Spanning four generations with SDSU branches on both sides of the family tree, the Jack and Mary (Bowar) Halbkat (Halb—kat) family of Webster has been named the 2020 Family of the Year at South Dakota State University.
The Halbkats were selected by the South Dakota State University Alumni Association in cooperation with Staters for State, the student alumni organization. They will be recognized at halftime of the Feb. 15 women’s basketball game against Purdue Fort Wayne as well as at a luncheon before the game.
Jack Halbkat was the first Halbkat to graduate from State, earning a bachelor’s in pharmacy in 1962, but his mother-in-law, Casilda (Bunkers) Bowar (pronounced Bauer) earned a two-year teaching certificate in 1930.
In the generations that followed, three of Jack and Mary’s four children graduated from State, John III, Kathryn (Missy) Baker and Mark. Their fourth child, Matthew, graduated from North Dakota State College of Science .
Also attending SDSU were John’s spouse (Darla Wevik Halbkat) and two grandchildren (Halle Halbkat Mallard, Benjamin Halbkat) with a third grandchild (Abigail Baker) currently enrolled. In addition, several cousins, nieces and nephews of Mary Halbkat have attended or graduated from SDSU: Ginny Bunkers-Ford, Celeste Bowar Knoff, Michael Knoff, Carmen Bowar Schall, David Bowar Jr. and Mikhayla Haider.
The family’s connection to State goes so far back that the Coughlin Campanile wasn’t even on campus. And it wouldn’t have been if Casilda (Bunkers) Bowar had anything to do with it. She was part of a student effort advocating for a swimming pool rather than the campanile, the 165-foot freestanding bell tower that serves as the campus landmark.
Her grandson, John III, of Huron, remembers that Granny would joke “‘What did I know?’ because the campanile has been an enduring monument and a swimming pool would have been long gone.”
She was unique because she earned a two-year teaching certificate at a time when many were only earning one-year certificates and going off to teach in country schools. Bowar also was unique in that she was a member of the rifle team. The wool sweater she had as a part of that team has become a family heirloom, Jack Halbkat said.
Hobo Days & Halbkats
Mary Halbkat remembers growing up in the 1940s in Colman and her grandpa would “put lots of us kids in the car and we would go for the Hobo Day parade.” She has attended a Hobo Day parade in seven different decades.
Today Hobo Day is a bigger drawing card on the Halbkat family calendar than Christmas.
John Halbkat is the primary organizer of the family’s Hobo Day celebration. Some are already into Brookings by Thursday night. Friday night is the family dinner at Cubby’s. “Last year my reservation was for 34,” John said. Saturday is the parade, tailgating and the game. They tailgate in the picnic area behind Briggs Library with a group of 50 that includes friends as well as dozens of Halbkats and Bowars.
The Hobo Day celebration began to expand when John and Darla Halbkat’s daughter, Halle, enrolled in fall 2012, John Halbkat said.
Jack and Mary Halbkat were active in campus activities when he was a student. They would come back for Hobo Day after returning to Webster to work in the family pharmacy. He remembers establishing a friendship with Brookings resident and future governor George S. Mickelson while attending the Hobo Day parade.
As a student, he recalls the Hobo Mobiles, which could be described as a shanty on wheels, sometimes three stories high.
Halbkat went to State during a time when ornate floats were an expectation, especially of the College of Pharmacy. “Pharmics,” as they were called then, perennially took the “most beautiful” award in the parade. Juniors were assigned to build the float. Halbkat recalled his class didn’t let the college down in 1960.
“It was three swans pulling a sleigh into the sky. We carved swans out of big blocks of Styrofoam. The gal riding on it was to wear a formal. We obtained a mink coat for her because it was cold,” Jack Halbkat said.
Connected through music groups
He also was part of the early years of the Statesmen. That men’s chorus was formed in 1956 and directed by John Rezatto, who returned in 1984 to direct the Statesmen alumni.
Halbkat’s love for music has passed through the generations. Son John was a member of Statesmen for three years. Grandson Benjamin Halbkat was a member of Statesmen for three years, the Civic Symphony for one year, pep band for three years and The Pride of the Dakotas Marching Band for four years. Granddaughter Halle Halbkat Mallard was a member of The Pride and the Civic Symphony for four years, and the pep band and jazz ensemble for a year.
When the Statesmen held a 60-year reunion in 2016, Jack, John and Benjamin Halbkat were introduced as the only three-generation family present. The reunion coincided with a home football game, so the alumni singers and the current Statesmen had the privilege of singing the national anthem to open the game.
Jack and John stood beside one another on the field and band director Kevin Kessler gave permission for Benjamin to leave The Pride to join the Statesmen for the song.
“It was very meaningful,” John said of the family memory.
Connected through faith
Another constant is the lives of Halbkats while on campus has been the Catholic Campus Parish. Jack was living in the now-demolished Development Hall just north of Catholic Campus Parish in 1960, when it was being built. “It wasn’t any more than 30 or 40 feet from my bedroom window,” he said. The following year Jack and Mary lived in Married Student Housing, so they remained a stone’s throw from the parish.
Mary remembers taking John there for Mass as an infant. All of the Halbkat children—John, Kathryn and Mark—participated in Catholic Campus Parish activities as did John’s children Benjamin and Halle and Kathryn’s daughter Abby.
“Catholic Campus Parish has been a strong link to stay connected to the faith for a lot of the family. The draw and pull there has been strong for all our family,” John said
John is a commercial economics graduate while Kathryn and Mark followed their dad’s lead and earned pharmacy degrees. Mark was awarded his diploma in 1989, the same year that Mary earned her bachelor’s in nursing degree with honors through the RN Upward Mobility program, taking most of her classes in Aberdeen.
They each walked through with their respective classes at graduation in Frost Arena. “It was very touching. It did make your eyes tear up,” Mary recalled.