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Memorable exchange

From left are Helga Schamaun, Schamaun's high school friend, Gretchen Weiler, Marion Beck and Beck's daughter Barbara Max. Schamaun was Morris' first foreign exchange student and lived with the Beck family. She recently returned for the Morris Class of 1959 reunion. Photo by Judy Riley/For the Sun Tribune.

By Judy Riley

For the Sun Tribune

When Helga Schamaun returned to Morris recently to attend her 50th Morris High School reunion last week, she was looking forward to reuniting with former classmates, like Gretchen (Leuty) Weiler.

But she had in mind a reunion of a different sort, as well.

Fifty years ago, Schamaun was the first American Field Service (AFS) exchange student at Morris High School. So this Morris visit would mark not only her high school reunion, but also a reunion with her Morris "mom," Marion Beck. Beck and her husband, the late Howard Beck, hosted Schamaun -- then Helga Rainer -- during her senior year at MHS.

Schamaun had traveled by boat in 1958 from Salzburg, Austria, to the U.S., and then by Greyhound bus to Morris.

"I didn't know what would happen to me," she said.

Beck, who taught for 23 years in Morris elementary and junior high schools, recalled the 16-year-old Schamaun: "She was a typical teenager, very outgoing," she said. Schamaun, who had left behind her mother and a younger sister, called Marion and her husband "mom and dad."

"She was a delight to have," said Beck.

"I asked her to bring along recipes when she first came," said Beck. "She brought a cookbook."

Schamaun was surprised to eat corn on the cob, which was fed in her homeland only to the pigs. However, corn was soon a favorite, along with other foods, especially Beck's apple pie.

"She asked me one day," said Beck with a laugh, "'Mom, are you the best cook in Morris?'"

As a young girl in Austria, Schamaun had lived through some of the history she was learning about in her Morris classes. During World War II, Schamaun's mother had taken the family into the mountains to escape bombings. As a soldier, her father had been killed just as he was preparing to return home from the war.

Happier memories of Morris include the occasion of Schamaun's 17th birthday celebrated in the Morris High School auditorium when the band played and the football team sang "Happy Birthday."

Although they haven't seen each other in 30 years, Schamaun and the Becks have kept in touch. In 1974, Schamaun returned for a brief visit to Morris and, following the birth of her second son, the Becks visited her current home in Switzerland.

Now a retired doctor of anesthesiology, Schamaun looked fondly at her Morris "mom" and remarked, "How fine 'mom' looks. I remember that it was hard to leave Morris; coming here was a good experience. My mom had a really good feeling about my coming here and I was lucky to have found a family like 'mom and dad.'"