The Lowell - Alto area has been blessed by many Yeiter families through the years, but there’s only one Betty Yeiter. She’s been making headlines for years for her generosity and impact in the community.
Betty Jean Roth Yeiter was the daughter of Ernest and Lena Miller Roth, who were immigrants from Switzerland. Betty married Don Yeiter on August 10, 1947.
Don Yeiter was descended from Jacob Yeiter, who was born in Germany. Jacob was one of five brothers who came to the United States in 1832. After living in Ohio, four of the brothers came and settled in the Lowell area. They are buried in the Merriman Cemetery near Alto. Jacob tried farming on two other farms before settling in 1853 on the corner of Alden Nash and Cascade Road, currently owned by Betty. It became a Centennial Farm in 1953.
Don served in the U.S. Third Armored Field Artillery Battalion during WWII. He was part of this unit holding back an entire German division during the Battle of the Bulge in December 1944. From December 16 - 22, The Third fired an average of one 105mm artillery round every 40 seconds for six days. They repealed constant German attacks and held the south shoulder of the Bulge, near Luxembourg City. By doing so they earned a Presidential unit citation for “extraordinary heroism for outstandingly responsive and accurate fire of its artillery battalion.”
Betty attended South Bell, a one-room country school in Ionia County . She skipped the 6th grade not because she was smart but because the teacher did not want to teach all of the grades. She went to high school in Clarksville and graduated at age 16. For the next two years she attended the Western Michigan Teacher’s College in Kalamazoo. On weekends when she came home, she simply put her thumb out and hitchhiked usually to Grand Rapids where her Dad would pick her up. Dad would take her back on Sunday. “In those days it was safe to hitchhike,” she says empathically. In Kalamazoo, Betty lived with a couple who owned a drugstore. They worked at night so Betty’s job was to watch over their sleeping child. She says she never did much but be there.
As a teacher, Betty could handle her students by stating her expectations. “When my Uncle Phil Kropf was in the 6th grade, the students were so mischievous that they had one male teacher after another that year until the young 22-year-old teacher, Betty Roth (Yeiter), took the job. She handled them!” Several boys in this class could yodel. They would come in different doors, yodel and answer the yodel. This may have helped drive the other teachers out. (Family memory of Luanne Kaeb)
Betty is a teacher. She always was and still is. She worked to help kids. In 1971, she started a special program to help students falling behind. She began with two student volunteers who mentored other students. The program was successful and grew to 15 volunteers in its second year. Her motto was “each one teach one.”
Don and Betty traveled the world. She had a passion for learning. She loved history and loved to pass on what she learned. If you were blessed to be invited to tea, you were treated to a world history lesson using the artifacts gathered on their travels. You would have heard how they traveled to Moscow and were able to see the Swan Lake Ballet by Tchaikovsky at the Bolshevik Theatre.
She taught special classes, such as ‘College Day’ in 1978 sponsored by Barry, Ionia and Montcalm counties. She shared her first hand observations of traveling in Egypt, land of the Pharaohs and the Valley of the Kings.
Betty loved doing genealogical research. She found a third cousin of Don’s, and in 1989 they traveled to Washington DC to meet Clayton Yeutter. Yeutter had served in the Nixon administration as Under Secretary in the Department of Agriculture, in Ford and Reagan administrations as a trade representative, and was Agriculture Secretary under President George Bush.
Betty lost Don in 1992. Later she sold off 100 acres of land to the Kent County Parks as a way to honor him. “He loved the farm and nature.” This way she knew part of the farm and land would be preserved. Betty unexpectedly lost her son David in 2006. That same year, she was awarded the Marsha Wilcox Community Service Award. She was still assisting her community by tutoring kids, helping with spelling bees and helping out wherever she was needed.
Just two years later, in 2008 Betty was honored as Lowell’s ‘Person of the Year.’ The committee chose her because “she never stops giving of her time and talent to make the community a much better place.” Besides her volunteer work in her hometown, she also volunteered as a docent at the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum. She has long been considered a community booster. She told the assembled audience when she was honored that her favorite quote is “Hitch your wagon to a star” by Ralph Waldo Emerson.
In 2018, Betty again accepted appreciation from her community for funding of the new interpretive fur trader’s cabin at Lowell Township’s North Grand River Riverfront Park. She humbly explained that the gift was fueled by her love of history. The cabin was to be used to educate adults and children about Lowell’s fur trade history with exhibits by the Lowell Area Historical Museum. She also explained that she would rather support community efforts than buy new things for herself.
In early 2020, at the Yeiter Learning Center ribbon cutting, Betty told the Lowell Community, “I never wanted to be anything but a teacher. They say if you like what you’re doing you never have to work, and I never have worked in my life.” This center is on Amity Street and is dedicated to early learning opportunities.
At a young 97 years, perhaps the Lowell Community can look forward to more headlines from this generous hometown girl. Whether through her hours in the classroom, or the donation of her time or funds, the Lowell community has benefitted from Betty Yeiter’s giving spirit. Thank you!
Images: Betty Yeiter; The Book Ten Club, Betty is seated in center in pink dress with hat.