In The Spotlight Peter Helmers

Peter Helmers helps during set up on Aug. 4, 2017, in the early hours of the AmeriServ Flood City Music Festival, held at Peoples Natural Gas Park in downtown Johnstown. Helmers, who is also a pastor at the Lutheran Home, said he always has enjoyed the festival and gradually became involved with volunteering.

Peter Helmers is not afraid to pitch in and help with hard work.

The longtime AmeriServ Flood City Music Festival volunteer is a familiar figure at the annual event.

“He is always down there, and willing to do some of the less appealing jobs – the dirtiest jobs,” said Shelley Johannson of festival sponsor Johnstown Area Heritage Association. 

“He is down there with gloves and a smile on his face,” she said. 

Helmers, who is a retired Evangelical Lutheran Church pastor, said he has always enjoyed the festival and gradually became involved with volunteering. 

“I’ve done a number of things,” Helmers said. “I’ve been in the information booth. I’ve been a ticket-taker. The last few years, it was recycling aluminum cans.”

The job involves setting up recycling bins, emptying the bins and making sure the cans are clean.

“Then I take them to the recycling place and give the money to the festival,” Helmers said. 

It sounds a little grungy, but it’s actually worse because empty aluminum cans are not the only things festival-goers toss in the recycling bins. 

“It’s kind of sad,” he said.

“There’s usually a bin right next to a garbage can. I guess people just have something in their hands and think, ‘There is something to toss it in.’ ”

Removing other trash from the recycling bins leads to retrieving cans from the trash, and even trying to recycle as much plastic as he can. 

Helmers wasn’t exactly assigned the job. 

“I suggested it years ago, because they just threw that all out,” he said. 

Anheuser-Busch and Von’s United Beverage provided the initial recycling supplies, and Helmers has kept it going.

His volunteer efforts don’t end with recycling. He come in each morning after a show night to help clean the stage area.

In years past, some groups have sent volunteers to help.

But recently, it has been Helmers and the festival’s paid work crews. 

It isn’t all work. Helmers got involved because he enjoyed the music, dating back to National Folk Festival days that started FolkFest. He remembers Terrance Simien & the Zydeco Experience.

“I got hooked into that, but my love of music is wide ranging,” he said. “It’s just a wonderful collection of talented people who come and perform for us.”

Like many Johnstowners, Helmers admits he was a little disappointed when FolkFest became the Flood City Music Festival and Cambria City Music Festival split off.

“I saw that it was coming, though. It was inevitable,” Helmers said. “The wonderful thing is: There are now two festivals. By splitting, they have doubled the benefit to Johns-town.”

The international flavor of music and food associated with both festivals may be another attraction for Helmers, who was born in Hamburg, Germany. He came the United States as a child and graduated from high school in Summit, New Jersey. 

He went on to Drew University in Madison, New Jersey, and completed his master of divinity degree at Northwestern Lutheran Theological Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota. 

He was serving as a chaplain at a hospital in New Jersey when he felt called back to parish ministry. He admits Johns-town was not his choice.

“God called me here,” he said.

“I had to look it up on a map when I got the phone call from the bishop.”

He was installed as pastor Oct. 4, 1987, at St. Paul Evangelical Lutheran Church, 1348 Virginia Ave. He was also assigned as chaplain at the Allegheny Lutheran Home, 807 Goucher St.

Helmers remained at St. Paul for 22 years and continues to serve as part-time chaplain at the Lutheran Home.  

“I loved the church where I served,” he said. “In the West End, I had good neighbors. It was a wonderful place to raise my children.” 

All three of his children are Greater Johnstown High School graduates. John Helmers now lives in New Oxford, Adams County; Sarah McCann lives in Staten Island, New York; and Joanna Altimore lives in Davidsville.

Helmers and his wife, Jane, have seven grandchildren. 

From St. Paul, Helmers became pastor at St. James Lutheran Church in Altoona from 2009 to 2013 before retiring from full-time ministry.

He’s not ready to give up the Lutheran Home job.

“I love what I do,” he said.

“It’s a joy to work with the people – staff and residents. It’s an opportunity for me to be a blessing to them.”

Helmers leads Bible studies and counsels residents and families through daily challenges. 

“I try to be there for them in their need – especially people who don’t have family,” he said.

“I get to share the good news of Jesus Christ,” he continued.

“Isn’t that wonderful? And they pay me to do it!"

Randy Griffith is a multimedia reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. He can be reached at 532-5057. Follow him on Twitter @PhotoGriffer57.

Recommended for you