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Passing 90, Going Forward

A female professional celebrates 90 years of progress.

Guests from six states and the District of Columbia gathered at the 219 Restaurant in Old Town Alexandria on Nov. 20 to celebrate the 90th birthday of long-time Alexandria resident Helen Anne Halbig.

Born Nov. 22, 1914, in Carroll, Iowa, Halbig moved to the Washington metropolitan area in 1938 when she joined the staff of the U.S. Housing Authority. In 1940 she was selected to participate in an experimental USHA Apprentice Program which, in 1941, led to her promotion as housing sociologist.

During World War II, Halbig served as assistant director of night training at the School of American Women's Volunteer Services and as a member of the Civil Air Patrol. In 1944 she was named Director of Tenant Relations, US Public Housing Authority, Tacoma, Wash.

In 1946 she returned to Washington, D.C., to work for the law firm of Pehle & Kesser. Halbig returned to public service with the Federal Public Housing Administration as a field operations assistant in 1949.

She was promoted to supervisory management analysis officer in the Administrative Planning & Internal Audit Branch of PHA in May 1958. In June 1962 she became director of PHA's Administrative Planning Branch.

Four years later, in 1966, Halbig was assigned to the Office of Assistant Secretary for Administration to participate in the organization of the newly formed U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). "This was a significant move for a woman at that time to not only participate in but also hold such a position of authority in a major reorganization," said Gloria Cushman, Halbig's niece and a host at the party.

As a result of her contributions in the consolidation of 25 government agencies under the new HUD umbrella, Halbig was nominated as HUD's candidate for the Federal Woman's Award in October 1966. This was followed in June 1970 by her appointment as director, organization and management branch, administrative division, assistant secretary for renewal and housing management.

"She has been a role model for professional women. She has served as a mentor for many of them, including myself," said Carolyn Chaney, another niece and party host.

"She never calls attention to herself. In fact, at the party she said that being the center of attention was a difficult part of the party. She made 90 without ever looking back," Chaney said.

THAT SENTIMENT WAS echoed by Denise Cushman, the wife of Halbig's godson Michael. "I hope that when I'm 90 I'm just like her. I've never heard an angry word come out of her mouth," she said. "It's incredible what's she's done with her life. She been an inspiration to all of our family."

Her husband Michael Cushman buttressed that evaluation. "Aunt Bobby [Halbig] is a true inspiration to everyone. She has overcome both cancer and a broken hip. For such a tiny lady, she is a true pillar of strength," he said.

As for Halbig, she pronounced the party "a wonderful opportunity to share this birthday with my family and friends. They came from all over the country. But I still don't feel 90. It just sort of crept up on me."

Retiring from public service in 1972, Halbig gained more time to devote to her many civic activities and her lifelong love for the Washington Redskins. Attending games from 1938 to the present day, she can still sing both verses of "Hail To The Redskins," the party's program said.

A resident of Watergate at Landmark, Halbig has been active in The League of Women Voters, serving on its Board of Directors and as the chair of multiple committees. She served as co-chair of a two-year study of the Virginia health system and a Board member for that group as well.

As the second of six children, four girls and two boys, born to Franklin and Caroline Halbig, she attended St. Angela Academy in her hometown and graduated valedictorian in 1932. Her efforts weren't confined to academia. She played violin for four years in the orchestra, first chair in her junior and senior years; basketball for four years; sang with the glee club for four years; and was elected senior class president.

After graduation she and a classmate became the editor and publisher of an advertising sheet named the "Odebolt Reminder." A year later she left for Nebraska, where she attended Grand Island Business College, graduating in 1934.

In addition to all her other accomplishments, "Bobby" Halbig has produced some favorite family recipes which were included at the end of the birthday celebration program. Under the title "Cooking With Bobby" were Traveling Deviled Eggs, Russian Tea Cookies, Thanksgiving Turkey, New Years Day Beef Burgundy and Egg Noodles and New Year's Day Vegetable Casserole.

At one time an avid golfer, Halbig said, "I had to give it up because of an operation about a year ago. But I may go back to it." That's if she can fit it into her schedule of going to the Rehoboth beach house and out on the boat.