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Meet Betty


It’s no surprise that when asked what she’d like to talk about in her resident spotlight interview, Betty replied that she’d like to talk about her religion. “I think it’s the most interesting things about me,” she said, smiling, “and I can talk about it, it’s not weird.”

Born in Philadelphia to a loving mother and father and three sisters, Betty was brought up in the Church of Christian Science – an American-born religion that sports about 85,000 members worldwide. Her early memories involve sitting with her mother and reading Christian Science founder Mary Baker Eddy’s famous book: Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, along with passages from the bible.

“Both my sister and I stammered when we were younger,” she said, “so reading from the bible was good practice for me because there were quite a few tongue twisters in there,” she said, laughing. “And I liked it [Christian Science] until I became an adolescent and started to question things.”

Despite growing up in the depression, moving from apartment to apartment, and dealing with nagging questions about her faith, Betty was an exceptionally happy child – seeing each move as a new adventure. “I was always happy,” she said, speaking of when the Great Depression impacted her family. “I wasn’t aware that suddenly we were poor and had nothing – and you don’t know about depression until you know nothing – we had nothing.”

From Nothing to Everything

Despite hard economic times, Betty wasn’t about to let outside circumstances determine her fate. She enrolled at Wayne State University, eventually earning a Bachelor’s Degree as well as a Master’s Degree in Library Science and a Master’s Degree in Geography. Inspired by her love for learning, she began teaching at Oakland Community College – lecturing about her favorite subjects to many interested students.

It was during this period that she met the man she’d eventually marry – and stay married to for 23 years. He was a fallen-away Catholic, and immersing herself in his religion re-invigorated her quest to finally feel comfortable in her own. It was then that she seriously began to consider leaving the church of her youth and converting.

“I had a perfect life,” she said smiling. “Two children – a boy and a girl. I loved my husband. We had a nice house and we were happy. We had a little doggie and everything.”


Finally a Catholic After 83 Years

After the death of her first husband and divorce from her second (a colleague who was also a Catholic), Betty realized it was now or never to fulfill her dream of converting. Neither of her spouses was particularly fond of their religion, which kept her from officially making the plunge all of those years. “With both husbands gone, I thought, I could do it now,” she said. And after talking to a priest, she officially converted at the age of 83 – and now gets to live a faith that inspires her every day.

“It’s so real,” she said when asked what about Catholicism moves her. “I mean, what lasts 2,000 years? Not much. But the bible – best seller all these years. It’s fascinating. It’s more real. You can talk about it.”

And talk about it she does. Her life has come full circle now, from reading the writings of Mary Baker Eddy with her mother to scripture readings at the Oakmont Northville chapel – the words of faith continue to not only move Betty but pique her intellectual curiosity on a daily basis.

“You know, they often say about converts that they’re more interested, more moved by things because it’s new and it’s splendid,” she said. “I love ritual when it’s beautiful. I love it. I just love it.”

Listen to Betty describe why Catholicism moves her in her own words:

Oakmont residents enjoy Belle Isle picnic

For many, coming to Belle Isle on a sunny June day brought back memories of coming to the fabled island park.

But for everyone, the Oakmont Picnic was a good opportunity for residents of all eight Oakmont communities to come together for a great time.

Rosemary of Oakmont Rochester recalled coming to Belle Isle as a youngster.

“I think I was 5 years old. I was chaperoning my aunt. My grandmother wouldn’t let her out of the house without someone with her,” she joked. “I remember my mother saying she learned how to drive here. So I love the history of the island. I love the history of Detroit.

“This used to be called Hog Island when the Native Americans were here.  At one time, it used to have one of the largest orchid exhibits in Detroit. It was very beautiful. It’s great to see it come alive again.”

Belle Isle: Buses, burgers and BBQ fun

Buses brought all the residents to the pavilion near the Aquarium and the Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory. There, everyone gathered for a catered cookout with hot dogs, burgers and a plethora of other goodies you’d find at a great summer picnic.

“I’m really enjoying it,” said Huey, from Oakmont Parkway. “It’s a very nice day for this. And, it doesn’t cost any more to come here, so it’s a really good deal. I think it’s great.”

Aside from the food, there was plenty of entertainment provided by Jeffery Cavataio. He’s a familiar face to Oakmont residents, as he often performs at several of the properties. He kept the crowd of well over 100 residents entertained, performing hits from the 1950s and 60s, as well as a few current musical standards.

Posted by Oakmont Senior Communities on Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Not only did he have the residents up and dancing, but he also performed a number with a pair of Oakmont activity directors – Charlotte Collins from Rochester and Marie Rumbley from Northville.

