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Founder of Willmar, Minn., Junior College dead at 92

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WILLMAR — Dr. Philip C. Helland, a former Willmar school official and founder of the Willmar Junior College and Vocational School, died Dec. 12 in Minneapolis of complications from Alzheimer’s disease.

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A memorial service is planned for 11 a.m. today at Mount Olivet Lutheran Church in Minneapolis.

Helland was born in Canada in 1920 and became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1928. He graduated from high school in Luverne in 1937. He earned a bachelor’s degree at Augsburg in 1942, a master’s degree in education at the University of Minnesota in 1945 and a doctorate in education at Teachers College, Columbia University, New York, in 1961.

He taught in Elbow Lake and Bagley and was a principal in Wadena before coming to Willmar as high school principal from 1951 to 1953. He worked overseas in U.S. Army Dependent School System for several years and returned to Willmar in 1957 to become superintendent of schools.

Helland founded Willmar Junior College and Vocational School at that time. The school is now called Ridgewater College, and its Helland Administration Building is named after Helland.

After the Legislature established the Minnesota Community College System, Helland served as its first chancellor from 1964 to 1983, when he retired.

During World War II, Helland has served in the U.S. Army Air Corps as lead navigator in the 34th Bomb Group stationed in England. He earned the Distinguished Flying Cross, four air medals and four bronze stars during his service.

During his career and retirement, Helland served on numerous college boards and professional boards. While in Willmar, he served on the board of Bethel Lutheran Church.

Helland is survived by his wife of 58 years, Ruth (Tolman); his son, Michael of Minnetonka, a brother, the Rev. Erline (Dorothy) Helland of Cleveland; a sister, Florence (Dennes) Borman of Montevideo; and other relatives in the United States, Norway and Sweden.

Helland was buried in the Tolman family plot at North Star Cemetery in St. Cloud. Washburn-McReavy Edina Chapel is in charge of arrangements.

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