Sullivan Honors Alaskan of the Week: Rosemarie Habeich

WASHINGTON, DC – U.S. Senator Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) yesterday recognized Rosemarie Habeich, of Anchorage, Alaska, on the floor of the U.S. Senate. Rosie, as her friends call her, is a registered nurse who, alongside her husband, Eben Hopson, Jr., has fostered more than 50 children from all across the state. During her time living in Utqiagvik, she worked as the director of the city's rec department, director of the health department, and executive director of the Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission. In Anchorage, Rosie volunteers for Friends In Serving Humanity (FISH), a church network that feeds the hungry. She is known for doing so much in service to others, oftentimes out of her own pocket. Regarding her giving, Rosie says, “That’s the way life is supposed to be. You are supposed to recognize when people have less than you, and you are supposed to help them out. Giving is fundamental.” Senator Sullivan recognized Rosie as part of his series, “Alaskan of the Week.”

Tribute to Rosie Habeich:

It is Thursday. I know the pages know this, and many people watching know this, but it is that time of the day in the Senate when I come down on the Senate floor and talk about somebody who makes my State a very unique and special place--and it is an opportunity for me to talk a little bit about what is going on in Alaska right now, particularly before the holidays--somebody we refer to in Alaska and here in the Senate as the Alaskan of the Week.

Before I get into this very special Alaskan, I will give you a little weather update. A lot of people like to understand what is going on. Winter has come. It is coming to Alaska. Snow has arrived throughout much of the State. In Southcentral Alaska it has come. Anchorage is covered in snow. A lot of people are getting ready to undertake winter. Sports and activities on Monday in Utqiagvik, the northernmost point in North America--it used to be called Point Barrow--the Sun rose and set for the last time until January 23. So it is going to be dark up there, but they are used to that. They are great people. The community has now officially settled in for a bit of a dark Arctic winter, but they have been doing that for a millennium.

It is a winter wonderland right now throughout Alaska. So I always encourage people watching, watching on TV, to come on up. Summer, winter, fall, spring, come on up and visit. You will love it. It will be the trip of a lifetime.

As I mentioned before, I think I come from the most beautiful State in the country, but it is also a place made up of the most important, caring, wonderful, generous, and supportive people anywhere. Some of these people have had ancestors living in Alaska for thousands and thousands of years. Others arrived more recently but immediately found a home in a community that they were supportive of and was supportive of them.

Let me introduce you to Rosemarie Habeich. Her friends call her Rosie. She is an extraordinary Alaskan who has done extraordinary things for our people. She is our Alaskan of the Week. What has she done? What is extraordinary about Rosie?

Let me just mention one off the top, which is pretty remarkable--fostering over 50 Alaskan children with her husband, Eben Hopson, Jr. I should add here that Eben is the son of the first mayor of Alaska's North Slope Borough and someone who has also fought for the rights of Alaska Natives throughout his life. He deserves mention, as well as his wife, as a legendary Alaskan.

Not only did Rosie and Eben foster all these children, they adopted three, and raised five of their own children. That is a crowded household but a kind, loving, supportive and warm household--a place of love.

I can say here that the recommendation for Rosie to be our Alaskan of the Week comes from our First Alaskans Institute fellow, Elizabeth Ahkivgak, who is right here with me and who has done a great job in my office.

Elizabeth is one of dozens and dozens of children Rosie and Eben took into their bright home and loved them so much so they could love themselves.

Let me tell you a little bit about Rosie, our Alaskan of the Week. She was born in Idaho. Like too many Americans, unfortunately, she actually came from a broken home. Her mother was battling an illness and sometimes was too sick to handle Rosie and her siblings.

It was during one of those bouts of illness that Rosie herself briefly became a foster child. That experience, the experience of visiting her mother in an institution, and the kindness of neighbors who stepped up and helped during those very difficult years would form the basis of Rosie's steadfast belief that helping others in your community throughout your State is a higher calling.

Eventually, Rosie moved with her family to Fairbanks when she was just a young girl. Those were good years for her and her family. She thrived in Alaska, went to college, and became a social worker for the State. Eventually, her work took her to Utqiagvik--as I mentioned, formerly Barrow, AK--where she fell in love both with her husband, Eben, and with the community.

