Donald Ricky “Rick” Helms, age 67, of 206 South Elm Street in Cherryville, North Carolina, formerly of Charlotte, peacefully departed this world on Tuesday, February 18, 2020. Born May 31, 1952 in Monroe, Union County, North Carolina, he was the son of the late Arthur Edgar Helms and Ruth Lougene Cody Helms.
Raised in Cherryville, Rick attended the public schools there and graduated from Cherryville High School (CHS) in June of 1970. Throughout his school years he participated in, and often led drama, art and musical groups and organizations. He was a member and officer of the CHS Drama Club. Many of Rick’s generation will remember the high school’s annual “Womanless Fashion Show”, a big money raiser for the CHS “Future Business Leaders Club”, of which Rick was President his senior year. The Helms’ family home on Ray Street was a “must-see” during the 60s and 70s Christmas season due to Rick’s design using colored lights, life-size lighted models of Christmas characters and scenes, including Santa, his deer and sleigh, Jesus, Mary, camels, mules and the Wise Men. The piece de resistance was Rick’s imaginative and whimsical water feature “Christmas on Ray Street”.
Rick graduated from Gaston College receiving an Associate of Arts degree in business. During his college years he developed his talents in interior design, visual merchandising and dramatic arts. His first love, that of musical theatre, pairing his production skills and his acting and singing talents, fully blossomed with the production of the Cherryville Little Theatre’s 1974 production of “Godspell”. News articles from May and June of 1974 document the production’s huge success and several “hold-over” performances due to its popularity. While residing in Gastonia and later Charlotte, Rick continued his support of the Cherryville Little Theatre, also joining other regional theatre groups in set design and construction; Gastonia Little Theatre, Gaston College Drama and Charlotte and Piedmont Community College. He starred in various productions, including “The Fantasticks.”
Rick’s career in retail visual merchandising began in his late teens working part-time with local department stores of the day – including Cherryville’s Harrelson’s Department Store and Matthews and Shelby’s Hudson Department Store. In the late 1970s he embarked on a three-decade long career with Belk, first as an employee in the visual merchandising department. He was promoted to manager at the new Gaston Mall Belk. Then moving on to Belk Store Services corporate office in Charlotte. There Rick lead visual display / merchandising efforts in many new and remodeled Belk stores throughout the Southeast US, from Texas to Virginia. In the late 1980s, he joined Giorgio of Beverly Hills for a few years as a Visual Director traveling to retail stores across the country, implementing Giorgio’s corporate visual merchandising vision. Wishing to reduce his travel, Rick returned to Belk, as Director of Visual Display at the Belk “Flagship Store” at SouthPark Mall in Charlotte. Shortly thereafter, recognizing his amazing visual talent, Rick was given responsibility for the two other major Charlotte locations at the time, Eastland Mall and Carolina Place.
Mr. Helms free-lanced as an interior designer of residences including that of his brother and sister-in-law Jerry and Kay Helms, neighbors Ken and Patsy Dellinger and Robin Beam Cox and Greg Cox all of Cherryville, and many other high-profile executive residences in Charlotte.
Many non-profit organizations benefited from Rick’s countless hours of volunteerism, sharing his ability to plan, organize and execute public events and parades. He successfully drove a revival of the Cherryville Christmas Parade in the 1970s, after it had been discontinued for several years. As a member of the youth group at Cherryville’s First Presbyterian Church, he organized a community Halloween Carnival in 1969 with all proceeds donated to other local non-profits including the Cherryville Comprehensive Day Care Center and the Cherryville Public Library. His famous and realistic “Haunted Houses” during those years were staged in the original Presbyterian Church Fellowship Hall, then in the old McClurd’s House on Oak Street and in Beam’s Hotel on Main Street.
Recently retired, Rick returned to Cherryville in 2015, buying and renovating the (circa 1920) William J. Allran Sr / John Beach House at 206 South Elm Street. Over the last few years Rick continued to celebrate his favorite seasons with eye-popping, beautiful outdoor decorations at his home during Halloween and Christmas seasons.
Rick is survived by his brothers Jerry Dean Helms of Cherryville and Richard Larry (Carol) Helms of Eden, North Carolina, nieces Melissa Lynn Helms and Sharon Denice Helms Heavner of Cherryville, nephew Daniel Houston (Amber) Helms of Angier NC and many great and great-great nieces and nephews. A loving and devoted first cousin, Debbie Fisher Peeler of Cherryville also mourns Rick’s passing. Special friends include Susan Pope Randall Windham of Murrells Inlet, SC, Sid Stroupe of Durham, NC, Toby Brown of Goldsboro, NC, Debbie Whitworth Beck of Linville, NC and numerous neighbors and friends.
Rick was predeceased by his parents and his beloved sister-in-law, Kay Baker Helms.
An informal “Celebration of Life” will be held this Saturday, February 22, at 5:00 pm at the Cherryville Little Theatre Building, 301 West Academy Street in Cherryville.
A reception and visitation of family and friends will be held immediately following the service at the Cherryville Little Theatre Building.
In lieu of flowers, monetary contributions in Rick’s name may be made to the Cherryville Little Theater, Post Office Box 412, Cherryville NC 28021.