Betty L. McKenzie
Franklin College Homecoming Queen of 1947, Passes at 91
Betty Louise Mathena McKenzie, 91, passed the evening of 9-8-20 holding loved ones in herMission Viejo, CA, home of 53 yrs. She was born in October, 1928, on her grandparent’s farm in Kansas, IN, which later became part of Camp Atterbury. Her parents, Mary and Donnell Deer Mathena, also had Isabelle Lee, and Donnell Earl, all two years apart. The family moved to Young Street in Franklin around 1935. Betty loved to read, learn and share. As a child she would sit and read quietly for hours from the children’s section at the FranklinLibrary her father cleaned at night. One year between the matinee and the early show at the theater downtown, her dad won the $25 weekly raffle prize and promptly gave $5 to the littleboy who pulled the ticket. At 12-years-old, 1940, Betty scooped ice cream after school.
Betty loved to read, learn and share. She graduated Franklin High School in 1946 at 17, thenattended Franklin College, a member of Delta Zeta Sorority. Betty also worked at Franklin Hospital as a candy striper. In her sophomore year, Betty was crowned Homecoming Queen.She met her husband BL “Mac” McKenzie, and they married in New Hampshire, in July, after their June graduation in 1950. They loved to travel and moved a lot. Both became elementary school teachers, well-tenured by ’67 when they moved Douglas (1955) and Melinda (1961) to Mission Viejo, California, and bought a home to settle. Travelling continued with road trips each summer back to see family. Melinda graduated CSU Chico in1984. Mac retired in 1985 and Betty did a year later after 53 years of teaching. They had a time share in Palm Desert, CA and when not there they traded to get around most of our 50 states and lower Canada. Betty’s mother passed in 1949, her brother in 1969 (his widow, 5 children and their families remain). Betty and Mac became grandparents in 1991, and 1992. Mac had Dementia by 1993 when Betty moved her father to CA. Her sister passed in late 1995 (2 children and their families survive), her father passed early 1994. In May 1997, Doug graduated Long Beach State University, School of Nursing, Phi Kappa Phi Magna cumLaud; and Mac passed that August, completing their 46-yr marriage. Betty then worked as a secretary to a trust attorney, joined Saddleback Community Outreach and became a care worker at Saddleback Hospital. She volunteered over 500 hours at Mission Viejo’s new library and helped found its genealogy department. She researched her Mathena family to 166, and joined the Daughters of the American Revolution. Betty supported Williamsburg Foundation, the Lakota tribe, and whales, subjects she taught and loved to share. She was secretary of the Assistance League of Saddleback Valley. She travelled to Europe, played Bridge like crazy, loved her friends, drank white wine, had fun lunches out and taught all us kids to read by age 3. A loving, amazing woman, Betty’s always been a role model: love and be loved. Betty, the Mathena matriarch, is survived by son Douglas, daughter Melinda McKenzie-Rudko with husband David Rudko, their daughters Anastasia Rudko and Corinne Noonan with husband Brandon and their daughter, Reagan McKenzieNoonan, Betty’s great-granddaughter.
Betty requested no shoes, no donations, no flowers, no sadness, sorrow or remorse; she asked instead to be patient and kind and give when you hear the call of need. O’ConnorMortuary of Laguna Hills, CA is handling Betty’s arrangements. She was interred September 21, 2020, next to her husband within El Toro Memorial Park in Lake Forest, CA. Born in the Fall, buried in the Fall and dear to us all, she will be sorely missed. Memories will be uploaded to oconnormortuary.com and Facebook under her name. Notices were printed in the Orange County Register and the LA Times, 9-20-20.
Welcome to this O’Connor Mortuary page.
This is a form of tribute to Betty Louise Mathena McKenzie, amid the pandemic, when too many of us cannot safely be together to remember the life of someone connective in this disconnected world.
