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Sunday, March 5, 2000 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Former fashion model plunges wholeheartedly into Halfway

The Associated Press

HALFWAY, Ore. - Other than the Wallowa Mountains that tower above this poky hamlet of 360 souls, Halfway doesn't have much to brag about - except Babette.

Babette Beatty, a German-born beauty, was the first model to grace the cover of Sports Illustrated in a swimsuit. That was back in 1964.

Babette was an internationally known model in her day. She romped across the covers of the world's top fashion magazines and partied with the likes of Andy Warhol and Mick Jagger.

Eileen Ford, the doyenne of American modeling, remembers Babette as a daring trendsetter whose waifish quality set her apart.

"She was a very, very good model and very successful," says Ford, founder of the Ford Modeling Agency.

So what is Babette doing in this humble hamlet near Oregon's rugged border with Idaho? Enjoying something that she missed in her modeling years: peace and quiet.

"The sky is blue. It's quiet. There's really nothing like this," says the 58-year-old Babette, who still speaks with a smoky German accent.

She's also become a successful entrepreneur. She and her husband own a chunk of the commercial establishments that dot Main Street. They have a restaurant, bakery and an art gallery. Across the street, they also have two guest lodges, and are building a bed-and-breakfast inn on a hill overlooking Halfway.

Babette has become protective of her adoptive home.

In a marketing scheme intended to help Halfway's sputtering economy, the City Council recently voted to unofficially change the town's name to Half.com: the name of the Internet start-up retailer that came up with the idea.

The new name is not official and won't show up on any map, but the Conshohocken, Pa.-based start-up wants to post a sign on the main road into town that would read: "Welcome to the first dot-com city in America, Half.com - AKA Halfway, Oregon."

In exchange, Halfway is to receive $75,000, plus 22 computers for its elementary school. Halfway officials are also hoping that the publicity will attract tourists.

Babette doesn't know if that's the answer to Halfway's economic woes. But the town needs a shot in the arm, she says.

She said of the hamlet's residents: "We are just flailing around trying to make a living."

When you saunter into Babette's restaurant, called the Halfway Supper Club, the woman who greets you still looks like the model she once was.

But instead of a swimsuit, she wears sweat pants and a loose-fitting blouse. Her hair is tied back in a ponytail. She wears little makeup. But with her luminous green eyes, high cheekbones and elfishness, she's still a charmer.

On the walls of Babette's restaurant are reminders of her fame: a photo of Mick Jagger and the 1964 Sports Illustrated cover showing Babette in a white bikini.

"Can you believe that's me?" Babette laughs, as she points out the cover.

"It seems like five lifetimes ago," she says.

Babette moved from Germany to the United States in her late teens. At 21, she was whisked off a Florida beach and into the modeling world - picked up by the Ford Modeling Agency.

She was on the cutting edge, posing for the world's leading fashion photographers for nearly 18 years.

But Babette grew tired of it all, and in 1976 gave it up for a different sort of life.

"As you get older, it's really hard to adjust - there are such great expectations to keep up with the look," she says. "It doesn't matter how much exercise you get, your body changes. Mother Nature shifts things as time goes on."

Babette moved to a 54-acre farm outside Montreal.

She churned butter, smoked hams and marketed her own jams, pickles and vinegars. She raised pedigreed cattle, 40 sheep, 80 chickens and ducks, three horses, 14 dogs and 18 cats, and developed a love for open spaces.

More than a decade later, Babette met her architect husband, Dale Beatty. On the last leg of a cross-country road trip, the couple stopped in the tiny town of Halfway and fell in love with the oldest building there.

They bought it, restored it and dubbed it the "Love Shack." Then they opened the Maybe Baby bakery, the restaurant, art gallery and another lodge.

Copyright (c) 2000 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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