Merlin John Hellman, devoted husband, father, and community servant, born and baptized in Fort Madison, Iowa, died on Father’s Day, June 20, 2021, at age 85.

Merlin was born Sept. 1, 1935, to William and Ceal (Sanders) Hellman, the third of the four children they raised in the small, close-knit community of Houghton, Iowa. His mother died when he was just eight years old, and he often recalled how the town of Houghton and his extended relatives lovingly cared for him when his father had to be away from home. He spoke proudly of helping with the reconstruction of St. John’s Catholic Church in Houghton by manning the bucket pulleys, and he told many a tale of coal-fired furnaces, freezing cold outhouses, and life as a small-town boy in the 1940’s.


A caring uncle encouraged Merlin to attend Regis College, a Jesuit Catholic school in Denver, Colorado, and there he developed a lifelong admiration for Jesuit scholars and their devotion to critical thinking. While in Iowa on a school break, at a dance at the West Point Legion, he met Theresa Arndt who would become his wife. After his graduation from Regis in 1957, they married and together they raised 13 children, a seemingly impossible accomplishment made possible by faith, sacrifice, humor, and love.

Following time served in the Army and the family trucking business, Merlin found his professional niche in life insurance and financial planning, a career that allowed him to help and serve others. He received many professional awards and accolades, but he was most proud of his volunteer service to the community. He served on multiple area boards of directors, including the Boards of Marquette and Aquinas, Parish Councils, and Diocesan Stewardship Committees. He was a founding member of both the North Lee County Community Foundation, and the Southeast Iowa Economic Development Committee which worked to improve Highways 61 and 218 into four-lane highways. Merlin served for six years on the Board of Directors for Hope Haven, was a lifelong member of Rotary, and a member of the Knights of Columbus. He was a member of Holy Family Parish in Fort Madison, Iowa.


Merlin lived a life of service. He was a man people called for help and advice, a man who was there for his family, friends, and neighbors. Our many fond memories include hearing his mighty voice ring out as an auctioneer at God’s Portion Day sales, waking up on Sunday mornings to the patriotic, upbeat music he enjoyed playing, decorating the house with him for holidays because he enjoyed making things special for everyone, and singing God Bless America with him at family events. He enjoyed a sociable game of bridge, and he could lay down all seven letters in a Scrabble game even in the last year of his life. He loved gardening, coffee with his men’s group, a great discussion around the dinner table, and most of all, he loved his family.

His wife Theresa and their children survive him: Rita (Mike) Minchk of Iowa City, IA, Dorothy (Rick) Posch of Westford, MA, Bill (Jen) Hellman of Fort Madison, IA, Tony Hellman (Giulia Roselli) of Salt Lake City, UT, Paul (Julie) Hellman of Fort Madison, IA, Barb (Eric) Leathers of Towanda, IL, Anita (Stacy) Groene of Pickerington, OH, Martha (Scott) Pauley of Carmel, IN, Joan Hellman of Scottsdale, AZ, Mary (Dan) Munson of Carmel, IN, Sarah (Matt) Evanson of Indianapolis, IN, Jon (Sheryl) Hellman of Denmark, IA, and Sue Ann Hellman of Burlington, IA.

Twenty-nine grandchildren carry on his legacy of love: Carolyn (Brian) Finley, Laura (Joshua) Kulow, Dan Minchk, Laurianne and August Posch, Claire and Rachel Hellman, Maxwell, Conrad, and Wyatt Hellman, Amber, Nick and Natalie Leathers, Brandt, Madison, Adam, and Pailyn Groene, Nate and Anna Pauley, Kate, Melaina, and Megan Munson, Jarl, Willem, and Greta Evanson, Michael, Jenna, Jack, and Ellie Hellman; and three great grandchildren: Owen and Abigail Finley, and Addison Kulow.

Preceding him in death are his siblings Marvin Hellman of Houghton, Iowa; Jeanette Holmes of Fairfield, Iowa; and Janice Thomas of Fort Madison, Iowa. Surviving is his sister-in-law Eileen Hellman, Houghton, Iowa.

Merlin’s family greeted friends June 25, 2021, at Ss. Mary and Joseph Catholic Church, Holy Family Parish, Fort Madison. A Mass of Christian Burial followed at the church. Burial was at Gethsemane Cemetery, Fort Madison, Iowa.

The family wishes to thank the staff of Bickford Senior Living of Burlington and Great River Hospice for their exceptional care to Merlin, and to all who have so lovingly supported us on this journey.

If you wish to send a remembrance, Merlin asked that in lieu of flowers, donations be made to the North Lee Community Foundation. Donations may be sent to Barr Memorial Chapel, 1919 Ave F, Fort Madison, Iowa 52627, or made online at

Private condolences to the family may be made at Barr Memorial Chapel is honored to serve the Hellman Family.

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