Thank you for being here. Writing the obituary printed in the CA newspapers wasn’t difficult; but it bothered all of us that such a big life fit into such a tiny space, compared to the one she actually filled. Being here in my childhood home, going through the motions of what she wanted, I’m overwhelmed by her accomplishments, how much there is to say about this monumental foundation she laid and continued to cover for 80 years, as Betty’s adult life began at 12-years-old.
Aside from what’s here, there will soon be posts on Betty McKenzie’s Memorial Facebook page.
Some items to share now:
- Betty loved our house. It was her wish to die here, and I’m grateful that wish was granted.
- Betty adored her loved ones. And I don’t just mean her family. Betty had many loving friendships for decades with people in our hometown, others in education, and people who shared her love of Bridge, reading, genealogy, gardening, travel, lunches out, white wine and animals.
- Betty attended several of the churches in this area over 53 yrs, and contributed as she could.
- Betty hated stuff, too: coloring, golf, cooking, dusting, clutter; she couldn’t stand a dirty house, but had several projects going, multi-tasking simultaneously, always.
- While travelling, she learned to decorate. She took pics of rooms she enjoyed, came home then tried her hand at adding, subtracting, the math of the measurements and composition, the color and texture, old with new; we all agreed she deserved an A+ in about everything she set out to do, her home always comfortable and comfortingly elegant. Betty reflected her home.
- Once done with her travels, she spent several years gathering and organizing photos and binders of genealogical findings (There are five, plus five boxes for my daughters and me to publish her finished works and get to the next step.) Betty wrote her autobiography and came up with 247 adages from memory; she wrote Mac’s biography, as well, both highlighting their 46-year adventure.
- Betty began card making in earnest, and although she loved art, creating it was another matter entirely. As a teacher, she had beautiful borders and artwork to highlight what kids did (see photos). But the memory sticks with me because she wasn’t doing the cutting of those complicated pieces; the coloring of the art she insisted be done in one direction only, one line slightly atop another, with thick colorful markers. I learned a lot at an early age and love creating thanks to both parents.
- Betty did understand the worldwide pandemic, that a service couldn’t happen, that it was in the best interest of others, because did friends really have four hours to sit and listen to a eulogy of this really old lady who just happened to do a lot? We had to work hard to get those certain smiles. Mac got a great service, as she and her friends remembered. Now, people will have to read, but I remain undaunted and move forward, as her family is wont to do. (I promise a better read than what I spoke at Dad’s funeral; there were tears, mingled with laughter, and a final sense of calming peace.)
- Dad had a 21-gun salute. I stood and saluted as Betty’s grey casket, as elegant yet understated as was she, left the home and was placed ceremoniously into the back of the white van. I held that pose until the driver opened his door, then I sat and released a wail so deep and large it echoed the center of my foundation being ripped from my soul. To say we were close, doesn’t describe us; nor what she and Doug shared; but I can list others who meant about as much as us to her, because her heart was that big, with room enough to love even more. What a woman.
- Bear with this tribute to Betty. I’m finding a way to include testament letters via photographs so you can read what was written. There was a flair to communication via paper and ink that shouldn’t be lost. Quotes, Bible passages, and photos will be included. Early photos are usually best; however, since Betty was always learning something new, her outlook and outward beauty always reflected a fresh, youthfulness. She was beautiful at every stage, even the last.
- The hardest component to share is her music. Silence was golden, and revered; Betty wanted to be a Librarian when she grew up. But after the loss of Mac, music stopped playing, in her head as well, and the silence became depressing, so she filled her house with her vast eclectic musical taste so every waking hour she had the music to get her going. While Betty was ambulatory in early August, 2020, I unpacked my Dot and used Alexa to play all the crooners I knew she loved; and Betty surprised me by sharing her two favorite groups whose music I hadn’t heard, and didn’t know they were her favorites: The Andrews Sisters, and The Platters. Those groups do make the grieving process easier. I offer a Musical Tribute, because as I just discovered, there’s always something new to learn, especially about this woman so many came to adore.
