Ruth Elizabeth “Betty” Kruse Smith
September 16, 1923 – February 13, 2018
Betty Kruse Smith of Stayton, the last surviving member of the Yoncalla High School Class of 1941, passed peacefully from this life on February 13, 2018, at the age of 94. She was born in Yoncalla on September 16, 1923, the only child of Homer and Bernice McKaig Kruse. She was literally “born free,” delivered by her grandfather, Dr. Richard McKaig, in his own home! She was a direct descendent of Charles and Melinda Applegate who came to Oregon by wagon train and settled in the Yoncalla valley, and she was the granddaughter of Annie Applegate Kruse, a well-known local writer and historian. Known by her childhood name, Betty Ruth, she grew up surrounded by extended family, friends, and an assortment of much-loved animals. Her constant companion was her Boston terrier, Lady, who went on scooter rides with her and enjoyed various parties given in her honor complete with cake, party hats, and decorations. She began playing accordion at a young age and played for church, community and school events, and Saturday night dances. She was an excellent volleyball player in high school and kept her purple and gold “Eagles” letterman’s sweater for the rest of her life. School was the center of her young world, and, conveniently, was located directly across the street from her home! She would go on to write extensively about her school, the “Eagle’s Nest,” in later years.
After high school, Betty worked and lived for a time in Alameda, California with her aunt and uncle. When Pearl Harbor was bombed, she witnessed firsthand the effect that event had on the entire Bay Area. She remembered widespread panic and people running and crying in the streets, certain that the bombers were headed to the West Coast. After returning to Oregon, she lived in Portland with family friends and worked at the Vancouver shipyards during World War II. Following the end of the war, she married a young, handsome returning veteran, Bob Smith, and they made their home back in Yoncalla. There they raised their son, Gordon, and daughter, Madalyn. Betty was active in the Methodist church, where she taught Sunday school and continued to play her accordion. She also volunteered at the schools and served as a precinct committee chairperson for her political party.
In 1965 while Gordon was serving in the Navy, Bob, Betty, and Madalyn moved to Idanha, Oregon where Bob took a position with a lumber company and Betty worked in the company office. In 1970, they lost Gordon in an automobile accident. Later that year, Bob and Betty moved to Cottage Grove where she worked as the attendance secretary at Cottage Grove High School and continued her activity in the Methodist church. She made many friends in the Cottage Grove school, church, and community. Bob learned to fly, and they bought a small airplane which they greatly enjoyed. After they retired, they moved to the Washington coast for several years before returning to Oregon. They settled in the Stayton area to be closer to Madalyn and her family.
Betty was an active member of the Stayton United Methodist church, writing the church newsletter and playing her accordion. She formed a small musical group, “The Grateful Grandies,” with several other musicians. They performed at churches, local events, and retirement centers and nursing homes. During this time, she also began her extensive writing pursuits, focusing on family and community history of Yoncalla. Along with several childhood friends, Betty began writing a history of Yoncalla which resulted in the formation of the Yoncalla Historical Society and the publication of their book, Yoncalla Yesterday. A few years later, they wrote and published another book, Yoncalla Yesterday Revisited. These two books were her proudest accomplishments, and she remained a member of the group for the rest of her life.
Bob and Betty enjoyed traveling in their motor home for many years, and they remained a devoted couple until Bob’s death in 2004. Betty was a loving mother and grandmother and was thrilled when she became a great-grandmother in 2008. She also cherished her extended family and many friends, most of whom predeceased her, as did her parents and son, Gordon.
She is survived by her daughter and son-in-law, Madalyn and Ken Tower of Stayton, her granddaughters Joanna Tower and husband Steve Melvin of Portland, Susan Tower and fiancé Peter Park of Missoula, Montana, and her precious great-granddaughter, Leah Tower Melvin of Portland. Also surviving are two of her special childhood friends, Doris Means of Yoncalla and Shirley Roberts of Pleasant Hill.
Betty’s family is deeply grateful to Paola Salinas and her family for the four and a half years of loving care she received at Woodside Care Home in Stayton.
A memorial service will be held on Saturday, March 24 at 12:00 noon at Yoncalla Christian Assembly (formerly United Methodist Church) at 195 Birch Street in Yoncalla. A potluck reception will follow at Yoncalla Community center. Private interment will be at Riverside Cemetery in Albany. Arrangements entrusted to Weddle Funeral Service in Stayton.
Contributions in Betty’s memory can be made to the Yoncalla Historical Society, PO Box 125, Yoncalla, OR, 97499; or to Yoncalla Alumni Association, PO Box 925, Yoncalla, OR, 97499; or to Applegate Pioneer cemetery, PO Box 504, Yoncalla, OR 97499.
Rest in peace, beloved Gamoo. “The Eagle has landed!”