This is a but a small portion of the story of Betty Jean Pagel, written with love and memories shared by many. For purposes of consistency, we will refer to her as Grandma throughout this writing.
We had one cool and classy grandma – she was patient and kind and was loved dearly, is already missed and will always be cherished. A real-life Rosie the Riveter who welded deep in the hulls of the Liberty Ships during World
War II at St. John’s Shipyard in Portland, Oregon, Gram was an amazing wife, mother, grandma and friend – and could bake cream puffs, cinnamon rolls, lemon merengue pies and burnt sugar cakes like no other.
Grandma’s story began on Oct. 14, 1923, the firstborn child to Robert Rankin Archer and Ruby Madalyn Lantz, and older sister to Robert (Bob) Lantz Archer (age 94, currently living in Vancouver, Washington), Wayne Deforest Archer and Donald Lee Archer, and came to a close Dec. 14, 2019, at the age of 96. She was born in Haxtun, Colorado, and raised in Yuma, Colorado, where she graduated and married her Yuma Union High School beau, Leonard Arnold Pagel on Nov. 8, 1940, with whom she spent the next 61 years.
Following their wedding, they lived in Yuma for a few months, in Denver for six months while Grandpa worked at Gates Rubber Company, then in Greeley where he attended welding school so he could serve his country during World War II. While living in Portland, Grandma talked Grandpa into letting her weld, too. She was one of the few welders who was small enough to crawl through the dark, tight spaces throughout the ships. They welded together for one and a half years, until she fell 20 feet off the ship onto the dock and almost lost her life. She’s been interviewed and recognized over the years as one of the original Rosie the Riveters – a source of pride for her entire family.
Once recovered, they returned to Yuma with their oldest daughter, Sharon Ann (Sharri), born Sept. 14, 1941, to farm a rented quarter of land north of town. Grandma was grateful they only lived there six months, because the house didn’t have running water, a bathroom or electricity. In 1944, they bought their own farm, also north of town, where they welcomed son, Jimmie Lee, born June 23, 1944, and daughter, Cindy Lou, born Oct. 5, 1947.
In 1951, they moved their young family to their newly constructed ranch style home at 102 E. Beatty Ave., where they welcomed Kathleen (Kathy) Joan on April 7, 1951. Grandma often joked they had to bring the milk cow with them, because her kids wouldn’t drink store bought milk after having fresh milk for so many years. Grandma was fortunate to live in this home – with what her family will always refer to as having ‘the best porch in town’ – until shortly after her 96th birthday.
It was in this home, at the north end of Main Street, that their four children grew up, and many, many holidays were celebrated with tables stretching from one end of the living room to the other, games played on card tables, children shooed to the basement to be rowdy, and stories and laughter were shared.
She was a hard worker. Yard work, moving sprinklers, burning tumbleweeds, cleaning the basement even when no one had been down there – and what about that weird dishwasher in the middle of the kitchen? She took care of the rental homes and always spoke with pride about her 10 years working at Farmer’s State Bank on Main Street.
Mother of four, grandmother of nine and great-grandmother of 18, she opened her home to everyone, and loved to go to coffee, get an afternoon iced tea or coke at Woody’s, buy dinner or make a meal for whoever was there. She always had a pot of coffee or jug of sun tea ready for anyone who stopped by, and she always wanted to feed you.
Here are a ‘smattering’ of things she did throughout her years, with a few of them followed by “...and don’t tell Grandpa...”:
Snuck up to the high school parking lot and ‘burned kitties’– that big brown Buick loaded with giggling grandkids. Or, if she saw a black cat cross the road in front of her she would burn a kitty right there.
Shared her love of the piano by providing lessons for many years and often accompanied the high school choir and other students in music contests. Her piano had a mechanism that would make it sound “tinny” like an old saloon piano. Once in a while, she would drop it and play an old western honky-tonk song.
Took grandson, Mike, and friends to the Michael Jackson concert in the mid-1980s, dressed in red parachute pants and wearing a black leather glove.
Taught a few of her grandkids how to weld and tried to teach a few how to sew. A couple of her daughters are also pretty handy with a sewing machine.
Enjoyed water skiing, still doing so into her 70s, usually on Sundays spent at Bonny Dam Reservoir with cold fried chicken and potato salad for lunch.
Took us out to eat all the time – often starting with breakfast, going to coffee (or to get a coke) in the afternoon and ending with dinner where the meal inevitably ended in a heated argument if anyone else tried to pay the bill. Remember, Higgie’s Hideaway, Murph’s, The Popcorn Shack, Woody’s, Ma and Pa’s, El Deportivo, The Bowling Alley, Pizza Place, Yuma Cafe, Wooden Spoon and Boughman’s Bakery?
Cooked amazing meals, feasts for our whole family. Chicken noodles. Chicken dumplings. And, she and Grandpa made incredible breakfasts of homemade German sausage, over-easy eggs and perfectly crispy hashbrowns.
Loved chocolate covered cherries, chocolate oranges, chocolate in general. She also loved black licorice and black jelly beans.
Enjoyed visits to see daughter, Sharri, and family in South Dakota, fishing and playing with her grandsons.
Made beautiful felt Christmas ornaments every year, and when her hands started to hurt, she began giving us all Danbury Mint gold ornaments with strict instructions to ‘not’ touch the gold with our hands.
Sewed all nine grandkids Hawaiian shirts for the 1986 family reunion in California and created memories we will all forever cherish.
Taught us to never cuss – just to say “sugar” or if it was really serious, she would sometimes mutter “Ohhhh, cuss words!”
