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Resident Highlight: Betty W.

Kensington park resident photos“There wasn’t much to do in my hometown, except work in a rubber factory,” quips Betty as she reminisces about her childhood in Akron, Ohio. Wearing large-rimmed eyeglasses and perfectly coiffed white hair, Elizabeth W. could easily pass for one of the Golden Girls. She muses over a curation of photographed memories, one of which includes an image of Betty as a baby 100 years ago. “My mother worked as a stenographer in a small rubber factory but quit when she married my father at 19. He worked at Firestone and became the first employee at his plant to travel to Liberia to supervise a rubber plantation there.” His return to the United States resulted in another assignment in Detroit, Michigan. “I went to high school in a small town called Royal Oak. I wasn’t a great sports person but I did read a lot, so I joined the Library Club.”

Michigan State University became her new home after high school but Betty soon realized that she didn’t want to be a teacher. “My friends weren’t interested in college so I withdrew freshman year. I did miss playing bridge, though.” Many of her girlfriends started families at a young age, but Betty sailed a different direction and enrolled at Detroit Business Institute. Goodyear put her skills to the test as a stenographer during World War II. “Most people couldn’t afford a car in those days. We focused on making airplane tires instead.”

“I met my husband on a blind date set up by two co-workers. It was at a New Year’s Eve party. I wasn’t terribly impressed.”

Having been drafted, her newfound beau was deployed to England the very next day. Communication between them consisted of mundane letters, exchanged as pen pals. “He wasn’t a good speller,” Betty murmurs. Unbeknownst to Betty, her sweetheart had covertly planned to purchase an engagement ring and one day she was caught by surprise while on a shopping trip when the wife of the couple who introduced them pointed to a ring in a display case at a jewelry store. “She said it belonged to me, the future Mrs. W. I saw him only once in my life and three years later, we were married.” Raising a family in a happy home was a dream they shared in common. “His mother died when he was five years old, so he wanted a happy home, a life he didn’t have,” she explains. Nine months and two weeks after their wedding day, their twin boys were born.

Betty returned to the workforce after her children enrolled in college. “No kids, so what do you do? Go back to work! Only now there was something new called a Univac — a computer.” Betty also volunteered for a non-profit program called “Reading for the Blind.” “I still read a lot, though I now need the help of a magnifying glass. Biographies interest me the most.” A trip to Brazil with her husband during one of his assignments with General Motors afforded her the luxury of touring Rio de Janeiro. “I tried to learn Portuguese, but there were so many Americans, I got by without it.” Betty still yearns to know a foreign language, though, and says, “It would be good to learn at least one.” As empty-nesters the Betty and her husband eventually left their happy home for a cozy apartment in the United States. When she became a widow, Betty downsized yet again, relocating to Kensington Park at age 89. “Sally welcomed me here and Betty H. made me feel right at home.” She points to another photograph, this one featuring Janet Goldberg, the Director of Independent Living, and her dearest girlfriends at Kensington Park, surrounding her as they blow an airborne kiss towards the camera. “Kensington Park has always had such a nice atmosphere.” Of all the mementos Betty cherishes, she beams with joy as she looks at this one picture, reminding her of a centennial birthday celebration shared not only with the ladies of The Highlands but a familial love inspired by her husband.