“Nana” Cleola Mae Betten

June 23, 1927-June 5, 2009

Obituary: Coe Betten – Indian Harbour Beach – Coe “Nana” Betten, 81, of Indian Harbour Beach, unanimously loved mother, grandmother and great-grandmother, lost her battle to stay with her earthly family on Friday, June 5, 2009. She’ll be waiting round the mountain for her husband France and her nine children, Terry, Cheryl (Rigler), Scott, Randy, Rick, Mark, Chrissie (Abrahams), Laura (Pitten), and Bradford; along with their spouses, Liz, Jan, Claudia, Billy and Kate. Beginning in 1968 and continuing into the new millennium, Coe had 28 grandchildren, including David, Lee Shea, and Carrie; Kimberly (Squiers), Brett, Shana (Carter) and Jesse (Rigler); Derek and Brittany; Shawn, Jamie, Jadien, Brooks, Chantelle, Jessica and Morgan; Ricky, Michael, Steven, and Katelyn; Blaise and Brooke; Phillip, Patrick, Nicholas and Anthony (Abrahams); Olivia and Trey (Pitten). She also had the rare pleasure of knowing and being loved by 21 great-grandchildren- Shea Ann, Jack and Rori; Jordan, Rebecca, David, Madison, Anna and Calli (Squiers); Wesley, Jackson and Katia (Rigler); Jenna, Zack, Kyle and Jamie; Trinity and Autumn; Justice and Versailles; and Nea. Born Cleola Mae Harris on July 23, 1927, the youngest of seven children of Caecilia (Huster) and George Harris the future Mayor of Lebanon, Illinois. She fell in love with France who pulled her from her small town roots and showed her every state in the nation many times over. They raised their kids and enjoyed an idealic life in a suburb of New York City by the name of Ridgewood, New Jersey. They often enjoyed the cosmopolitan life of the big city frequenting hot spots like Toots Shors Restaurant during the vibrant 1960s. Coe and France were pioneer motor homers and for over 40 years would take transcontinental trips to visit family and friends, Yet, despite their nomadic lifestyle, Coe never failed to remember and acknowledge birthdays, anniversaries, graduations and life events of her extended family. Every member from child to great-grandchild – received a signed card and token of her love on their special day. Christmas is a magical time for everyone, but no one took greater joy in it than Coe. Nana embodied the Spirit of Christmas, and lovingly selected and wrapped gifts for each and every one of her offspring. The family always gathered at her house on Christmas Eve, and the bounty under the tree would take hours and hours to unwrap. And even if you were a visitor or guest, Coe always had something special wrapped up just for you. Coe was such a strong and dominant matriarch, that her uncommonly large family has a great chasm in it now that she has left them. Yet, each member knows she has entered the heavenly realm of her Savior Jesus Christ; and will cherish the memories of Christmas holidays, family gatherings, motor home trips, and the week long Beach Bash on her 80th birthday, attended by over 60 members of her loving family.

Eulogy: Best Selling Author Denis Waitley once said, “Time is an equal opportunity employer. Each human being has exactly the same number of hours and minutes in a day.”

The difference between people is what we do with the time we are given?

As we look back on the life of our mom, and Nana, the little town girl who went to the big city, the one thing that puzzles us is –

Where did she find the time?

Many of us here have children of our own, so we know how much time it takes to raise a family, but like many of her generation, she had a very large brood. Nine to be exact. We are blessed to all be here, but exponentially saddened to have lost our dear mother first.

But she was much more than a just mother – or to be politically correct a ‘homemaker.’

Not only was she an exceptionally attentive mother to NINE of us, but being so meant doing everything on a very large scale.

She was one heck of a cook, as you can imagine she’d have to be with so many mouths to feed. But she never seemed to need a recipe, and whether it was her signature pot roast with hot slaw salad, or three dozen pork chops, or a whole box of pancake mix, she was always feeding a horde, often times even mouths that belonged to friends and neighborhood kids. Because our home was a place where kids were always welcome.

Where else would you sit down at a kitchen table that had picnic benches instead of chairs and have Terwilger and Wakefield milk served by the pitcher, after being pumped from a machine like a cafeteria.

And when she did laundry, the clothes were delivered to the basement in a chute that ran through all three floors of the house and then put into one of two washers and two dryers that ran all day long, and ended up on a table in piles, according to the name written on the collar or the band of your underwear.

But at the same time, she was a dutiful wife, and our father’s trusted assistant and “right hand” in business. A business that yielded literally millions of dollars and provided innumerable jobs, and livelihoods for countless families. And even though the business bore his name, and on paper he had no partners – the fact of the matter is he had one heck of a silent partner. She was his secretary, his receptionist, his advisor and convention collaborator. She was his front ‘woman’. Always there, always smiling, and always filling in the blanks for him.

And right in the middle of her “work’ day we would all come storming in at lunchtime. Because, in those days we all came home for lunch and she’d have to stop being a laundrymaid, stop being a business woman, and just be a mom, feeding a flock of excited birds from grade school to high school.

