all-out Nell hunt.

The boys drove up to a big brick farmhouse out on the River Road and asked these perfect strangers if we could come in and listen to the radio and-this is a commentary on the way Chico was-the people opened the door and invited us in without question. -There was a campus radio reporter who had an evening program, and almost the whole time was filled with news of the big hunt. The peop1~ in the house never caught on that. we were the target of the uproar.

When evening came they drove back to Orland and we spent the night with an aunt of Jerry Maddux. I had a part in the Pioneer Day show and I missed the dress rehearsal.

The next morning they brought me back to Chico-and this was the part I didn't enjoy- they tied me up and left me in an abandoned farm shed on Liberty Lane. A •mysterious somebody' tipped the sheriff where I could be found and Kostiz and Don Bevins came and 'rescued' me.

Another characteristic of the 'chivalry' of that era-the boys had me leave the belt to my dress with Jerry's aunt. A week later she brought it over from Orland and presented it to President Aymer J. Hamilton as proof that she'd 'chaperoned' our overnight stay and everything had been all proper and respectable."

Mary Helen recalls other memories of that Pioneer Day.

Little Nell 'by tradition rode side-saddle in the parade. It was the first time I had ever ridden that way and I didn't feel too secure. Immediately behind the Sheriff and me was the Sheriff's Posse and-a new addition that year-a group of Girl Rangers. They were shooting blanks and at every shot my horse would shy. I didn’t think I could make it through the whole parade route without sliding out of the saddle, but by holding on tight with both hands, I managed to stay a-board.

"In those days there was always a melodrama just before the parade. That year's production reflected the black clouds of World War 11 that were gathering over Chico's horizon. That year Little Nell had to marry the villain (played by Jack Taylor) because the hero (the Sheriff) got drafted."

Because of these and other fondly intimate memories of Chico State. Mary Helen was a natural to return to campus in 1967 to work with the Alumni Office.

In 1970-71. during the administration of the late President Lew D. Oliver, she was promoted to Director of Alumni Relations.

In her capacity as Alumni Director she has been the campus liaison person between administration, the alumni and the students. As such she, has, since 1970, represented the alumni on the Bell Memorial Student Union Board; administered the Alumni Student Emergency 'Loan Fund, and has been the instigating force behind numerous Alumni Association projects that have benefited the Union, academic units, student employment and other special student and campus events.

As one who is well known, well beloved and respected by students, staff and thousands of alumni, her unanimous election to Marshal by the student Pioneer Day committee is a well-deserved tribute to a grand lady who still retains the joyously adventurous heart of a Little Nell.

(Mary Helen passed away Feb 19, 2006 in Chico)