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Life with Betty


Phyllis:

I remember Betty at age 7 or 8, in Kodai, standing on the playground next to Boyer Hall, wearing a blue home-knitted sweater over her dress, her blonde hair lighted up by the sun, smiling. It's like a snapshot in my head.

I also remember going to her dorm room upstairs in Boyer, the end room with all the windows right next to Erkie's room, to comb her hair every day for school. As I remember, they had live frogs in the window seat or somewhere, plus who knows what under the bed.

On the Reedley farm she was in the back corner bedroom with Gwen and Jo. She probably took charge in there as I don't remember ever cleaning that bedroom, so who did? She went to Reedley for a perm one day with Grace and me, and on the way home the nice new curl gradually fell straight.

Another snapshot in my head is completely imaginary: Betty wrapping butter in the creamery in Hillsboro. Though I never visited the place, I can see her standing at a table or moving belt, probably wearing a broomstick skirt and blouse with an apron over, wrapping cubes of butter at great speed. She was always the steady, sensible one who found her own way over obstacles.

Grace and I missed a great section of family life. Wish we had videos of all you younger ones in those days.


Paul:

Betty was my closest friend and companion during our childhood years. In Kalvakurti we spent the summer playing Monopoly. We made our own rules--we could borrow from the bank, so no one ever lost or was removed from the board. One of us might be a million dollars ahead of the other, but we could play for days without ending the game. And Betty humored me by letting me play one game in which I started with all the land and she all the money. You can guess who won, but not from skill.

In Kodai she was the one I looked for during boarding school years. In Reedley, we played in the grape fields, putting grapes on a long flexible stick, and shooting them at each other like machine guns by pulling back the stick and letting to. I believe she was a member of the "Golden Rule Club" we organized at Windsor. We made little gold like rulers and wore them as pins, and ran down by the creek to have our club meetings.

Speaking of Windsor, one year we were in the same classroom together. I was a year ahead but it was a two-class school room. Betty always had her work done before me, and was permitted to go to the back of the room and read quietly. On a few occasions I joined her, but often as not I had to work at my desk. So much for having a bright star sister--one of the great privileges of my life.


Gwen:

Betty was always so altruistic. She looked after me even when I resisted her help. For example, when I was flunking geometry because it made no sense to me, she sat with me each evening and tutored me. I was in such despair over my ignorance that I thought I had no choice but to flunk.

Betty always made such good grades and was popular with the teachers. The students admired her, I think because she was not only bright but was a good friend as well, never lording it over them. She was an excellent athlete and loved to complete at such things as baseball and track.

Betty was a favorite of Dad's, I think. She did the things he wanted us to do while I rebelled and refused to practice piano or study. I recall her making him a pair of pajamas for Christmas one year. He enjoyed listening to her play the piano and asked her most often to play for devotions at night. I think I was asked once but botched it so badly because I was nervous that he never asked me again.

Betty often was the leader in our play. She would think of creative things for us to do and of course Jo and I followed right along. She directed our paperdoll activities, would think of things for us to make for Christmas, etc.

When we became adults, Betty took on the roll of communications director in the family. She would gather information from each of us and pass it on to the others. That way we all stayed connected. We can now thank her for that because I don't believe we would be as close now without that.


Jo:

Reedley, California

The first memories I have of Bets are from our times in Reedley, California. Mom, Dad, Phyllis, Grace, Paul, Betty, Gwen, Margy and I lived in a small house. Grapes grew on both sides of the yard, there was a peach orchard to the back, and there was a pomegranate tree near the kitchen door. In the large yard there were an assortment of old farm buildings, including a shed, barn, chicken coop, and also a large sandbox under a huge tree. Sometimes the owner would use the tree to butcher pigs, something that fascinated me.

Betty, Gwen and I shared a bedroom, and Bets would often tell us stories to settle us down. She would make up Mitveezel stories, telling about a very naughty little girl named Mitveezel and her very good brother Kiddle-J-Beans (see Watermelon story). Bets would get tired of having to be in charge of us and making us clean our part of the room. (Gwen would get tired of my wetting the bed, which we shared.)

We attended the Mennonite Brethren Church in Reedley, where Dad was the assistant pastor. His main job was being principal and developing Immanuel Bible Academy. We always had to be good in church because he would be on stage and could see us if we misbehaved, and then we'd be in big trouble. Another consequence of misbehavior was having to sit with Auntie Wiens among all the old ladies.

At one time Bets attended some evangelism meetings at the church and they must have been powerful. She scared Gwen and me to death at night telling us about the terrible times that were coming before "The Second Coming of Christ." We would have to be tortured and SUFFER big-time before Christ returned if we chose to stay Christian. It helped me to think that I could always give up Christianity if I didn't want to be tortured all that much.

Paul, Betty, Gwen & I would often play in a little shed in the back yard. I can remember being very impressed when Paul made "running water" available by filling a large barrel and then attached a faucet to it. He and Betty would get the extra, overripe vegetables from our garden and can them in old glass jars. Once they left them for a long time and they exploded. I also can remember that Betty and I would spend hours throwing the basketball in an old hoop attached to the barn. We had only one bike, so we'd all have to share it. Each of us could ride it to the corner on the country road, and then it would be the next kid's turn.

One Christmas Mom asked what kind of dolls we wanted them to order from the Sears catalog. Betty and Gwen wanted cuddly dolls with hair; I wanted a doll that was asleep. I didn't like playing dolls and didn't want to have to take care of it so it was fine to have it sleep all the time. At Christmastime my doll didn't come since it had been sold out, so Mom made a very hard choice; she thought that if Gwen got a doll, I'd better get a doll since we did everything together. Betty didn't get a doll that year. She did get one many years later---Mom gave Bets her German-made China doll that had survived the fire. I'm glad; it helps me feel not quite as guilty about getting Connie, the doll she didn't get.

Paul, Betty, Gwen and I went to Windsor School, an elementary school a few miles away from where we lived. We'd go by bus, and have to wait for it down at the corner; a few other children waited there too. I remember that for awhile they were doing road work at the corner and oil containers were set up to caution drivers; Roxy Radcliff kept knocking them over. Roxy lived with his grandmother and was always giving her trouble and then climbing on top of a shed and laughing when she threatened to whip him. The school bus occasionally broke down and then we'd have to walk home; I thought that was great fun.

During those Windsor days Bets was taller than Paul, much to Paul's chagrin. Her romantic passion was Leroy Enns, a good-looking boy in the class above her. After school Betty was off with her friends or practicing piano or reading, while Gwen and I played with Marion Wiest and got into all sorts of trouble.

In the evenings Bets, Gwen and I would walk to Peters' farm down the road to get milk in a large milk can; it was a bit scary, especially after a child was kidnapped and killed somewhere in the area. Sometimes we'd run and hide in the ditches if a car was coming. Once someone poisoned one of the Peters' dogs; I don't think they ever found out who it was but they thought it was a neighbor who was angry about the barking.

During the summer we would all help in the grape fields. The older four would help cut grapes and turn trays (after which they could hardly stand up straight), and Gwen and I would help with the cutting or would take lunch out to the others if they were working nearby. The older kids also would help pick or pack peaches. We ate well during the summers, with slightly overripe fruits easily available. We had a big garden (with an old, rickety outhouse at the edge) so we had plenty of vegetables, and Mom would can enough for the winter months. Mom later would say she felt bad that we all had to work so hard, but I think having such "tough childhood experiences" gave us something neat to boast about to our kids.

Kodai School

When we went back to India, Paul, Betty, Gwen and I went up to Kodai School. Paul was in Boys' Block, Betty in Lower Boyer, and Gwen and I in Upper Boyer. We girls had Erky (Miss Erickson) for our housemother. Gwen and I were scared of her; I'm not sure if Betty was too---she probably wasn't all that much since she didn't give Erky as much grief as Gwen and I did. Even though we didn't often see Betty, we knew she was there if we needed her and that was a big comfort.

Bets roomed with Burr Rambo (I think---at least they were good friends) and their room was down at the end of Lower Boyer. Every Sunday afternoon all students had to have a rest time, which could become very boring. So to make things a bit more interesting Betty and her friends would try some unusual things, like putting their heads down between their legs and staying that way for some minutes. Then they would suddenly stand up and almost faint. One time Burr actually did faint and ended up falling through a window. That ended thatŠ--hopefully.

Betty was good at so many things. She always would get straight A's, and our teachers didn't let us younger siblings forget that we were expected to get the same. She was the pet of Mr. Musil, our strict and dreaded Latin teacher. During her senior year at Kodai, she was also the favorite of another teacher--Mr. Ruggiero, a young science teacher. His interest went beyond that of teacher-student, and we used to tease her a lot about this.

Music was another area in which Betty excelled. She took piano lessons from Miss Ruth (who also taught us Hiebert kids in Reedley and had come to Kodai at Dad's urging) and soon became the main pianist in school. She played for church, chorus, the Messiah production, evening vespers. Later I began to play for vespers; I always hoped someone would choose "God of Our Fathers" since it gave me a chance to play the piano "solo" parts. Betty and Paul would put on recitals together, while Gwen and I were always paired for these events and also played duets for the entry at assembly. Dad expected all of us to play another instrument in addition to piano: Paul and Gwen played clarinet, Betty played French horn, and I played the only instrument folks could find---a C saxophone, which I hated; I wanted to play the "more-feminine" flute but none was available. Music was an area that continued to be something Betty loved, and she eventually majored in music in college.

When we were home in Mahabubnager, we had two pianos and Bets, Gwen and I would often play these for family singing at evening devotions. One piano was a half note higher than the other so one person had to transpose; that's how I learned this skill. I still prefer going to flats, not sharps.

You'd think that with good grades and all that musical ability, Betty would be lousy at sports, but here again she had a lot of ability. She still holds the record for one of the girls' events; I'm thinking it was in girls' broad jump. She was also a fast runner. She earned a "K" award for excellent sports' ability, something I had as a goal but we left for the U.S. before I could try to achieve it (I know---good excuse).

Bruton

While we were at Kodai School, Betty, Gwen and I moved to Bruton compound. Dad had arranged the purchase of 14 acres of beautiful wooded area so that Mennonite missionary kids could live in a more home-like atmosphere. I loved it there; Gwen felt like she was being separated from her friends at the Kodai compound. The Herb Krause's were our dorm parents. Mr. Krause had also been our teacher at Windsor School, and Dad had persuaded him to come to Kodai.

Bets had a corner room in Bruton. One of the last years Betty became ill and Dr. Rosenthal diagnosed the problem as rheumatic fever, so she had to stay in bed in that corner room for quite a long time. I'm not sure if Betty got Dr. Rosenthal's standard treatment of icthyol for this or not. Gwen and I shared a room with several other girls from conservative missions and then later were in different rooms. When they were old enough to come to Kodai, Margy and Sharon Warkentin joined us in this home. Once they got in trouble and had to go to their room without supper; the rest of us sneaked food in to them so they probably had more supper that night than they usually had.

Betty studied a lot and was very busy on campus, so I didn't see her much. Also I was busy following Gwen and Mugwad around, doing things they weren't supposed to do like sneaking out at night and meeting BOYS. We had a hiding place down on the slope, under a thick passion fruit vine, where we'd go when we were upset or planning some adventure.

Not only did Bets' being older than most of us in Bruton set her apart from the rest; she also lived in her own world much of the time. She was usually so deep in thought that you'd have to say things several times to get her attention, and even then you weren't sure if she really had registered what you said. I do remember her being interested in Norm Thoms, and then Mr. Ruggiero. I also remember the time that she headed up the senior project of making REAL potato chips for one of their senior functions. The chips were really difficult to make but they were absolutely delicious and sold out fast.

Trip Through Europe

On our trip through Europe, Bets, Gwen and I spent most of our time checking out available males. Dad kept taking us on all these educational outings and Gwen and I would grumble loudly about this; I don't remember Betty minding all this learning time. The evening before we'd go somewhere (like the Louvre or Versailles), Dad would tell us about the place we'd be visiting the next day. I don't remember paying much attention then, but now I'm so thankful he did this in spite of our resistance. I learned a lot of European history during that trip. One strong memory is of our shorty coats. Since we didn't have anything warm for the trip to the U.S. and for the cold winter of Kansas, Mom had taken some long coats from the missionary care barrel (where many of our stylish clothes came from), cut off the bottoms, and sewed pleats in the lower back. I'm thinking she had seen pictures of these somewhere and thought they were the In Thing in the U.S. From behind Betty, Gwen and I looked like three ducks walking with tails bobbing on our rears. I was pretty much oblivious to the effect; Gwen was mortified; I'm not sure how Betty felt since she rarely talked about things like that to us younger siblings.

On our trip from England to New York, we sailed on the Ile de France, the fanciest liner our family had ever been on. Our rooms were on Level D at the rear of the boat; the dining hall was on Level A at the front of the boat. We used to say that by the time we got to the dining hall, we'd lost our appetite and by the time we went from the dining hall to our rooms, we'd lost our meal.

Hillsboro, Kansas

We had to leave Kodai during the middle of Betty's senior year to go to Hillsboro, Kansas, when Dad took over the presidency of Tabor College. This was a very hard move for all of us kids. Gwen and I would cry and cry, and beg to go back to Kodai since we didn't fit in with kids in Hillsboro High School. Betty had thought she had finished her high school requirements and could start Tabor College at mid-semester, but she found she needed to take a course (in American government?) so she had to attend Hillsboro High. It turns out that it was good she did, since that's when she met and started dating another high school senior, Carl Dahl. I had thought Carl was really neat before Bets noticed him; I was used to having Gwen get the guys I admired, not Bets!

During my freshman year at Tabor, Betty (a senior) and I lived in the same rooming house. One event I'll always remember clearly was when I got a tax notice for making SO much money at the Mission Board Office that I now owed the comparatively rich U.S. Government $50. I also owed college tuition, and I absolutely couldn't pay both and I couldn't work any more hours than I already was working. I went to Betty's room to tell her, and cried and cried. She must have told Phyl; Phyl sent $50 to Tabor anonymously and I could pay the taxes I owed. What a gift.

Life was hard for all of us those years when Dad was ill. At one point Dad went to stay in Mt. Lake to try doing physical labor for awhile, and Mom, Margy & Loey went to be with him. Later they moved to California so Dad could be in Kings' View, the Mennonite mental hospital in Reedley; Mom, Margy and Loey lived with Phyl in Fresno. Betty, Gwen and I stayed in our big house in Hillsboro, and Paul and Fran helped keep an eye on us. Betty worked in the creamery to help put herself through college and also to help the family make it because of Dad's illness; she got really sick and developed pleurisy from standing in cold water as she worked. During that time, I gave Betty so much trouble. Sorry, Bets!

Betty was dating Carl during those years, Gwen was dating Ed, and Paul and Fran got married. I really liked spying on these couples---it seemed so romantic! When Mom was still home, she used to go blink the porch lights on and off to signal Betty and Gwen that they were supposed to come in. Across the street there was a little old lady who used to keep an eye on things too, and we'd see her curtain pulled back just a bit as she peered out at us.