Where did she find the time?

She saw to it that we wanted for nothing if it would teach us something. No matter what extra burden it might put on her. Like pets – We had dogs and cats and fish, rabbits, gerbils and snakes and even a loaner owl. Because she wanted to make sure we learned about responsibility.

We all had to learn to play an instrument, she made certain we went to catechism classes, and boy scouts and girls scouts, and pee wee sports, and dance.

The things she taught her girls are long since lost in modern society…

How to knit, and sew, how to cook, how to set a table and serve, and how to stand by your man.

And every year at the start of classes we would get new clothes. She took each of us shopping and helped all of us colorblind boys select coordinating outfits. She didn’t make any of us wear hand me downs on the first day of school. She took us to shoe stores and dentists and doctors.

Where did she find the time?

Some might think she was a glutton for punishment, but every summer we would pile into the motorhome and traverse the continent from coast to coast. Visiting family and friends along the way and stopping at every monument and national park we could find on the map. She took such great joy in our learning and growing this way. In those days she very rarely sat up front, leaving those seats for us kids, so we could experience the journey. Instead she always seemed content to sit back at the table playing cards and travel games, singing and smiling.

She always did like to play games. Whenever the family gathered for the holidays we would play the latest games like family fued and trivial pursuit. One of her favorite was liars dice. We can all remember the innocent look she would give you when passing you a cup of useless dice and calling it ‘four of a kind’.

And when it came to family gatherings, she had meals already prepared, like her chicken divan, so she could spend time with us instead of in the kitchen. And, she was always the last one to go to bed. But she never slept in. It’s fair to say she wasn’t exactly a morning person. But she was always up first thing, waiting for her brood of chicks to come in – because she truly relished the times when we would come home to the roost.

And her home was always clean and organized. Sure, there were a very few times throughout the years that she had a maid or help with the house, but she was the kind of person who would straighten up before the maid came, and there was no maid who could clean to her satisfaction.

She always spoke of deep cleaning this room or that. And there was clear evidence that it had been done, because everything was always in its place. Yet you could never witness her doing it.

Where did she find the time?

We can’t talk about her without talking about Christmas- Sure, everyone has special feelings about this time of year. But few actually make it a part of their life as she did. When it came to Christmas she was selfless to a fault. She gave her daughters and daughters in-law Goebel figurines every year for over thirty years, but never bought one for herself.

Somehow, she had a plan that ensured she not only didn’t forget anyone – but that she would actually manage to spend the same amount on each child, grandchild and great grandchild. Her Christmas list must have been a veritable rubics cube to make it all come out even. But no one ever saw her do it. I doubt that any of us, even dad, can remember being with her when she bought a single gift, yet each and every one was personal and always wrapped.

And how can we forget her sitting quietly on Christmas Eve watching every gift get opened, and how she was always looking at you when you opened the gift from her. Such was her love for us.

And despite the size of her extended family, and whether you were near or far, she made each of us feel like an individual, and someone special to her. Like the card she would always send on your birthday or special occasion. Each of us could count on her to remember our day.

Where did she find the time?

She never ever – ever – said I’m too tired. In fact, she rarely got sick and never sought sympathy or comfort even if she was.

And she wouldn’t let us do it either. At our house there was no automatic pass to stay home sick from school. You better have the mumps or measles or chicken pox to prove it. You would get no coddling from her.

But, if you really were sick, we can all remember she would gently hold your forehead while you heaved. Such was her love for us.

We all know she was a strong woman, again, she had to be with nine kids – afterall, she could command a room with just one raised eyebrow.

But none of us knew exactly how strong Cleola Mae was deep down inside. The depth of her strength didn’t come out until the last months of her life. And it was witnessed first hand by Cheryl as she valiantly fought to stay with us. Cheryl asked her recently what she wanted us all to remember, and quoting from the title of a movie she said “Its all about family, and paying it forward.”

She did much more than teach us ABC’s and right from wrong. In her selfless way she gave and gave and gave of herself. Ultimately, she not only taught us how to live, but how to die, and she did it with great humility and dignity. Despite the fact that she knew she was gravely ill, she clung to life, because she loved us all so much.

In the last days her very essence struggled with the inevitable, because there were over sixty people that she loved so much and she could not conceive of leaving us behind. Sadly, in the end, 81 years wasn’t enough time for her. But we can look forward to the days when we join her in the heavenly kingdom and take heart from Proverbs 31 which assures us

“Strength and honor are her clothing, and she will rejoice in time to come.”

There’s also an old saying that goes like this- “A person lives, as long, and as often as they are remembered.” If that’s the case, then mom “nana” will live a very, very long time.
I’d like to close with the words of a song that’s familiar to all my brothers and sisters. It’s a song we heard our father sing to our mother many times.
Smile the while you kiss me sad adieu

When the clouds roll by, I’ll come to you

Then the skies will seem more blue

Down in lovers lane, my dearie

Wedding bells will ring so merrily

Every tear will be a memory

So wait and pray each night for me

Till we meet again