Betty Barr Boilesen
Remembering Betty Ann Barr Boilesen, October
By Doug Boilesen
Friends of the Phonograph
will recognize this photograph of my parents as a take-off from
the famous 1905 Edison advertisement "The Phonograph,"
often called the "Old Couple." My mom loved occasions
for people to come together and their gift of this image for
one of our phonograph birthday parties still makes me smile.
following are words I delivered at her funeral on October 30,
My mom loved to tell stories about her childhood
and she instilled in us a sense of pride about the pioneer spirit
that her parents and grandparents epitomized. She was a member
of what Tom Brokaw calls the "Greatest Generation." She lived
through the depression, she saw her true love go off to war,
she worked at the Grand Island Airbase during the War, she had
the joy of her true love safely returning home, marrying him,
raising a family, watching her grandsons grow, and having 54
wonderful years of marriage.
To her core, she was a Nebraskan. Her grandparents
homesteaded in Nebraska in the 1870's, her parents farmed the
land, lost their ranch in the depression, then continued farming
for another 20 years. My mom's father was a true cowboy who
bachelored for many years before marrying my grandmother. My
grandmother had been widowed much earlier with two small boys
and a girl. With nearly 20 years difference in age, her half-brothers
Chris and Ray and sister Fay Vogt would become like an aunt
and uncles to my mom who was to be the only child of my grandfather.
My grandfather was tough as nails but my mom was the apple of
his eye and she could melt him with a smile.
Faye, Chris and Ray Vogt,
circa 1908 Elba, Nebraska
From the stories I've heard, I don't think
she had to do many chores when she was growing up. Instead,
I believe she was developing her imagination and appreciation
for times when relatives or girl friends would come to visit.
She loved going to school where she could be with her friends,
and she especially looked forward to trips to the big city -
Grand Island. She loved to be around people, and birthdays and
holidays with friends and family were always special.
On their farm there was a flat, weedy area
close to their house that my mom always tried to keep mowed.
She thought it would make a great area for playing croquet.
Of course, they didn't own a croquet set and they never did
get one, but she was going to be ready when they did. Years
later we had many family games of croquet and my mom was a great
competitor who loved to win. She and my dad played bridge with
many friends over the years. Many of you here today played cards
with her and you know how much she enjoyed those games. But
it obviously wasn't about playing croquet or playing cards or
winning. It was about spending time with those she cared about.
And it was this caring and the love that she radiated that made
My mother had a unique talent for relating
to strangers. She could ride on a bus or a plane and come home
with stories about who she sat with and a synopsis of their
lives. When I go on a plane I read a book or I sleep. But not
my mom. That would be missing an opportunity to meet someone
and find out what they are thinking. When she was a little girl,
she would walk to the railroad tracks to watch the passenger
train go by. She was fascinated by what she thought those people
were eating and talking about as they zoomed by in their Burlington
Zephr cars. I'm sure she would then interpret in great detail
what she thought was going on in those passing train cars to
whomever she was with.
I can imagine those scenes so well because
years later she still had that knack. We would go to restaurants
and you always had her attention. But if there was a break in
the conversation and she overheard someone at the next table,
the phrase that she heard would soon become part of our conversation
and she would speculate on what they were talking about. But
the amazing thing was that it wasn't gossipy or vicarious. She
had a genuine interest in people and who they are. And because
of that attitude, many of you here today got to know her and
be transformed from strangers to dear friends. To my mom, her
friends were like extended family. I know she always felt your
love and always carried that love in her heart.
When my mom was selecting her oncologist,
one of her first questions of the doctor was did he have a family.
Did he have children? Did he go to church? She found this particular
doctor a bit cool and formal and she felt it was important that
she could relate to him on a personal level. And despite his
initial reluctance to relate to her in the way she wanted, she
decided to go ahead and select him as her doctor and make it
sort of a project of hers to soften him. I think if you would
ask that doctor today, he'd tell you that she did have a special
effect on him.
When she was in hospital this last time
she got to know a lot of the nurses and staff. But in particular
there was a woman who cleaned her room. She was Egyptian and
her husband was at the University working on his doctorate.
She was soft spoken and her English was somewhat broken, but
my mother would always talk with her whenever she came in and
you could see in her eyes that this young woman genuinely enjoyed
answering my mom's questions. My mom would later say to me,
"Do you think any of the staff here realize what an intelligent
and wonderful woman they have working here cleaning these rooms?
It bothered my mom to think how lonely this woman might be,
living in a foreign country, doing a job she was overqualified
for, and potentially not talking to anyone all day. It was typical
of my mom's concern for others. There was no judgement in her
soul, simply love and caring.
Love and care is what my mom practiced to
perfection for 54 years as wife and mother. For her, family
was what it was all about. My mom wanted all holidays and all
family birthdays and even the purchase of new china to be occasions
for the family to gather and share. Even her transition from
life in a sense became a family gathering. For us, not a day
will go by that she doesn't enter our thoughts.
In the poem entitled "My Legacy", the last
there might be a little money,
a few trinkets from my past,
I'd really prefer instead to give them,
blessings that I know would last.
It's true that trinkets and material things
don't matter. But trinkets can be used to remember someone.
Some of you might have something that brings my mom to mind:
You might have a recipe of hers, or a birthday gift or a photograph
or a quote that you know she liked. Today, my sister is wearing
the sweater that my mom wore when she came home from hospital
after she gave birth to my sister. My wife is wearing my mom's
turquoise necklace. There are pink roses on the table with her
urn recalling the pink roses of her wedding. This church itself
has an unbelieveable number of connections to her life.
We all have things or associations we can
link to her. But in the end LOVE is her greatest legacy. And
it is truly the most precious blessing anyone could give.
In closing, I'll leave you with the image
of my mom as a little girl standing beside my grandmother in
the parlor of their farmhouse. At the end of each day, my grandfather
would be walking in from the fields, and the sun would be setting,
and my grandmother would sit down at the piano and start singing
"Evening Prayer". It goes:
I have wounded any soul today
I have caused one foot to go astray
I have walked in my own will power's way
the secret sins I do not see
the sins I now confess to thee
guide me, love me, keeper be
I think those words echoed through my mom
all of her life. In the last weeks of my mom's life she spoke
of dreams and visions of her parents and Christ waiting for
her in a doorway. In her new role of guardian angel, I know
she has now joined them and is singing those lines again with
her mother, as her father quietly listens.
Legends say that hummingbirds float free
of time, carrying our hopes for love, joy and celebration.
The hummingbird's delicate grace reminds
us that life is rich, beauty is everywhere, every personal connection
has meaning and that laughter is life's sweetest creation.