In memory of
FALMOUTH - A long and extraordinary life ended gracefully and peacefully on Feb. 2, 2019, when Betty Willhoite died at her home at Ocean View Retirement Community in Falmouth. She was 96.She was born Betty Jean Peterson on July 17, 1922, in Grinnell, Iowa, the only child of Mabel and Edwin Peterson and one of the "greatest generation," a sobriquet she came to proudly embrace.She spent most of her childhood in Madison, S.D., where her father was a college professor. Her parents were inveterate travelers and seekers, and Betty enjoyed reminiscing about visits to all of the "lower 48" states while on summer vacations with them as they criss-crossed the country in the family's Model A Ford during the 1920s and '30s.A "war bride," Betty was an alumna of the University of Iowa, where she met the love of her life, George Willhoite. They were married in 1944, immediately after which George was shipped overseas to serve in the Army in World War II. They celebrated their 70th wedding anniversary in January 2014 before George died in October of that year. After the war, they had two sons, Mark in 1951 and John in 1953, and made homes in Texas, Connecticut and Illinois, while George worked as an executive for Standard Oil, and, finally, Maine.Debate was a passion for Betty. She seldom lost a contest of words, as her husband and sons would freely admit. She excelled on the national stage, winning honors with her debate teams in high school and college, and she coached champion high school debate teams while teaching in Iowa in the 1940s. She continued to teach at the high school level into the 1960s. In her later years, she helped found an organization to implement debate programs in Chicago public schools.Politics also was a passion. An ardent believer in the two-party system, she was an old-school New Deal Democrat and remained active in the party nearly until the end of her life. She also gave generously to a variety of causes that aligned with her unabashedly left-leaning tendencies.Betty was a tireless community activist who worked during the years she and her family lived in Chicago to promote affordable housing, job creation and a living wage. She fondly recalled working in Chicago with a young community organizer named Barack Obama, for whom she foresaw a promising future. Long associated with the League of Women Voters, she served as president of the Chicago League, as well as on many boards and committees, including the Public Welfare Coalition, Chicago Jobs Council, Americans for Democratic Action, Commission to Rewrite the Public Aid Code of Illinois, Advisory Committee on the 1992 World's Fair, Welfare Services Committee of Cook County (Illinois), and as chairwoman of the Citizens Nominating Committee for the Chicago Board of Education.Most of all, Betty found joy in being a wife, mother, mother-in-law, grandmother and great-grandmother. She loved her family, and they adored her. And though she always pooh-poohed her culinary skills, she was an excellent cook whose fried chicken was an eagerly anticipated highlight of the weekly menu in the Willhoite household.Betty Jean Peterson Willhoite is survived by Mark and John; grandson, Peter and his wife, Karen, and their daughter, Delphine; and granddaughter, Sarah.
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