“I love coming out and performing with our friends,” Jeff said. “This day is a lot of fun.”

Let's Twist…at the Oakmont Picnic!

A post shared by Oakmont Senior Communities (@oakmontseniorcommunities) on

A perfect day to enjoy, explore Belle Isle

Some of the residents took advantage of the bright sun and cool breeze by participating in various activities. Jan, from Oakmont Manor, tried her hand and bocce ball and a golf putting game. A longtime golfer, Jan laughed at her efforts of chipping out of the long grass.

“I was a golfer once,” Jan joked. “It’s been a couple of years. This is a fun day. We’ve never done this before, where all the Oakmont buildings came together for a big picnic. It’s lots of fun. We came here last year, a picnic with Oakmont Manor. But now it’s much bigger.

“It was nice to see how Belle Isle has changed over the years. A lot of people who came here, who grew up in the Detroit area, were telling us how you used to have to take a tunnel under the road (East Jefferson) to get here.”

Ted and Mary had the look of a couple of lovebirds, walking around the park together. They have been married for 60 years and resided in Warren before moving to Oakmont Manor.

They found a sunny bench and reflected on memories.

“It’s been many years since we’ve been here, but we used to come every once in a while,” Mary said. “This is a nice change of pace. We’re having fun.”

“It’s good to be out in the fresh air,” Ted added.

Mary and Ted enjoy staying active, so they enjoyed much about getting to Belle Isle.

“I like the exercise classes,” Mary said. “We have them three times a week and I love going. And Ted likes to play cards and golf. So we stay busy.”

Oakmont residents vividly recall memories of visits to Belle Isle

It’s no wonder our residents are so excited about the upcoming Oakmont Senior Communities annual picnic on June 27 at Belle Isle. After all, when they think of Belle Isle, it takes them back many years to some great memories.

“I lived a block away from the Franklin Settlement House in Detroit and they would provide a station wagon,” said Clara, an Oakmont Manor resident. “Every Friday night in the summer, my friends and family went in the station wagon to Belle Isle. We would visit the aquarium and the conservatory to go swimming, then my mom would bring out the tuna salad and make us all sandwiches.

“I sometimes went with the girls from work and rented bikes and rode around the island. I went on dates there and one particular date we went ‘parking’ with some other couples.” Clara also recalled her father and uncles taking them on horse and buggy rides on the island, as well as trips to the zoo on the island.

“That is why these trips every year with Oakmont to Belle Isle are so special to me,” Clara said.

Forrest (Oakmont Livonia) also has fond memories from visiting Belle Isle.

“One trip that sticks in my mind is my whole family and I went to Belle Isle for the day,” he said. “We visited the ‘kiddie park,’ where they had farm animals you could feed and pet. My daughter, Heather, was feeding one of the goats and it tried to eat her dress! We still laugh about it to this day.”

Memories, including humorous ones, of Belle Isle

“On graduation night of high school, I drove my car up the stairs and around the fountain, we left before the police came!” said Larry from Oakmont Sterling Assisted.

“I was sitting in the rocks by the pond and a young man across the water threw a rock and it hit me right in my forehead,” joked Marion from Oakmont Northville. Claire, another Northville resident, remembered, “We took our exchange student from Brazil to the races and he jumped the fence!”

Yvonne (Oakmont Sterling) remembers going to Belle Isle as a teenager with her dog, Toughy Tony. Her dog enjoyed being on the ice while everyone was ice skating. She also enjoyed the concession stands, with sweet treats and a chance to warm up.

A married couple from Oakmont Rochester Independent, Jim and Gloria, also shared some great Belle Isle memories.

“We went all the time. We belonged to the Detroit Yacht Club and went ice skating on the lagoons. There used to be ice cream stands all around the island…they had the best ice cream cones.”

“As was our family tradition every summer, we took a day trip to Belle Isle,” said Rita of Oakmont Livonia. “We would visit the aquarium, conservatory and ride on the pony rides.”

Geno (Oakmont Parkway) had some great memories from high school. “In 1950, our senior prom, we went to the Belle Isle fountain,” he said. “We all tuned into CKLW on our car radio and danced the night away.”

It sounded great in letters – and was great in person, too

The first time Christel (Oakmont Manor) heard of Belle Isle, she was several thousand miles away. Her boyfriend (who later became her husband) left Germany for the United States in 1956. She recently came across a letter from 1957, in which her boyfriend described – in great detail – the beauty of the island and how much he enjoyed visiting Belle Isle.