She found in Utqiagvik that if you had a good idea and were willing to do the work and see it through, you could succeed with the help of others, and she did succeed.

At various points during her time in the North Slope Borough of our great State, she worked as the director of the city's rec department, director of the health department, and executive director of the Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission. She also sat on the board for the Rural Alaska Community Action Plan. She was a public health nurse and was appointed director of the North Slope Borough Health Department by two different mayors. That is an impressive resume, as you see.

She now spends much of her time in Anchorage, where she volunteers for a group called Friends in Serving Humanity, or F.I.S.H.--a church network that feeds the hungry. On many days, you can find her in different communities handing out meals and food boxes often paid for out of her own pocket.

Rosie gives her all to everything she does, but one of her truly lasting contributions to Alaska and to her community is how she has taken in so many children across the State who need a home, who need support, and who need love. She took in siblings. She took in infants. She took in teenagers. She took them from all backgrounds, from all across the State, and she loved them. She was patient with them. She intuitively understood what they needed and when they needed it. Some of the children she took in were horribly abused, most others were homesick, and some were confused.

In Alaska, getting running water to households across the State has long been a major challenge, one we are still working on today. If you can believe this--this is certainly one of my passions in the Senate--we have over 30 communities in Alaska with no flush toilets, no water and sewer--in America. Many of the children who came to Rosie were from these kinds of households and these kinds of communities. Many had never flushed a toilet in their lives.

She was sensitive to all this. One of the first things she did when a child came to her was to teach her how a faucet and a bathroom and a toilet worked. Then she fed them. Rosie's cooking is renowned. She listened to them and loved them.

This is how one of her former foster children described the experience of walking into Rosie's home:

Imagine coming from a place with nothing--absolutely nothing, [poverty]--and you walk into a normal house, filled with normal things that people and the rest of America take for granted--a warm house, a flush toilet, food on the stove, adults who speak to you [kindly]. It was like visiting a toy store for the first time. It was like visiting a different planet. It showed us what [a good] life could be like.

Not all of Rosie's kids made it out of a life of challenges and dysfunction and abuse, but many of them have. Many have broken the cycle of violence in their families for the first time. Some of them, along with their biological children and the ones she has adopted, are now doing great things for our State and our country. They are successfully running businesses. They have joined the military. They have worked at high levels of government. One of them, who is sitting right here next to me on the Senate floor, works in my office. We are lucky to have Elizabeth.

All of them, regardless of where they are now ''have a place in my heart,'' says Rosie. Why does she do it? Why has this woman given herself to so many others and changed so many lives?

She tells a story about a time when her mother was sick and had to go back into the institution, leaving her to take care of her four younger siblings. It was Christmastime, and Rosie literally had nothing. So the neighbors got together, left boxes of presents at the door of their house, and brought over Christmas dinner when she was young and needed help. ''That's the way life is supposed to be,'' Rosie said. ''You're supposed to recognize when people have less than you, and you are supposed to help them out. It doesn't matter if you're looking at it through a biblical lens, or through karma, or through Buddha. Giving is fundamental.'' That is her quote: ''Giving is fundamental.''

All the Senators here today are heading home and heading back to the great States they represent for Thanksgiving, which we will be celebrating next week--a uniquely American holiday that all of us love and cherish so much. I know I certainly do. Rosie and Eben's story and commitment to others are exactly the kinds of things we as Americans should be thankful for as we are celebrating Thanksgiving next week. Giving is fundamental. I know I am thankful for what they have done.

Their household will be full this holiday season--friends, family, children. At some point this season, she will make her famous apple sausage stuffing, a recipe she learned from her own foster mother and one she has passed down to foster kids all across the great State of Alaska. It is made with love and with kindness and with thanksgiving.

Rosie, thank you for all you have done. From the bottom of my heart, thanks for your spirit, your generosity, and your example as we head into Thanksgiving weekend, for touching so many lives across Alaska. Congratulations on being our Alaskan of the Week and happy Thanksgiving.

I yield the floor.

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