Betty Cochran, a resident of Serenades Memory Care in the Villages, turned 101 years old on Oct. 31. If you recognize my name, Karen Cochran Beaulieu, you may have guessed correctly that Betty is my amazing mom!
Born in 1920, the year women got the vote, Betty grew up in the Depression and played the violin in her school orchestra. As a young counselor, she bravely sang with terrified youngsters as she led them to safety during a furious cyclone that destroyed their camp. During World War II, she worked at the Ration Board, never giving up hope that her husband, Jim, would return home. He was a bombardier in the Army Air Corps, his B-17 and crew were shot down by the Germans and they parachuted out from their damaged plane. He was missing in action for a year until rescued by the Belgium underground and smuggled back to the U.S., where he received a Purple Heart award and was happily reunited with his wife. The couple enjoyed 51 years of marriage. During the 1950s, my mom and dad raised three daughters, and Betty also led Scouts, inspired church women and spent hundreds of volunteer hours preparing “Meals on Wheels.”
Betty is often asked the secret to her longevity. Her reply is always, “I love life!” How to lead a full and active life loving God, loving family and loving others was taught to me by her example, and that positive and faithful approach is one I continue to share now as I serve caregivers and their loved ones.
Her birthday and Halloween fall on the same day, so costumes, fun and special treats have been part of her celebrations for 101 years. One of Betty’s favorite things is having her three daughters together. On Saturday, Oct. 30, her celebration began with a mother/daughter luncheon. Donned in funny little witch hats, her three girls, the oldest Linda Fiedler from The Villages, her middle daughter, Marilyn Cochran-Smith from Boston, and her youngest daughter, yours truly from Sumter County, joined mom for a surprise birthday visit.
On her actual birthday, 10 family and friends gathered for her “100 & ONE-derful” party. Betty was amazed as she entered the room and saw beautiful butterflies hanging from the ceiling. She wore a butterfly headpiece, the lady guests had butterfly fans and the men wore butterfly antennas. The group played musical instruments and joined Betty singing her favorite old songs. Each guest chose a word from a butterfly net and played the game “Stump the Speller.” Betty was a spelling bee champion since grammar school, so words such as “celebration,” “butterfly” and “decorations” were no challenge for her! (Games that promote self-esteem are highly recommended for those with memory loss.)
Later this month, I will make a keepsake album with photographs, cards and party favors, so my mother can enjoy her birthday over and over. (Repetitive photographs and reminiscing are excellent technique that helps maintain memory retention for those with dementia.)
Her final 101st birthday celebration was in Summerfield at the Village View Christian Academy’s annual Festival of Trees. Since 2017, costumed children from VVCA have trick-or-treated and presented musical programs for her and the other residents at Buffalo Crossings assisted living. This inter-generational activity created many fun and successful Moments that Mattered for both seniors and students.
Her momentous 100th birthday was in 2020, but there was no big party due to COVID-19 visiting restrictions. However, she did enjoy a Halloween parade of costumed folks singing “Happy Birthday” past her window, and children from the academy made her cards and posters. Over 50 decorated theme trees were on display at the school’s 2020 holiday extravaganza and we sponsored a Christmas tree as a tribute to her 100th birthday. Betty was thrilled to support and thank the children for their years of birthday wishes.
Last week, her colorful butterfly“100 & ONE-derful”birthday tribute tree was on displayat the school’s annual event. After the festivities, it was donated to a family with little girls who otherwise would not have a Christmas tree.
Betty Cochran is indeed a “ONE-derful” woman and the best mom ever! She is the cover girl on my book Moments that Matter and it has been my great joy and honor to care for her over the years. (Caregivers can learn how to make both everyday and grand moments for their loved ones at www.moment-making.com.)