“Christel immigrated to the U.S. in November of 1957 and she married her husband in December,” said Janet Hays, Activity Director for Oakmont Manor. “When she went to Belle Isle for the first time, she felt like she already knew it because of the letters from her beau.”

Al of Oakmont Livonia made visiting Belle Isle a pretty regular practice back in the day. “In 1958, I used to go out to Belle Isle to go swimming and attend live concerts, such as the Detroit Symphony,” he said.

Visiting Belle Isle was also a regular thrill for Diana of Oakmont Livonia.

“We would always pack a beach bag and take it to school with us so we could go to Belle Isle right after school,” she said. “We would swim, canoe and, of course, sunbathe. It was so much fun.”

There were some specific occasions, too, that were good for some to visit Belle Isle.

“I used to like to go to Belle Isle at Christmastime and see all the pretty poinsettias and the displays,” said Barbara from Oakmont Rochester Assisted.

Memories of summer picnics from days gone by

“I enjoyed picnics with my family,” said Helen. A fellow Rochester Assisted resident, Ada, recalled she “used to enjoy going to Belle Isle for church picnics.”

Mary, from Oakmont Northville, remembers: “We would picnic with my three boys. The basket contained ham sandwiches, potato salad, and pickles. We would try to find the shadiest spot.”

Picnics were among the many activities recalled by Jean of Oakmont Rochester Independent.

“We (family and friends) went a lot,” Jean said. “We had picnics and went ice skating. There was a beautiful zoo, conservatory and aquarium. We had pony rides and weenie roasts at night. It was a great place for teen-age parties…we danced around the Scott Fountain.”

“My favorite memories are having picnics with my family,” said Lynn from Oakmont Sterling Assisted. “I also used to be a photographer for weddings and shot some weddings on Belle Isle. Everyone always used to barbecue ribs and it smelled so good.”

Family picnics were also a memorable experience for Pat at Oakmont Parkway.

“I remember how much the kids would love the horse and buggy rides,” she said. “Also, we would go canoeing every summer and Ice skating in the winter. At sunset, we would sit by the shoreline and watch the freighters go by.” Rita, a Northville resident, also remembered how canoeing was “my favorite thing to do.”

Pinching pennies and a real trek to get to Belle Isle

When times were lean for Gloria (Oakmont Parkway) and her husband, Belle Isle was an affordable adventure.

“Frank and I would go canoeing at Belle Isle when we were first married because we couldn’t afford much back then,” she said. “It was quite romantic, too.”

Just getting to the island was worth the effort for a couple of Parkway residents.

“We didn’t have a car,” recalled Marge, “so we would have to walk several miles to get to Belle Isle so we could go ice skating.”

Ann also had to work to get to the island.

“Back in 1940, we used to get up in the morning and take the street car to the boulevard bus to get to Belle Isle,” she said. “My brother had a job taking care of the horses there. We would spend our summers and our winters there when we were kids. I have so many fond memories on Belle Isle.”

Hazel from Parkway looked back on her early visits to the island.

“Before my husband and I were married, we would go to the Belle Isle Zoo for a date,” she said.

Plenty of fun activities from which to choose

There were more good memories. Here are a few from Northville residents:

“I loved to ride the horses,” Ara said. Jerry enjoyed a different activity – “I played tennis and golf.” And Barb recalled, “I’d go to watch the fountain shoot up.”

A pair of Sterling residents also remember a wide range of activities. Teedie recalled when she was 19, she enjoyed going canoeing on the island, which also offered plenty of trails for walking. She also enjoyed visiting the nature center. Betty (who recalled it being a big gathering place for fellow east-siders) remembered Belle Isle being a great place for her large extended family to gather for family reunions each summer. That’s where the family had a competitive baseball game. She also remembers ice skating, hiking and swimming on the island.

It was a family occasion for Syd and John: “We took our kids there, they loved the aquarium and the fireworks.”

Several Rochester Independent residents recalled what brought them to Belle Isle: “I use to picnic with my family and play in the water,” Pat said. From Art: “My family visited the zoo many times.” And Grace remembered, “When I was in high school I went to concerts and ice skating.”

“I used to take my wife and daughter to the island to sightsee and look at all the beautiful flowers,” said John from Sterling Assisted.

At 982 acres in size, the 2.5-mile-long Belle Isle is the largest island park in the United States. It was designed by landscape architect Frederick Law Olmstead (who also designed Central Park in New York City). The island, which had been operated by the City of Detroit for many years, now falls under the direction of the State of Michigan and has been designated as a state park since 2014.