July 25, 2021

Betty Kilbourn: Resident of Henry County for 100 years

By Curt Swarm

She doesn’t look a day over 80, but Betty Kilbourn, a resident of the Van Vorhies Haus, a retirement home in Mt. Pleasant, will be 100 years young June 16. The residents and staff of the Van Vorhies Haus call her “Beppy” because there was another Betty in the home when she moved in two-and-a-half years ago. But don’t call her Beppy if you don’t live or work there. She will correct you.

She’s outlived two husbands, is a fourth cousin to Abraham Lincoln and has played a lot of Duplicate Bridge to keep her mind alert. She learned to play bridge from her first husband. He was from a bridge-playing family. He loved the game so much, she saw him come home from a funeral once and set up the card table.

Longevity runs in her family. Her mother lived to be 104 and a great-grandfather 96. So it’s in the genes, according to Beppy, I mean Betty, and hard work. She worked for the High Hat Cafe on the South Side of the square in Mt. Pleasant, Dyall Photography Studio on Main Street and Heatilator over the years. “What goes around comes around” is her motto. Treat people fairly and fairness is returned.

She was always active in her youth, playing golf, swimming, riding bikes and roller skating. She skated on the sidewalks and every summer, a portable skating rink was set up under a tent where the Dairy Queen in Mt. Pleasant is now. Her mother skated there, too.

She started school at the Greenwood Country School south of Mt. Pleasant. In the Depression years of the 1930s, her grandfather would tell her that doing her studies while listening to the radio would ruin her. She wonders what he would think of kids and smartphones today. When she was in high school in Mt. Pleasant, she won the award for having the best posture. Her grandmother would give her two milk bottles to sell for a dime. She could go to the movies at the Temple Theater on Main Street in Mt. Pleasant for a dime.

Her connection to Abraham Lincoln is through her grandmother’s maiden name, which was Hanks. Abraham Lincoln’s mother was Nancy Hanks.

Betty married at the age of 20 to Warren Howe. The marriage lasted 26 years and they had one son, Jerry, who became a career FBI agent after he graduated from college. Jerry and his wife live on Lake Rathbun and visit Betty once a week. Her second marriage (“after 12 years of freedom”) was to the red-headed, fun-loving, Terry Kilbourn, who was 10 years younger than Betty. Betty likes to say she “raised him up.” He died two-and-a-half years ago. They were living in New London and for a while, Betty tried to stay in her own home. But one morning, when it took her more than an hour to make her toast and coffee, she knew she needed care. Her friend of more than 55 years, Lea Bradley, helped her get situated at the Van Vorhies Haus where she has her own apartment. Betty has gained 20 pounds since being in the Van Vorhies Haus and she’s not happy about it. (She is still nice and trim.)

She loves to reminisce. One time the undertaker was taking what he thought was a deceased baby to the funeral home in the back of his hearse. When he crossed the rough railroad tracks in Mt. Pleasant, the baby came alive. You better believe he made a quick u-turn.

Betty knew she needed glasses when she saw someone waving at her from an automobile. It was a dog wagging its tail. Turns out that she has macular degeneration and will eventually lose her eyesight, which is her greatest fear — she won’t be able to stay at the Van Vorhies Haus. She can no longer see well enough to play Duplicate Bridge. She has a plaque stating, “Betty J. Howe Kilbourn is Recognized as a Golden Age Master of the American Contract Bridge League (ACBL), Awarded 2014.” She has 1,546.75 points, accumulated half-a-point or point per game.

She also has a book reading machine to help her read but feels it’s more trouble than it’s worth. What she really likes is listening to audiobooks.

Her 100th birthday is June 16. She is wondering if there will be 100 candles on a birthday cake and if the fire department will have to be called. However, her bridge friends can’t all get together to help her celebrate her 100th birthday until sometime in July. Cards can be sent to Van Vorhies Haus, 601 W. Monroe St., Mt. Pleasant, IA 52641. With her failing eyesight, someone will read the birthday cards to her, you can count on that.

Contact Curt Swarm at curtswarm@yahoo.com