Spotlight on Betty Begert
If you are not sure who Betty Begert is, she is easily recognizable. Betty is always attired with a colorful blazer, matching scarf, earrings, and brooch—along with a big smile! Elizabeth (Betty) Margaret Cooper was born on Valentine's Day, 1922 in Beverly, Massachusetts to Frank and Beatrice, the third of their six children. """"My mom was so thrilled because I was the first girl, and she was hoping for a girl,"""" Betty still beams. She loved being part of a large family.
As the Cooper family grew, Frank and Beatrice decided to buy Centennial Spring House and Cottages, a hotel that had been a Civil War era home with twelve lakefront cottages, located in the town of Sabbath Lake, Maine. The hotel was very old and required a lot of TLC. Frank set to work immediately and completely renovated all of the buildings and the Coopers were soon ready for business. Owning a hotel became a project for the entire family. Frank did all of the cooking, while Beatrice did all of the baking. The children waited on tables, while also helping Frank with property maintenance. Betty, who was outgoing like her father, worked in the office and was the hotel's official hostess and she loved every minute of it. The family even provided evening musical entertainment for their guests! The Cooper children's lives were balanced with play, as well as work. Much of their summers were spent outdoors swimming and playing in Sabbath Lake.
The family business operated from Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day. After that, the children returned to school. For grades kindergarten through eighth grade, the Cooper children and their cousins attended a one room schoolhouse, operated by the Shakers, a Christian sect founded in England in the eighteenth century. Betty looks back upon her early childhood education with great admiration for her teachers. They did not marry, nor did they have children of their own, but took in orphans. The Cooper children were raised Catholic, although their father, Frank, was a Baptist, and Betty respected that the Shakers never imposed any religious beliefs on any of their pupils. Each day commenced with morning devotions, which consisted of the Lord's Prayer and a hymn. Boys were separated from girls in the classroom and each had separate recess sessions. Classes were quite small and in fact, there were only three students in Betty's graduating class! Betty learned the simple Shaker ways from her kind elders. Her father was grateful that he knew that his children were always safe, and that they received a good education.
In addition to academic subjects, music programs were an important part of the school curriculum. This reinforced the love of music that the Cooper children enjoyed at home. Frank and Beatrice loved music and instilled that passion in their children. It was common for the Coopers to break into song at the dining room table after dinner, so Betty loved the musical and devotional aspects of her education.
After graduation, Betty easily transitioned to a broader high school experience at Pennell Institute in Gray, Maine. She was very athletic and played basketball and ran track throughout high school. During this time, her passion for music, particularly her singing talent, was developed even more as she participated in plays and entertainment opportunities of any kind. Her teachers recognized her vocal abilities, and encouraged her to sing solos.
Betty's desire was to pursue music in college, but her father thought that it would be wiser to pursue a more viable skill, so Betty attended Becker Junior College in Worcester, Massachusetts majoring in business. """"It was a wonderful place to study! It was co-ed and the student rooms were located in large mansion-like homes. """"I lived in Haywood House and each house had a house-mother. It was great! There were so many activities and of course, I continued to participate in music programs—singing solos whenever I got the chance!”
When asked about how she met her husband, Betty declared, """"Now, that is quite a love story!"""" She had graduated from junior college and was hired as an executive secretary by an insurance company. On one particular weekend, she left from the Boston train station to travel back to Maine to visit her family. Betty had just settled into her seat for the long trip home, when a handsome young sailor asked if she would mind if he sat in the empty seat next to her. When she agreed, he introduced himself as John Begert. It turned out that John was traveling to the same destination and lived only twelve miles from Betty's home. John had been in seminary, but after much reflection, he decided that the priesthood was not his life's vocation. He joined the Navy and served in the Philippines. He had been discharged, and was on his way home for the weekend. As the train pulled out of the tunnel from the Boston station, it passed by a statue of the Blessed Mother and Betty commented how she had always loved that statue. John asked Betty if she were Catholic and from that point forward, they were together for the rest of their lives. After each had visited their families, they took the train back to Boston together and discovered that they had much in common. """"Our faith was the real binding. He was the only fellow to receive my father's approval and we were married five months later. Dad and John would have long discussions about faith. A year later, my father converted from his Baptist faith to Catholicism.""""