- I found something in her own handwriting, meant for this occasion. The fabric that was Betty’s life was tightly woven in a lovely pattern with a strong connection to the land and the people who lived from it and its waters, those who defended the borders and took care of it, the fabric durable and made from above. This beautiful blanket of warmth now covers us all, this blanket the faith Betty held deeply dear.
- Betty had several falls before breaking her hip Sept 16, 2018. The family discovered Nov 2019, via MRI she suffered a stroke within the last 18mo-2yrs, just after her 88th birthday, that erased her coordination and short-term memory. Betty was always prepared and had a lot of time to think about what she wanted for herself. She wanted no shoes, no dwelling and no remorse, but a happy gathering in God’s nature, for me to be thankful and to thank others for being present, to get people through the gathering – Lord, let a bagpiper now play “Amazing Grace”, and a Ukrainian choir sing a Capella €œAll Is Well With My Soul” to get me through this – and she wanted me to continue to thank God, Jesus and those present for allowing her into their heart, that she tried her best, always, no matter the circumstance, to be strong, a torch in the darkness, a torch I carried into darkness until that light went into my heart.
- Betty always said she was 22, until she saw herself in the mirror. She was a Hoosier at heart. She kept each letter received. She wrote her first fan letter in 1946, to an author of a book on genealogy. Maybe Betty was thinking of going to Virginia, one day, but she also planned on being a social worker, probably in Franklin, or Indianapolis; but Mac McKenzie changed all that. Thanks to Mac, Betty saw nearly every State, most of lower Canada, and several countries in Europe several different ways, those without Mac.
- Betty lived her life purposefully, every bit of it, and ran circles around us all, until she was 88. She suddenly got so tired. No matter, Betty always found a way to do what needed to be done, walked every day she could, drank white wine, enjoyed good times, and made those she loved feel loved, comfortable and happy.
Thank you, Betty, for everything, from every one of us.
A MUSICAL TRIBUTE:
BETTY LOUISE MATHENA MCKENZIE
Setting is so important, like lighting, to set the mood and tone. Picture a meadow filled with wild flowers, edged by gentle shade trees beckoning, a promise of coolness beneath, a favorite worn path is followed until transported back in time to a farmland in Indiana, in Betty’s mother’s family for generations. Now cue the song, €œWelcome to My World” by Dean Martin.
In 1928, “Ol’ Man River” was a top song. Robert, her paternal grandfather, sat all three children on his knee in 1933, and belted out a rousing rendition of, “They chopped down that ol’ tree of pine, to bury that sweetheart of mine.” She often told me it was the only time someone sang to her. “I can change that,” I said a few weeks ago and belted out Lady Gaga’s “Joanne”, substituting, “Hey, Betty, stay with me. Heaven’s not ready for you!” By this time, Betty got to thinking Mac was lost somewhere in the celestial unknown, that he couldn’t come for her (in her mind, she’d been waiting over two years.) “Nah,” I assured her. “He’s in the bar with Einstein. Liz Taylor and Richard Burton are making up again, so your table isn’t ready yet. Be patient.”
Patience was never Betty’s strong suit, but she had many other strengths. Cue the song, “Sing, Sing, Sing” by Benny Goodman & his orchestra; hang onto every note, every beat and feel as if hearing it for the first time, as if hearing is your only sense – that’s how Betty and the Greatest Generation listened to their big radios, and the music forced one to imagine people dancing to the beat, which she would grow to dance to, like “In the Mood” also by Benny Goodman.
Cue “Moonlight Serenade ” by Glenn Miller & his orchestra. The world was going through the Great Depression, but all Betty knew by the age of five in 1933, was surely there had to be a better way of communicating with the butcher than her mother’s usual request, “Gimme a pound of your cheapest cut.” Betty was forming her ideals.
