Baker City, 1923-2018
Alberta “Betty” Sue Drake Kuhl, 94, a longtime resident of Baker City, died peacefully in her home surrounded by her four daughters on Sept. 19, 2018.
A private graveside service was held on Sept. 22 at Mount Hope Cemetery, with Keith Miles, a longtime family friend, officiating. A Celebration of Life will be held at 11 a.m., Saturday, Sept. 29, at the Church of the Nazarene, 1250 Hughes Lane, and all are invited. A luncheon at the church will follow.
Betty was born on Sept. 27, 1923, in Moxee, Washington, the sixth of nine children. The family later moved to nearby Selah, Washington, where they remained for many years.
Betty enjoyed a happy childhood with her loving parents and six sisters, although the family struggled like many others from the ravages of the Great Depression. Her two brothers died in early childhood.
Betty became an avid reader at an early age, and she developed the first of her many close friendships. In high school she earned her letter in Debate, and showed leadership skills in various activities, including leading the charge to allow dancing at student socials. Betty graduated from Selah High School in 1941 and was the first of her family to continue on to university, paying her own way through hard work and determination.
At Washington State College, Betty met Billy Kuhl, a veterinary student from Eastern Oregon, a fateful meeting that led her to eventually make her home in Baker City. Following her graduation from Washington State with a Bachelor of Science in Bacteriology in June of 1946, Betty and Bill were married in Yakima, Washington. They spent their honeymoon year in Seattle where she worked for the Washington State Health Department in the historic Smith Tower, while he worked in a small-animal veterinary practice.
In 1947 they moved to Baker and soon put down roots in the community, establishing the Baker Veterinary Hospital, joining the Presbyterian Church, and several community organizations, and starting their family of four daughters.
For most of the next 32 years, Betty put aside a career and focused on her roles as wife, mother and active member of the community. She encouraged her daughters in their formal educations and their appreciation of nature, music and art.
She instructed them in sewing, cooking, baking and entertaining. She organized family outings for skiing, camping, mushrooming, and huckleberry picking, as well as family car trips to national parks and other destinations (often involving veterinary conventions).
Betty embraced Baker County as her forever home and set a high standard for community involvement. She was a key person in establishing the Museum Commission, which saved the Natatorium from demolition and created what is now known as the Baker Heritage Museum. She was a founding member of Historic Baker City Inc. (HBC), which was the organization responsible for the establishment of the Historic District.
Betty also participated actively in the Cowbelles (now called the Baker County Cattlewomen), the American Field Service (AFS), the American Association of University Women (AAUW), the WSU Alumni Association, Rock Creek-Muddy Creek Mutual Improvement Club and the Oregon State Veterinary Association Auxiliary. She served as a Sunday school helper, Girl Scout leader, March of Dimes volunteer, Red Cross Board member and a volunteer for the Election Board.
Betty loved travel and adventure and was interested in cultures of different nations. She opened her home to exchange students from Australia, Germany and Switzerland, as well as hosting visitors from many other countries. Her daughters were the very grateful beneficiaries of her generous service as host mother.
Following retirement, she and Bill had travelled to Scandinavia to visit the homeland of her ancestors in Norway. They also visited their daughters in Hawaii, New York, Ohio, British Columbia, Mexico, England, and Switzerland (AFS daughter).
Betty and Bill had a long and happy marriage. When they started out in Baker County, Betty rode along on many rural veterinary calls, learning the country, the history, and making new friends. As children came along, she helped out by answering the phone, receiving clients, and cheerfully adapting to meal preparation for a husband on call 24 hours a day.
Much later, in tribute to her husband’s memory, Betty wrote a book about him entitled “Dr. Bill Kuhl: Family and Friends.”
As recreation, she and Bill both loved dancing and playing bridge with friends. An enthusiastic fan of any sport her beloved Washington State Cougars played, she was cheering them on until the end.
Betty’s lifelong love of literature led her to begin another career as a bookseller. In 1979 she opened Betty’s Books on Court Avenue, with a little help from her friends. In 1981 the business moved to the Bamberger Building on Main Street. It blended her love of welcoming strangers with her love of books and reading.
She enjoyed encouraging local authors and holding autograph parties for them and was so happy to see the business carried into the next generation. All her grandchildren enjoyed visiting the store, and now her great-grandchildren do as well.
In her later years, Betty was able to continue living in her home where she enjoyed reading to her heart’s content. She loved to sit in her “sun room” where she could observe her many interesting plants and flowers as well as watch the birds and changes in the sky. She took keen interest in the activities of all her family, and enjoyed being able to entertain them and friends, or catch up through phone calls. She was privileged to have the companionship and assistance of wonderful caregivers during the last few years.
Betty’s book club was a great joy for many years, and the remaining members of that club were among her closest friends to the end.
She was preceded in death by her parents, Ernie and Alberta Drake; two young brothers, Charles and Ernest; five sisters, Gladys Roberts, Dorothy Paradis, Virginia Puyear, Marilyn Lewis and Phyllis Day; infant great-granddaughter, Alice Reeve; and her beloved husband of 51 years, Billy Denver Kuhl.
Survivors include a sister, Eileen Reitmeier; four daughters, Barbara Kuhl, Carolyn Kulog (Tom), Amy Kuhl (Brian MacWhorter), and Sally Kuhl; nine grandchildren, Rebecca Henderson (Cal Henderson), Suzanne Reeve, David Reeve (Lindsay), Claire Giesige (Gabe), Naomi Dail (Dave), Alana MacWhorter, Kelly MacWhorter, Ian Hagley (April), and Bryn Hagley; and nine great-grandsons, Theodore and William Henderson, Thomas and Jonathan Reeve, Graham and Conrad Giesige, Dawson, Spencer and Oliver Dail; and dozens of beloved nieces and nephews.
Memorial contributions may be made to the Baker Heritage Museum or the Baker County Library Foundation through Grays West & Co., 1500 Dewey Ave., Baker City, OR 97814.