Elizabeth (Betty) Jean Vannoy Nahoopii was born in Lexington, Kentucky, to an unwed college student during the Great Depression in 1930. Raised by Mr. and Mrs. McCarty in a boarding house during those poverty-stricken years, she learned to be thrifty. The young women there taught her to excel in her studies and be independent. She showed compassion for the less fortunate. Overall, she was an optimist.
She was excellent at cooking, reading, writing, math, chemistry, art and drama. Her quick wit developed after years of living in the boarding house with young travelers who would come and go. They taught her skills to coexist in a difficult word. Later, she would write her stories and share those characters that shaped her positive perspective on life. She excelled in school, which would earn her a full ride scholarship at the University of Kentucky at sixteen years old. She vied as Miss. Kentucky in 1948.
In 1950, she married a smart, witty and charming attorney. By 1962, after years of physical and mental abuse, she fled rural Kentucky to save her life and the lives of her beloved children.
She went to Cincinnati, Ohio, where she became one of the first female research chemists at Proctor and Gamble. While there, a job posting came across her desk: a need for a research chemist at Dole Pineapple Company in Sunset Beach, Oahu. Fearing rebuttal from her ex-husband, she courageously packed up her four children overnight and moved to the eastern shores of Sunset Beach, Hawaii.
In 1964, being a white single mother of four was neither common, nor popular. Making a living in Hawaii was difficult for her to raise four children. As a proud southern woman, she did not believe in receipt of welfare or food stamps. She worked hard as a housekeeper at a local diner called Pats At Punaluu. There was a popular bar there where she worked after hours as hostess.
It was there where she met her second husband, Sam Nahoopii, a great looking local with a huge smile, a great sense of humor and a kind heart. Later, she would write in her memoirs: Sam was the love of her life. He became a good father to her four children and was someone who demonstrated what it means to be a true Hawaiian. He shared his traditional native Hawaiian values: to be humble, kind, giving and fair, to be honest and to always have enough. He rejected greed in all of its nasty, evil forms, even amongst his own family. He kept his promises. He embraced us as his own children, in what was a then a racially divided village of Hauula, Hawaii.
By 1967, they moved to Hilo, on the Island of Hawaii. There, Betty gave birth to their daughter, Maureen in 1968. Betty was always industrious and started a bookkeeping business in Hilo town. Sam worked a variety of jobs to support his new family. When the sugar cane economy dried up in 1974, they made the move to Washington State to create a better life for their young daughter, Maureen. Betty would once again claim the town, a place she felt needed more opportunities for underserved children and families. She went right to work helping those less fortunate.
She proceeded to blaze the trail on behalf of all children. These years were inspired by the reality that she was an adopted foster child. She and Sam would adopt another child, Crystal, in 1974.
In Monroe, WA, she helped create the Boys and Girls Club of Snohomish County. She earned many accolades, and was deemed Educator of the Year by Governor Dixie Lee Ray in the 1980’s.
She went on to serve as Finance Director for the City of Monroe. As a visionary, she worked with city planners to create a model town. With community tax dollars she encouraged officials to invest back into a long-range plan to create needed facilities: a senior center, a public ballpark, a swimming pool, an award -winning library and other amenities that made this once timber town an incredible place to live.
Old timers remember Betty for her immense ability to care about others. Her wit and humor was undeniable. She could be ornery: she called a “spade a spade” which referring to a bad guy or bully. She could use her learned southern charm to gain support for social services needed in the community. She intuitively could tell when someone had been knocked down; those that just needed a hand up, not a hand out. She was that hand, always. Many times she helped others up even at her own expense.
She was articulate; she could write stories about her life with ease. She did write those stories after as a member of a memoir writing class held at the very senior center she helped create. Always giving, she rarely took from others except the occasional compliment. When Betty and Sam’s daughter Maureen had setbacks, their own dreams of retirement were put on hold while they chose to raise two grandchildren.
Those retirement plans were to move to their beachside condo in Birch Bay, which never happened. Instead, they embraced their grandchildren and once again took on parenthood in their elder years.
Betty was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease in 2008. Sam took over the household chores. She eventually lost her brilliant mind to the illness, even though she kept her wit and humor intact. Eventually, due to health concerns, they moved back to Sam’s childhood place in Hauula, Hawaii. Betty passed away in her sleep this past February at the age of eighty-seven.
Betty is survived by her late husband, Sam Nahoopii, of Hauula, Hawaii; and her three daughters: Helen Nahoopii (Big Island), Ada Nahoopii and Crystal Nahoopii, (Seattle, WA).
Please send your stories and condolences about my mother to firstname.lastname@example.org. Mahalo!