Helen Cassanova Bieda
AFRH-G Veteran Highlight – Helen Cassanova Bieda
By Lori Kerns, AFRH-G Librarian
Helen Cassanova Bieda was born and raised locally in Biloxi, MS. Her father was one of the earliest automobile painters and her mother was a “very good” housewife. Helen was the first born of three siblings. She attended Biloxi High School, where she enjoyed working on the newspaper staff. After graduation in 1941, she began working with the phone company as an administrative assistant. Some of her friends began talking to her about helping with the war effort. One of the posters she saw really caught her attention. It read, “Be the gal, behind the guy, behind the gun.” Her chief operator at the phone company found out and told her that she would not release Helen because she was essential personnel to the company. To prove her supervisor wrong, that Monday morning she signed up for the Navy as a WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service).
Helen was sent to boot camp in Bronx, NY. Before this, the furthest she had ever travelled was to New Orleans, LA. As part of her training, she was given an aptitude test that suggested she go into meteorology. Wanting to get straight to work and not attend another school, Helen opted instead to work in Cleveland, OH for the Bureau of Supplies and Accounts. She served in the War Bond Issuing Department. Living in the area was a great location for her to visit other big cities during her three-day weekends. An avid music lover, she also took advantage of free tickets to see the Cleveland Symphony Orchestra on Sundays. This was a “big life for a small town girl.” After two years, she accrued her allotted points and was discharged from the Navy.
Once home, Helen decided to use the GI Bill to attend Newcomb in New Orleans and pursued a career in leisure services. Upon graduation, she took a job as a recreation director with Occupation Forces in Tokyo working with the 7th Calvary Regiment. It was in Tokyo that she met her first husband, who was a medic. The couple eventually had four children. Her marriage did not work out so as a single mother she returned to Biloxi to work at Keesler Air Force Base to support her children. She met her second husband, Louis, who also worked on the base. She was so happy to find someone who loved her children enough to treat them as his own. Soon after, the couple added two more children to their family.
Because Louis was in the Air Force, the family had to travel. Helen decided to stay home with the children to raise them and have time to devote to her children’s various school and extracurricular activities. Once her children were old enough, she began working as the state coordinator for TOPS (Take Off Pounds Sensibly) where she stayed for twenty years. Eventually the couple retired to enjoy their life in Ocean Springs.
One year before Hurricane Katrina, Louis sadly passed away. When the hurricane hit, it destroyed her house and car. Within a year’s time, Helen lost her husband, house, and vehicle. Two of her children came to help restore the home. Louis always had thoughts of moving to the Naval Home but Helen always felt as though the rooms were too small. When AFRH-G had its groundbreaking, she was in attendance and got a chance to see how nice the facility was going to be. This is when she decided to put her name on the list to move in. Because Helen had always served on various church councils and choirs, it was ideal that she has volunteered as the cantor for AFRH-G’s chapel. She also works in the Lord’s Cabin. One of Helen’s greatest achievements while living in the home was in 2013 when she and some of the other women in the home were photographed and displayed as Calendar Girls, a project that raised $20,000 for Feed My Sheep. Presently, she enjoys daily workouts in the fitness center to stay in shape. She is enrolled in My Story, a creative writing class offered to residents by a local editor, for them to work on their life story. Helen says that the class is a blessing and one of the great reasons she enjoys living here at AFRH-G.