Couple returns to place where they fell in love

  • Published
  • By Susan Griggs
  • 81st Training Wing Public Affairs
As Donna and Helmut Repich celebrated their 50th anniversary Nov. 30, they had one wish - to return to the place they met, fell in love, got married and had their first child.
The couple toured Keesler on Dec. 5, and rekindled memories of their early days together.

Back in 1961, Airman 3rd Class Donna Timmons from Milwaukee was one of about 125 Women in the Air Force assigned at Keesler. Nearly half of the WAFs were assigned to the base hospital, but others were assigned to the Keesler Technical Training Center, civil engineering, maintenance, supply and communications. She worked as a secretary in the ground radio branch.

"On the 15th anniversary of the WAFs at Keesler in 1963, I was featured in a Keesler News article because of my involvement in the Fintwister Club, the base's scuba diving group," Donna recalled. "I was also on a panel of WAFs on a local TV program promoting women in service."

At that time, the Keesler News "flag," the printed name on the front page of the paper, was emblazoned with a logo of a service member under a banner that proclaimed, "Prepare the Man."

Helmut had moved from Yugoslavia to Chicago to live with his father when he was 15 years old. He was a ground radio trainee at Allee Hall and remained at Keesler to maintain the equipment.

Donna and Helmut met at ballroom dance lessons at Arnold Hall.

"The instructors told me that they had the perfect partner for me, and they were right," Helmut said. "All I had in my pocket was 15 cents, so I bought her a root beer float."

"It wasn't love at first sight, but he was very persistent," Donna said.

Helmut enjoyed sports and played soccer, volleyball and table tennis. He was the base's table tennis champ for three years in a row and placed first in singles and second in doubles in Air Force competition.

Helmut also became a naturalized U.S. citizen during his time at Keesler.

The Repichs lived on D Street in the former Pinehaven military family housing area located east of Biloxi Hall, the base's newest permanent party dorm, and south and east of the commissary and exchange shopping complex. Like other housing areas across the base, Pinehaven was badly damaged during Hurricane Katrina and the homes had to be leveled. Most of the area is an empty grassy spot now.

Back in the 60s, female Airmen who became pregnant had to leave the service, so Donna was honorably discharged in November 1964. The first of their three children, Corrine, was born at the base hospital in February 1965 about six months before Helmut's enlistment was over.

The Repich family moved to the Chicago area after leaving Keesler. Helmut's Air Force electronics training served him well in his civilian career. He retired from IBM 18 years ago and the winter-weary couple relocated to Fort Myers, Fla.

Helmut and Donna marveled at the many changes around the base since they lived here.

"You know, if the base had been this nice when we were here, we might have stayed in the Air Force," Donna remarked.