At 12, in 1940, (she and her father the only ones in the home) Betty got a job scooping ice cream, deciding orange (not sherbet) was her favorite, a flavor she never tasted again; but she lost a lot from that point on and vowed her studies, reading, dreaming, and the pursuit of a happier life would endure, no matter the circumstance. Cue the remastered 2003 version of “Smile” by Nat King Cole; then cue Natalie singing with her dad, “When I Fall in Love “. Follow by cuing Louis Armstrong’s “When You’re Smiling “; then cue €œSwinging on a Star” by Bing Crosby. These became core beliefs, and she shared their value, as did many at that time in a primarily Methodist town where all eventually ended up in the Methodist Home; unless an unforeseeable event came along to cut one down early, lives existed much like the corn planted, grown and harvested throughout the whole of that boot-shaped State. Twenty miles south of Indianapolis: How would Prince Charming find her to sweep her off her feet, rescue her and take her to his castle far away to live happily ever after?
Betty decided she would have to get herself to that happy place and become her own heroine; she would use education as her catalyst, and be judged on her academia versus circumstance, appearance, or how she looked on a man’s arm, as if a piece of jewelry, the latter causing a revulsion. She would stand on her own merits. Then the war came and her individuality became secondary, as the entire country pulled together as a singular force. Cue “The Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy of Company B” by The Andrews Sisters. Betty graduated Franklin High with high marks in 1946, and was accepted at Ball State University up north with a four-year scholarship; however, Betty’s father got a job at Franklin College, so Betty had to change her plans.
In the summer of 1946, Betty got a job as a candy striper at Franklin Hospital, and she saw Mac for the first time. He made eyes at her, lifting those heavy brows up and down; it didn’t matter how badly his lungs hurt or what he’d experienced in the Marine Corps stationed in Hawaii, both were smitten from that moment on, so please cue “Unforgettable”, and Betty preferred the 2003 version where both Coles are singing. They ended up sharing English all four years and despite the fact Betty was on the arm of the captain of the basketball team, basically forced to stay there because she looked good, and he would beat up any guy trying to take her away, Mac still took on the challenge. The guy tried to run him over by their senior year because Betty only wanted one man, and it was Mac. Cue the song, “Let Me Call You Sweetheart ” by Patti Page.
They married after graduation in 1950, and had five years of wonderful adventures in Maine, New Hampshire, Florida, Indiana, and California, where she told Mac while he was hammering the roof in Seal Beach, she was pregnant. Betty wanted to go back to Franklin. Douglas Ladd was born in March of 1955, at the hospital where they met. Moving continued and they were back in California, when Betty was pregnant again, wanting to return to Franklin, where Melinda Anne was born at the same hospital in December, 1961. Six months later, the family moved to Oregon, then Indiana, again and, Dear Lord, back to California, where finally in 1967, Betty settled down in Mission Viejo, her moving done, but not her travels.
Both Mac and Betty taught elementary school; each summer meant road trips back east to visit both families. The kids grew, time passed and Melinda graduated from California State University, Chico, in 1984. It really wasn’t until their retirements in 1985 and 1986, (and even then Betty took a part-time job as a secretary to an attorney) that the loving couple were able to look at each other again and ask: (cue the song) “Have I Told You Lately That I Love You? ” (by the Andrews Sisters)
Betty and Mac invested in a time share in Palm Desert, and they went often, as well as trading so they could travel to Booth Bay Harbor, Maine, Florida, to visit friends, Franklin, Williamsburg twice, Bunker Hill, and other monuments in Boston, Las Vegas, to see “Chicago”, Hearst Castle, Carmel, Laguna Beach, Long Beach, San Diego Harbor and Zoo, and lunch out somewhere like La Jolla, or Dana Point, every day they could, because that’s what retirement should be about: working hard while you can, then enjoying yourself and what was earned, so no guilt in doing so.
