WHEN HELEN Harvell reminisced about growing up on a farm in Georgia, she talked about the horses.
Whether it was this early exposure to the equine world that led to her lifelong fascination with thoroughbred racing is not known, but she and her late husband traveled widely to see the horses run, going as far as Kentucky for the Derby and New York for the Belmont.
"Ever since I can remember, they were going to racetracks," said her daughter, Barbara Gail Lewis. "They loved it."
The fun was not just in watching the horses run and putting money on the outcome, but also socializing with fellow fans. She and her husband were sociable people who made friends easily, her family said.
"The fun and excitement would keep them laughing," her family said.
Helen Harvell, who worked as a housekeeper for families on the Main Line, an active churchwoman and devoted family matriarch, died April 12. She was 85 and was living in Saunders House, a nursing home in Wynnewood, but had lived most of her life in West Philadelphia.
"Helen maintained a very strong work ethic, and instilled that in her family," her family said. "She believed that no matter what you did, you should try to do it to the best of your ability or not bother at all."
She was born the eighth of the 13 children of Drucilla and Addison Adams, in Mount Vernon, Ga., where she did farmwork with her parents and siblings. In the late 1940s she came to Philadelphia, where she met and married Frank Harvell.
Helen grew up in the Baptist church, but later joined St. Matthew African Methodist Episcopal Church, in Philadelphia.
"She enjoyed the peacefulness of the spirit during the worship service," her family said.
She also enjoyed watching A.M.E. worship services on DVD.
When her husband became ill, Helen devoted herself to his care. "It was difficult to convince her to take time out for herself," her family said.
"She would say that she had a good life and did all that she wanted to do, and now she really needed to be there for him."
Helen was a fine cook, whose sweet-potato pies and potato salad were family favorites.
"Helen was loving and dedicated to her family and trusted friends," her family said. "She would give anything asked of her if she was able.
"Although quiet and reserved, she would speak her mind if she felt something was wrong. Helen had a special way of joking to make you laugh. She loved music and dancing.
"It was her laughter, smile and genuine kindness that connected a host of family and friends."
Her husband died in 2001. Besides her daughter, she is survived by a stepson, Gordon Harvell; four sisters, Sarah Nell Daughty, Connie Smith, Alice Ashford and Lillian Rawls; two grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren.