Turning 100 is a dazzling achievement for anyone, but for Betts, it is especially dazzling. In the picture above, she is preparing to entertain the guests at her birthday party by singing “Brush Up On Shakespeare” and reciting from memory a Shakespearean Sonnet. Betts is a very young 100-year-old.
What keeps Betts young? It is her love of music (especially opera), art, books, friends, socializing, dining out, and learning. These are influences from her brilliant father, who had an enormous effect on her.
Growing up during the Great Depression, they didn’t have a lot of money to attend cultural events, so her father depended on the library and museums to help him educate his three daughters. He gathered them around the stove in the evenings and read Shakespeare and other works of great literature; they listened to opera and symphonies.
On weekends they visited New York City museums until they soaked in the knowledge from every one of them. A self-taught paleontologist, her father shared all he discovered about the history of life on earth, engaging his daughters in creating a chart so thorough, it was accepted by the American Museum of Natural History.
Betts’ mind continues to be sharp as a tack. In fact, when she flew to visit her California son, he and his brother gave her an iPhone 11 for her birthday. She plans to take classes at the library to learn how to use it. She has a stack of books on her bedside table and is an avid reader. She maintains her involvement in Sinclair’s College for Life-Long Learning, most recently enjoying a class where she writes the stories of her life. One of her favorite stories involves meeting Eleanor Roosevelt. She was only 15.
Betts grew up on the beach in Coney Island, New York as a first generation American. Her parents emigrated from London in 1916 … her Jewish ancestors hailing from Ukraine. She met her first husband working in a stand on the beach selling Taffy. Miguel worked in the adjacent stand. Two weeks after they married in 1940, Miguel’s job at WPAFB brought them to Dayton.
Betts and Miguel settled into quarters contained in a big, old Victorian house on West 4th Street, where Sinclair Community College now stands. To deal with her culture shock and depression, Betts adopted walking as a hobby. Each day she said to herself, “Where will I go today?”
That hobby evolved into a love of exercise … which must account for her amazing physical condition. The house in which Betts lives has a laundry room in the basement. She is proud she is still able to navigate those steps and do her own laundry.
Betts and Miguel were married for twenty-three years. During this time, she concentrated on raising their two sons (she is very proud of both of them), becoming a good cook (back in the day she made Chinese egg rolls from scratch…including the wrappers), sewing and altering clothes for herself and the boys. It is only in the last couple of years she has given up altering her own clothes.
Betts was single for ten years and during this time she capitalized on an interest she had taken in furniture while visiting museums as a young girl. She took a course in decorating and worked at Elder Johnston (later Elder Beerman) and Town & Country Furniture as a decorator.
She met her second husband, Jim, at a dance. He was an engineer at WPAFB and she engaged the women she met at the Officer’s Club in Stretch & Go. She taught herself yoga by watching “Lilias and You” on TV and then volunteered at St. Leonard’s, teaching yoga and other forms of exercise to the nuns in residence. She was also the first person to start exercise classes for Beavercreek Parks and Recreation. She has participated in yoga classes for years. She credits exercise to how fast her hip healed several years ago after a fall and a fracture.
The only thing that slows her down these days is the arthritis in that hip. It doesn’t slow her down much, though. She still drives short distances, only recently giving up driving at night. In addition to visiting her son in California, she enjoys her trips to visit family back in New York.
What I found most interesting about Betts is her spiritual journey. After her divorce in 1963, she felt the need to “open my heart and soul to something more.” This meant defying her father’s objections to religion, not easy because she loved her father dearly. She found Unity and later Religious Science.
This metaphysical approach “suited my personality.” She found it very difficult to even say the word “God” for a long time. While a traditional church wouldn’t have worked for her, she did come to love what Jesus said and how he associated with common people. In fact, one of those library books by her bedside is The Third Jesus by Deepak Chopra.
After her second husband died, Betts was invited to join a group of women who came to be dubbed, The Angels. It was there she found her most meaningful spiritual community.
Betts eventually came to love Dayton and in her words, “Everything’s okay … love is the name of the game. Life is pretty good if you have love.”
And she does. The social room at the Center for Spiritual Living was packed on January 4 as friends and family helped her celebrate 100 years. Her friends describe her as amazing, gracious, vibrant, fun, and beautiful. And so she is … truly a Dazzling Dayton Dame.