During our time in Hillsboro we were very involved in the Mennonite Brethren Church there. Uncle Waldo was the minister, and Betty was the organist for awhile; later I took over when she left. Sometimes she and I would play piano-organ duets, something I loved doing. In those days organists were expected to play for the simple purpose of glorifying God, so we spent hours and hours practicing and playing for meetings (Sunday morning and evening services, Wednesday night prayer meetings, Thursday night choir practice) for no pay. Once in awhile we'd get a small amount of money if we played for weddings or funerals. I always volunteered for funerals, hoping to get paid.

Adults

As adults we siblings became very busy with raising our families and didn't have much time to visit with siblings. During the later years, however, we've become much closer and I've gotten to know Betty as a true friend. She became one of Mom's greatest supports during Mom's last years, which sometimes griped me since Mom ALWAYS thought Betty's ideas were better than mine.

I've developed a great respect for Betty's strength and determination. Through hectic times in raising her kids while Carl was in medical school and now with her struggle with Parkinson's, Betty has remained steady and clear in her focus and her decisions. She has retained her strength and dignity. I admire her greatly and love her deeply.


Margy:

Many of my memories of my sister Betty are from our adult years, since she married and left to start her own family when I was fairly young. Even by that time, however, I had a sense of just how special a person she is. I remember being a flower girl in her wedding, and of feeling a devastating sense of loss when she headed out with Carl for her new life. My early memories are of a beautiful, intelligent, calm and cheerful young woman with the blond hair and blue eyes we all coveted. I know from family history and reading her amazing life story "Lizzie" that she was unbelievably gifted and balanced: athletic ability with a coveted Kodai "K" and track records to her name; concert-level piano accomplishment; straight A+ student from start to finish; articulate writer with graceful prose and wonderful sense of detail; beloved professor; water colorist who created breath-taking paintings, even with the tremors so cruelly inflicted on her by Parkinsons; civic servant as a school board member; eloquent speaker who was encouraged to run for political office; "mother of the year" qualities that shine through in all her children; a most attentive and loving grandmother; a loyal and loving wife.

Mostly I have come to know and love Betty in our adult years through many visits and shared confidences. She has always been the wise and gentle sister who gave me life-saving advice through various tribulations in my life. She is Betty the peacemaker, Betty the calm and the cheerful, Betty with a most generous and compassionate heart; Betty with a clear vision of what life is all about. She will always be a standard against which I will judge my own decisions and actions. Thank you, Betty, for being my sister. I love you now and forever.


Loey:

My first memory of Betty is when I was about 5 and we all lived in Hillsboro. I used to sneak outside and watch her and Carl on the porch--I doubt they were doing anything very serious on that porch swing but it seemed quite mysterious to me. Of course that led to the wedding where I was the flower girl (I think).

I don't remember much after that until I went to live with Bets and Carl one summer when I was about 10. The first part of the summer they lived in New Orleans and Carol had just been born and Dan was 1 or so. Then we moved to Galveston later in the summer as Carl was reassigned to a hospital there. Bets was very loving to me - and concerned. She taught me how to sew, a hobby which really took off when Carl offered to buy all the fabric I could sew. She taught me a lot about things about hygiene, taking care of oneself, being interested in the world, all while she was handling 2 kids and a busy husband. She was very sweet to me that summer.

Later Mom went to live with Bets and Carl and eventually my first wedding was held at their house.....Bets managed to put the wedding together, host all of our family plus spouses, kids etc., handle her own household, and keep us from interupting a very busy Carl. Wow. I guess my impression of Bets at that period is that she somehow knew how to juggle 15 balls at the same time and keep her sanity. She was pretty absent-minded though and it usually took 3 or 4 tries to get a question answered or at least several minutes before it penetrated her thought process - must have been the other 14 balls going that took the time.

Bets has always been the pragmatic person in my life who reminded me to think of the practical aspects of my decisions - e.g. would it make money, would I have the skill, where would it take me, etc. This countered some strong idealistic tendencies and helped me make some better choices though the path is still fairly zigzagged. She has also been the constant in my life - someone I knew I could always turn to for help, advice, assistance, money or just love.