Lusk: After 40-plus years as engineer, Helms ready to retire

July 20th, 2017
Article by Victoria Lusk of the Aberdeen American News.

After 46 years in the industry, Terry Helms is preparing to hang up one of his many hats. "June 15, 1971," Helms said. "I remember it very clearly, same as I'm sitting right here."

That's the day Helms began his career at Mitchell-based Schmucker, Paul, Nohr and Associates. Five years later, he was sold one-fourth of the business. In the next three years, he would take his share and open a new office in Aberdeen - Schmucker, Paul, Nohr and Associates doing business as Helms and Associates.

Because much of the company's business was in the surrounding area, Helms thought those customers could be better served if there was a closer office.

He was right.

Since then, the staff at Helms and Associates has grown from just him to more than 25 employees.

From airports to sewer systems, Helms has been involved in many projects through the years. There's not an airport in South Dakota that the company hasn't touched, he said. Yet, he doesn't have a favorite.

I've enjoyed them all. My favorite part of this job is getting to meet the amazing people that volunteer their time to be mayors and councilmen. There's an amazing amount of people that will do that. And it's getting to be less fun for them all the time, but the cream does come to the top on these small towns," Helms said.

He grew up in the relatively small community of Clark, which now has a population of roughly 1,100 residents. Rural infrastructure and development is important to keeping smaller communities around, he said.

That's why he wants to see a few projects through. Before the end of 2018, Redfield will have a brand new airport, which is a project that's been 10-plus years in the making, Helms said. The firm is also drafting designs for sewer systems in Ipswich and Faulkton.

As those projects phase out, he will too. The company, however, will keep doing business as usual under five current owners: Corey Helms, Randy Bacon and Bob Babcock, all of Aberdeen, and two men from Mitchell, Helms said.

Corey Helms is Terry Helms' son.

While the company has changed physically and with technology, its business sense hasn't, Terry Helms said.

"Building professional relationships with clients is the key to success in this business," he said.

In fact, he said, that's how the business was built - with face-to-face introductions.

"One week I'd go south, one week north, west, east," he said. "Just to introduce myself. Our clients don't walk in the door."

Municipal and state governments are the heart and soul of the business, he said.

"Those are the people you have to meet."

Now 68, Helms said he's ready for retirement, although he's not quite sure what it will entail.

"We'll see. I'm not afraid of it," he said. "I will always have an eye on the communities we serve. I have a great interest in the success of those communities."