Betty Jane Immelt, 93, died on March 26, 2018, of natural causes at Windemere Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, Oak Bluffs.
Born Sept. 19, 1924, in Hilliard, Ohio, Betty was the youngest of three daughters whose father was Marble Cliff Quarry superintendent and an inventor, but whose sense of adventure led him to join Ringling Bros. Circus first at 16 as an acrobatic aerialist. She graduated from West High School, Columbus, Ohio, in 1943, and attended Ohio State University.
Betty led an exuberant and spirited life, always punctuated by her ability to make others feel welcome and included. Anchored by that same sense of adventure her father possessed and a promise of better things to come, Betty began her adventures early, meeting her future husband, the Rev. Robert Immelt, at Methodist Youth Group. And when Bob enlisted in the U.S. Navy where duty would eventually bring him into conflict, they did the unheard-of thing to their families: they eloped to Washington, D.C., in 1943 (a subject she kept from her children until college!).
Betty happily made a home in Washington, and along with her sister-in-law, Ruth Immelt Anderson (stationed in D.C. as a WAVE), also a fellow adventurer at heart, they all adeptly navigated life during the war. Betty would eventually work for the Federal Bureau of Investigation there, handling thousands of fingerprints daily, proudly revealing having seen all of the fingerprints of the criminal celebrities of that day, including Al Capone.
After the war, she and Bob began their next adventure: a calling to the ministry. As most seminary students at the time could attest, they were given the early task to navigate a circuit of churches to serve during that time. Where other young seminary wives might be timid, Betty easily took on the task, embracing her minister’s wife duties, including riding in the back seat of their aging Ford typing away at Bob’s old Royal typewriter to finish his seminary papers on time as he traveled between church meetings and services. She was also an accomplished pianist and organist, often stepping in as church organist where needed.
For over 40 years she embraced the adventure of minister’s wife, establishing much-needed order and innovation in the United Methodist churches they served. Establishing the first form of prayerful dance in the worship service in one, founding an annual Christmas Madrigal dinner in another, countless Christmas Teas and Mother and Daughter dinners in all, and working hard in the background to help the local Boy Scout organizations effectively reach adventurous young men during the tumultuous ’60s and ’70s: Betty’s welcoming and generous “come sit next to me” nature pervaded everything she accomplished. Even into their retirement years, both she and Bob opened their home each Sunday evening to conduct a “Salon Evening,” where friends and neighbors gathered to discuss cultural events of the day linked to art, nature, science, literature, technology, philosophy, travel, and religion.
Betty, along with Bob, navigated one last adventure when, upon retirement from the United Methodist Church Conference, they embarked on a career as regional directors for Educational Opportunities, a religious-based travel company. Serving over 10 years, Betty easily supervised travel bases in Jerusalem, Cairo, and the U.K., among other assignments. She broke through many cultural barriers in a supervisory role; even the most conservative Palestinians often and repeatedly welcomed her into their homes as equals.
Her time on the Vineyard was when she was at her happiest. Having purchased a small “gingerbread cottage” in the Campgrounds from close family friends in 1955, she and Bob set about to make it a place for everyone to call home, a place where anyone could hang a hat. They, alongside a small group of young ministers’ families, spent many wonderful summers together at the “12th Light Pole After the Bridge” on State Beach. She expertly planned clambakes and cookouts, hosted Ice Cream Sundae socials with their group of friends, and became an integral part of the summer Camp Meeting community over the years.
When her health prompted a move to Windemere Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, Betty continued her congenial nature, whether by sparking lively discussion during Wednesday “Talks with Vicky,” making new residents feel at home in the dining room or by letting her special care workers, nurses, and doctors know how much they were needed and appreciated.
Her proudest accomplishment still remains her family, personal and extended. She never let a conversation pass without telling of their latest accomplishments and acquisitions. Her room in Windemere told a lovely and joyful story: pictures spilling over the confines of her “family” bulletin board, featuring the latest on children, grand- and great-grand, family, friends, places, dinners, and all things near and dear to her heart.
Her son Mark Immelt predeceased her in 2007, and her husband the Rev. Robert Immelt predeceased her in 2009. She leaves behind a son, Jay Immelt and Helen of Aberdeen, Wash., with daughter Johanna, with Jody and children Craig, Berlin, and Peyton, and with son Justin, all of Washington State; daughter Julie Immelt Wheeler and Geoff of Vineyard Haven, with son Andrew, with Jenna and son Jackson, of Oak Bluffs; daughter-in-law Carol Immelt of Vineyard Haven, with daughter Alyssa Sliger, with Michael and children Abigail, Emily, and Hannah of Centerville, Ohio; with daughter Stephanie Immelt, with Dan Gilkes and children Hunter and Harper of Edgartown; with daughter Julie Immelt Whelden and son Wesley, of Falmouth; sister-in-law Ruth Immelt Anderson of Oak Bluffs, and brother-in-law Joseph Immelt and Donna of Cincinnati, Ohio; and many nieces, nephews and friends.
Her memorial service was celebrated March 28, 2018, at Trinity United Methodist Church, Oak Bluffs, and burial followed at Oak Grove Cemetery, Oak Bluffs. Memorial gifts in Betty’s name may be made to: MV Camp Meeting Association, P.O. Box 1685, Oak Bluffs, MA 02557, with Tabernacle Restoration Fund in the memo line, and Hospice of M.V., P.O. Box 1748, Vineyard Haven, MA 02568.
Betty knew that over everything else, making a difference for others and offering an open and easy welcome to all was what life was all about:
“Everyone must leave something behind when he dies, my grandfather said. A child or a book or a painting or a house or a wall built or a pair of shoes made. Or a garden planted. Something your hand touched in some way so your soul has someplace to go when you die, and when people look at that tree or that flower you planted, you’re there. The difference between the man who just cuts lawns and a real gardener is in the touching, he said. The lawn cutter might just as well not have been there at all; the gardener will be there a lifetime.”
–Ray Bradbury, “Fahrenheit 451”