In 1990, Melinda married David Rudko, and Doug moved home and went back to college at Long Beach University, School of Nursing. Granddaughters Anastasia Christine and Corinne Elise were born in 1991, and 1992, but by then Mac’s Dementia got bad and worsened. Then Betty took on the care of her father, moving him in; her sister, now able to visit often and enjoy babies, as well, was diagnosed here with breast cancer, and passed in Indiana, her father soon after passed in Mission Viejo. A bright spot for Betty was Doug’s graduation in 1997, but Mac couldn’t come, couldn’t realize his son’s achievement: Doug graduated as a Phi Kappa Phi member, with the distinction of Magna cum Laud in May. To best sum up Mac, please cue the song, “That’s Life” by Frank Sinatra, because for once, Mac wasn’t kidding: There was nothing shaking there come that July, and he passed on August 14, a date Betty never forgot, ever.
At this point, Frank Sinatra’s other songs, “Oh, yes, I’m drinking again,” and “Please, just don’t ask me now,” (both my current songs) could be sung, but Betty played Louis Armstrong instead, and cried to (cue the song) Nat King Cole crooning her favorite from all those years ago, now so fraught with meaning, “Stardust”; but she got jumping again with The Andrews Sisters (they are helping) so cue the song “Hold Tight Hold Tight”, because she continued to put her best effort forth in everything that she did, and the results were always outstanding.
Always alert, upbeat and energetic, whether working in concert with others or performing a modest but brightly played solo, Betty crescendo at 88, and held a dramatic pause (albeit reluctant) until after 91, when just 6 weeks before her 92nd birthday, the final movement, beginning August 14, ironically, led to her robust finale, ending like the “1812 Overture”, and is culminated in the popular song, (cue) “My Way” by Frank Sinatra.
But her life doesn’t really end there. Cue Barry Manilow’s “A Wonderful Life” with Louis Armstrong, immediately followed by Barry’s “Moon River” with Andy Williams, immediately followed by “Annie’s Song” by John Denver, all songs sung to her (amid some tears) and she heard them all, and was comforted by the music. If life were to be summed up into a song, she felt, it would be “The Greatest Thing” but cue the Tony Bennet and Lady Gaga version. Betty was ready, had prepared, and always felt, “You can never be too prepared.” I could feel her prayer, so cue the song, “Don’t Fence Me In” by Bing Crosby and The Andrews Sisters.
In 2015, Melinda and Dave’s youngest daughter, Corinne, left not just home, but the State, and moved with her boyfriend to Albany, Oregon. In July, like her grandmother, 2018, Cori married Brandon Noonan, and, like Mac, her Dad performed the ceremony; they bought a house, and February 25, 2019, added another strong headed woman to Betty’s family tree, Reagan McKenzie, after her Gigi, as she was now called. After Betty got to listen to and talk with the now rambunctious 18-month-old during bath/play time the night before she passed, I asked Alexa to play Mozart to ready Betty for a calm sleep that didn’t come; she called me in and asked me to listen, asked me if what she was hearing was a religious song. I knew the piece but not the title and offered, “Well, a choir does sing, ‘Amen’ at the end.” We spoke a lot that night; the palm of her left hand was burning, and given my condition of 14yrs, I empathized, and stayed with her until 1:15a, when she finally was able to sleep. When she died less than 18 hours later, I rushed from the room, out of the house into the dark, cool backyard to feel her in the wind; but inside, Dave asked Alexa, “What song is this?” and stared agape at our oldest daughter, Stasi, when the device responded, €œThis is ‘Requiem ‘ by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.” Cue that piece.
I wasn’t surprised: Betty planned everything, except for what followed, inside all of us who loved her and felt her inner light. Please cue the group Disturbed, “The Sound of Silence”, a more powerful version and quite poignant in today’s world.
I promised peace. Please cue the song, “Twilight Time” by The Platters. After what seemed like another lifetime to Betty, 23 years apart after 46 wonderful years together, Betty having these wonderful memories to share with Mac, they are together at last, finally having that rendezvous under that unknown celestial blue.
Thank you for your time, Melinda