Obituary: Helen Louis Kuehn was a prominent brewing chemist

  • Article by: JOY POWELL , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 20, 2014 - 5:51 PM

Helen Louise Kuehn, a prominent brewing chemist, broke ground as one of the wine industry’s first female quality assurance directors.

She directed laboratories for Theodore Hamm Brewing Co. before joining the wine division of Heublein, which acquired Hamm’s in 1968.

Kuehn, of Minneapolis, died July 3 from pancreatic cancer. She was 86.

While with Hueblein, Kuehn lived abroad, including for five years in Lisbon, Portugal. She checked the quality of bottled wines, from the corks down, traveling throughout Europe to ensure that the wines lasted well and tasted right.

“It was really quite adventurous,” said her sister Susan Kuehn Boyd of Iowa City, Iowa.

With her oversized red eyeglasses and a touch of silliness, Helen Kuehn could come off as a bit daffy — while at the same time being piercingly intuitive — said her brother, Henry Kuehn III of Louisville, Ky.

After retiring, she moved from Hartford, Conn., to Minneapolis, into the house that her late father, Henry, had finished building when she was 2 and where she grew up with two sisters and a brother. After their father’s death in 1991, she commissioned a set designer from the Guthrie Theater and “used a palette of vibrant colors to transform her childhood home near Cedar Lake,” her brother said.

Helen Kuehn displayed her large collection of blue-and-white European tiles throughout the house, on floors, walls, tabletops and elsewhere. She often entertained, and she loved opera and attended operas, concerts and symphonies throughout Europe and the United States.

She was not only fun, but decisive, said her sister. One day a friend called and asked if she would like to go to Egypt with her and her husband. “Helen’s answer was ‘sure,’ ” Boyd said. “She didn’t say, ‘I’ll think about it.’ She didn’t say, ‘I’ll call you back.’ She said, ‘Sure,’ and she did go.”

Helen Kuehn was born Oct. 2, 1927, to Henry Edward Kuehn, a Minneapolis flour milling executive, and Alma Boehme Kuehn. She graduated from West High School in 1944 and, in 1948, from Wellesley College in Massachusetts, where she majored in chemistry.

She was hired at 21 to work in the St. Paul laboratory of Hamm’s Brewing Co. in St. Paul. When Hamm’s opened a brewery in San Francisco in 1954, Kuehn transferred there to direct Hamm’s laboratories.

Her brother, Henry, 12 years her junior, recalled the day she set out from the family home to seek her future in chemistry.

“She always had an interest in it, and it was remarkable especially for a woman in those days to take on a career like that,” he said.

“I remember vividly being down at the Great Northern train station, waving goodbye to her heading off to San Francisco. … I look back on it now, and I’m really kind of in awe at how brave she was.”

Helen Kuehn always took an interest in others’ lives, giving them her full attention, but was quite private about her own, her sister said.

“She had a lot of enthusiasm for the people she met, and you could tell she was really glad to either talk to them for the first time, or talk to them again,” Boyd said. “But she didn’t get excited about her own achievements at all; she was very quiet about that.”

Kuehn served on the boards of the WCA foundation and the Woman’s Club of Minneapolis. She was secretary of the National Corkscrew Association and belonged to several nonprofit organizations.

In addition to her brother and her sister Susan, survivors include another sister, Barbara Kuehn Belew of Minneapolis.

A celebration of Kuehn’s life will be held at 4 p.m. on Aug. 10 at the Women’s Club of Minneapolis, 410 Oak Grove St.

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