The Loss of a Legend: Obituary for David P. Helfrich

The Loss of a Legend: Obituary for David P. Helfrich

Oregon lost a legend on Oct 7th, 2016, when David Prince Helfrich passed away peacefully at the age of 84. Dave was born in Eugene, Oregon on April 21, 1932 to Prince E. and Marjorie Peyton Helfrich. The proud parents took their first born home to live for the rest of his life east of Vida, in the beautiful McKenzie River Valley. Growing up, he attended McKenzie schools and Oregon State University, but he knew very early in life what he wanted to be when he grew up. Dave began his lifelong career as a fly fishing guide at the young age of 14, advancing on to become an admired outfitter and continuing to guide his fly fishing clients for 70 years until he retired in 2015. He was a master on the oars and looked effortless as he ran the most technical rivers in the Northwest in his “Helfrich green” wooden McKenzie drift boats. He was an outstanding river outfitter who was a great leader in the outfitting industry. He served as director on many boards including the McKenzie River Guides Association, the Oregon Guides and Packers Association, the Idaho Outfitters and Guides Association and was a founding member of the America Outdoors Association.

Dave was known for his innovative, deluxe river accommodations for clients on his multi-day trips on rivers including the Wild and Scenic Rogue, the Owyhee, the Bruneau and on Idaho’s Middle Fork of the Salmon. Far exceeding other boatmen, he drift boated the technical whitewater of the Middle Fork of the Salmon River for 67 years. He established an extensive clientele from around the world who came back time and again, bringing new generations to experience floating these wilderness rivers while “roughing it” with Dave and his experienced river guides. A great storyteller, Dave could truly captivate his audience with his way with words and memory for details.

For many years, Dave, his brothers Dick and their father Prince worked together in operating the Skyline boys and girls camps in the Three Sisters Wilderness and on the McKenzie River. At these camps, 12 to 16 years olds learned an abundance of skills including fly-fishing, knot tying, handling firearms, fire building, and many other outdoor skills.

During the 1950’s, in addition to guiding, he logged during the winters with his partner Charlie Spores. Together, they operated Helfrich-Spores Logging Company.

Dave even worked as a stunt double for Agnes Morehead in the movie’s whitewater scenes in “How The West Was Won”. He also appeared in several commercials and on the “Way Out West” TV show with Kelsey and Kidd.

Dave was an accomplished horseman, competitive trap shooter, upland bird hunter and elk hunter. He harvested 52 elk in his lifetime. One of his most beloved hunting areas was Cedar Swamp in the Oregon Cascades.

Discovering one of his true passions, Dave became a pilot in 1974 and was an accomplished instrument rated backcountry pilot. He owned four different planes in his lifetime and flew for business and pleasure for many years. He also built the landing strip at Winkle Bar on the Rogue River for his friend Wally Haas the owner of Levi Strauss.

Dave is survived by the love of his life, Terry Sambrailo; his son, Ken Helfrich (Sherill); daughters: Deborah Schaefers (Steve), and Kathy Schneider-Helfrich (Chris Whetstine), along with his four grandchildren: Josh Schaertl (Archie), Lara Schaertl (Vince Portomeñe), Kelsey Helfrich-Youren (Kidd Youren) and Tyler Schneider; two great-grandkids and another little fifth generation Helfrich guide on the way. Dave is also survived by his two brothers: Richard Helfrich (Deanna), Dean Helfrich (Gail); and sister, Diane Kaldahl (Norm).

Dave leaves behind a huge legacy that will live on through his family and all of the lives that he touched.
A family service was held on October 17th. There will be a celebration of life and river float in Dave’s honor on April 22nd, 2017. Details will be announced in the Register Guard and on the Helfrich River Outfitters Facebook page. If you wish to make a donation in memory of Dave, please consider Sacred Heart Hospice, the McKenzie River Trust or a charity of your choice.

Published by Eugene Register-Guard on Oct. 26, 2016.
Skip to content