Betty and John were married on June 22, 1946. After their wedding, they lived with Betty's parents for period of time, while John worked as vice president of a local mill. Then they decided to move to South Bend, Indiana for two years, so John could pursue a doctorate in business at his alma mater, Notre Dame. There, Betty was teased for being """"the"""" reason that John left the seminary. It was good-natured ribbing, but Betty was quick to set the record straight, informing them that his decision had occurred before she came into his life. During these two years, Betty worked for Father Ted, a man the Begerts greatly admired. They remained lifelong friends, until Father Ted's passing. Betty loved the friendly community in which they lived. In fact, she lived around the corner from Petty Como's brother! They often met at the community pool. Betty had admired this singer, who she learned, was a gentle family man. Betty found that his brother also had the same kind and gentle nature.
John and Betty were very happily married and planned to raise a family, but for the first five years, the Begerts were not blessed with children. They made pilgrimages to shrine after shrine, asking God to bless them with the family they wanted so badly. Finally, their first child, Joan, was born in Maine. After graduation, John accepted a job in Montreal, Canada and it was there that Betty gave birth to her second child, John. After several years, they moved to New Jersey, where they were blessed with Mary, Anne, Kathy, Claire, and Eileen. And finally, when John was relocated to Ridgefield, CT, their last child, Tommy, was born.
God had abundantly answered their prayers, and they were forever grateful for their large beautiful family. The Begerts made sure that faith was at the center of their relationship as husband and wife, as well as their family life. They were very active at St. Mary's Church in Ridgefield where Betty taught CCD classes to every age group and loved it. John taught religious studies to high school students who, years later, would make sure to tell him that they were still attending mass because of his influence. Every year, the entire Begert family would board a bus to participate in the Right to Life march on Washington. """"We were very fortunate,"""" Betty gratefully declares.
She looks back upon the past with a full heart. In addition to their eight children, the Begerts were blessed with fifteen grandchildren. Nevertheless, life was not without sadness. Her daughter, Mary, died from cancer several years ago (Betty, herself, is a lymphoma cancer survivor) and her grandson, Billy, died in a tragic car accident. Throughout her life, Betty credits her relationship with God for being able to be ever mindful of blessings, and the fortitude to move through life's challenges.
John traveled extensively as vice president of a medical supply company. Being fluent in several languages, he was often sent on business trips to Europe for three weeks at a time, which meant that Betty was on her own much of the time. However, she felt that that was the way it was and everyone was assigned chores to help family life run smoothly. Betty is very proud of her children, who grew up to be wonderful adults. When together, Betty and John made sure that God was at the center of their household, often praying the rosary together. They also instilled their love of music, singing together with their children. Betty says that all of her children had great voices. She chuckles when she thinks of John. """"John tried so hard, God bless him! He loved music, even though he did not have the best voice!"""" While raising their family, Betty and John always made time to have a date night once a week. They hired a babysitter and would go out to eat at a local restaurant, so that they would have time to themselves to reconnect. For summer vacations, the Begerts spent time at their family hotel in Maine. After the children grew up and moved out, Betty would travel with John on business trips to Europe, where she would be the hostess to his clients. She felt that this gave her the opportunity to be a part of John's work, as well as providing her with the opportunity for the two of them to travel through Europe together.
When John was in his early seventies he developed carcinoid syndrome, a rare liver disease. Even in the face of this hardship he had a wonderful attitude. His faith remained strong, and Betty takes comfort in the fact that he had a peaceful death, surrounded by his loving family. For a long time following his loss, she remained in their family home, but eventually felt that it no longer made sense to do so, so she sold it and moved into a condo. From there, she moved to The Gardens.
As Betty reflects back, she has great appreciation for her family and all the people in her life. “Develop a strong faith and don't ever lose it,” she advises. “It is the most important thing there is. Without it, you have nothing! It is such a vital part of how you lead your life because God and your faith are the foundation. I was blessed to have learned so much of my faith through John and for that, I am forever grateful.""""