100 years of motherly love
May 10, 2002
Her busiest periods for correspondence are March, August and October. During those months, Helen Angelbeck could fill a mailbox with the cards she sends out for relatives' birthdays and anniversaries.
This month, Angelbeck has four cards to send two birthdays and two anniversaries.
The sprightly, petite and healthy woman turns 100 today. To date, she has one living child, six grandchildren, 13 great-grandchildren, and one great-great-grandchild.
Yet Angelbeck, a Havre resident since 1975, is able to keep tabs on all her relatives' important milestones.
"She's sharp as a tack," said Janice Straw, Angelbeck's 72-year-old daughter.
She was born the year before the Wright brothers' first flight in 1903, and lived through both world wars, the advent of television and 18 U.S. presidents.
Nicknamed "Grams," Angelbeck and her monumental birthday have not gone without recognition. She has already received letters of congratulation from Gov. Judy Martz and U.S. Sen. Max Baucus. Straw wrote to President Bush and to Willard Scott, a weatherman on NBC's "Today" who announces the birthdays of those who turn 100 or older.
"I think it's very lovely," said Angelbeck, who received a congratulatory letter from the first President Bush on her 90th birthday. "Of course I'm honored."
This afternoon, the First Lutheran Church, where Angelbeck is a dedicated member, is hosting a gathering to celebrate her century-long life. On Saturday, about 25 family members from Montana will hold a birthday party at a local restaurant.
The real party, though, won't be until August, "because that's when all the kids will be out of school," said Straw, referring to the family's younger relatives from the East Coast.
Angelbeck still lives on her own. She does her own laundry, sweeps her front sidewalk and cooks for herself. Every other week, a woman comes to her home to do the bulk of the cleaning and housework. But until about four years ago, Angelbeck was still installing her own storm windows.
"I've done that all my life," she said of the daily chores.
Three times a year, she flies to Billings to visit a granddaughter in Lowell. Angelbeck volunteered at Northern Montana Hospital well into her 80s.
She has no plans to move into an adult-care facility.
"I hope to live here until I close my eyes for the last time," she said.
About six years ago, Angelbeck was diagnosed as legally blind a result of macular degeneration. Because of her eye problems, Angelbeck has not been able to drive, "and I do miss it," she said.
If Angelbeck needs a ride somewhere, her grandson, Hank Tweeten, or her former son-in-law, Ray Tweeten, or fellow churchgoers will give her a lift.
Born on May 10, 1902, Angelbeck has no secrets to a long life, other than "trusting the one above," she said.
She has never smoked, and only drinks alcohol occasionally. She was never one for exercise, except when she went dancing. But she does eat a piece of fruit at every meal and enjoys green tea.
"I've been very healthy," she said. "The good Lord has blessed me with very good health."
Straw, who is visiting from Charlotte, N.C., said: "She's got a stomach like iron and a head like a steel trap."
Raised in Brooklyn, N.Y., Angelbeck met her first and only husband, Henry, at the age of 17. They were both singing in a church choir.
After high school, Angelbeck attended a business trade school, where she learned bookkeeping, shorthand and typing. She worked for three years as a secretary at a vending machine company, until she and Henry were married in 1922.
"I decided on staying home and being a mom," Angelbeck said. "In fact, he wouldn't let me go to work."
Forty-five years of Angelbeck's life were spent on Long Island, N.Y., in a town called Hempstead, where she and her family moved in 1933.
Henry passed away in 1950, and Angelbeck found a job as a clerk in the Nassau County Courthouse, where she worked for 18 years until her retirement.
Her eldest daughter, Virginia Tweeten, moved to Havre when her husband, Ray, co-purchased a car dealership. A few years later, in 1975, Helen followed her out to the Hi-Line.
"I loved it because it was so beautiful and quiet and there were so many nice, friendly people," Angelbeck said. "I even enjoyed the snow."