Liked telling jokes – some that probably wouldn’t pass the PC bar today...and for a woman who didn’t cuss, she told a great ‘Should’ve Had It Toasted’ joke.
Called her daughters and granddaughters ‘Dolly.’ And French braided their hair so tight it lasted for a week.
Tucked her grandkids into the orange ‘hide-a-bed’ couch with heated blankets and tickled our backs until we fell asleep. Or if it was summer, she’d sleep in the cool basement with you.
Never left the house without fixing her hair and lipstick and loved to give lipstick kisses.
Went through several names before getting to the right person – Sharri, Cindy, Kath...I mean Jim, Trev ... Trev, please come here (sound familiar?).
Drove the grain truck – little tiny lady that she was, hoisting herself into the truck and taking meals fit for a family of 10 to the men working in the field. One of our favorite stories was the time she saw a tornado in the field and got so worked up she accidentally hit the dump button on the truck bed and started spilling all the grain. Can you hear Grandpa now, “Betty!?...”.
Enjoyed raising Banty chickens and cooking with those tiny little eggs. We often wonder how the heck those chickens got out so many times and we all had to go round them up.
Took each of her grandsons to Alaska and made sure her granddaughters had pretty jewelry and add-a-pearls for their necklaces.
Hung up on the Vice President, the video of which immediately went viral and can still be Googled today.
Signed all cards to her grandkids that had money enclosed with “NO BEER!”
And, she put up with Grandpa who could get a little carried away with things on occasion, like the time she let him buy a plane ticket for a ginormous stuffed dog he won at a casino in Nevada so we could play with it. Or that strange wooden drummer aboriginal thing we all were scared of as kids. Or the time (pre-mobile phones) he and cousin Joe left her at a gas station in California.
Grandma was a member of St. John’s Lutheran church where she often played the piano, organ and later, the bells; the Yuma Lioness Club; Lutheran Ladies Aid; Okihi Women’s Club; and Eastern Star. She enjoyed delivering Meals on Wheels, playing bridge, and, at one time took a few belly dancing lessons – which proved to be a great Halloween costume following its discovery in the back of her guestroom closet.
A few of her favorite hobbies were playing the piano and organ – with the ‘tap, tap, tap’ of her beautiful, always manicured fingernails clicking on the keys – sewing, making Christmas ornaments and baking. She loved feeding and watching the birds from her kitchen window – expect for those pesky blackbirds. She kept her windows so clean that more than one bird thought they could fly straight through the living room and out the dining room – “Oh cuss words...another bird tried to fly through the window.”
There weren’t many things she didn’t like, among them snakes, worms, having her toes or hair touched, so of course we naturally did this even more, swear words, or cream or sugar in her coffee. She wasn’t a fan of the clarinet or oboe. The wind made her sad, and we all knew that cold, gray winter days were tough on her. The mere site of a Dinty Moore stew can made her stomach turn. The flip side of the story – Grandpa would HORDE the stuff in the basement pantry that she worked so hard to keep clean and organized. And, she wasn’t fond of us playing with the CB radio...KIP493 base or was it KBE697...either way, we got in trouble.
Grandma was a true Yuma Indian’s fan, later adding CSU, Dickinson State University and University of Wyoming, as she followed her son, multiple grandkids and even a great grandson through college athletics. She enjoyed cheering for her family in all their activities, including many late nights at the Yuma County Fair. She was fun, fair, honest and soft-hearted. She loved Christmas, played carols on the piano and always cried during ‘Silent Night’ at the end of the Christmas Eve service.
Grandma is preceded in death by her parents, Rankin and Ruby Archer; husband, Leonard Pagel; brothers, Wayne and Don Archer; son-in-law, Skip Wilson; and numerous brothers- and sisters-in law; as well as several beloved pets, including Hoss, Pudgy, Jody, Tiger and Tom.
Loved ones who will miss her until they see her again are, her brother, Bob Archer, wife Sandra; daughter, Sharri Wilson, of Belle Fourche, South Dakota; son, Jim Pagel and wife Bernice, of Yuma; daughter Cindy Gardner and husband John, of Yuma; and daughter Kathy Christianson and husband Dennis, of Yuma; nine grandkids, including Becci Riley (Doyle), Trevor Wilson, Mike Pagel, Stacy Wilson (Shannon), Lisa Gardner-Pettigrew (Aaron), Lori Hoffner (Gary), Cory Gardner (Jaime), Brooke Binder (Brian) and Jeff Pagel (Rachel); and 18 great-grandchildren: Jordan Riley, Logan Wilson, Britney Riley, Peyton Wilson, Darien Pettigrew, Caden Kokes, Spencer Dressel, Tenlee Scott, Alyson Gardner, Rhett Scott, Parker Dressel, Sophia Pagel, Thatcher Gardner, Ronan Pettigrew, Troup Wilson, Addilyne Pagel, Caitlyn Gardner and Barrett Pagel; and many nieces and nephews.
They say all good things come to an end — but we don’t believe that’s true. So much of who we are can be credited to Grandma, each of us is better because of her, and that legacy will carry on forever. She always said she had good kids and was grateful we all got along (usually) — and that wouldn’t have been possible without her never-ending love.
Grandma, may your days always be sunny so your burnt sugar cake frosting and merengue turns out perfectly. And the nights filled with Grandpa’s snoring. We love you.
The Memorial Service was held Saturday, Dec. 21, 10:30 a.m. at St. John’s Lutheran Church in Yuma, Colorado, with Pastor Dennis FitzPatrick officiating. The interment followed at the Yuma Cemetery, directed by Baucke Funeral Home.
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