BAR HARBOR — Elizabeth “Betty” Kane, 91, who raised 10 children with a firm hand, strong sense of humor and remarkable patience, died Jan. 4, 2011 at Sonogee Rehabilitation and Living Center.
She was born Sept. 1,1919 on a farm in Titpon, Kansas to Alex Dobratz, a blacksmith and small farmer, and his wife Barbara.
She grew up in Beloit, Kansas with three sisters: Maurine, Joan and Ruth, and one brother, Robert. When her eldest sister Maurine balked at going to school, Betty, who was two years younger, was sent along too, so she began her academic career at 4 years old. She was a bright, inquisitive child and she absorbed the lessons easily, and enjoyed the process of learning, a characteristic that lasted her throughout her life.
After Betty graduated from St. John’s High School at age 16, she continued her schooling at Normal Training School in Glen Elder, Kansas. She went on to teach for four rewarding years in Kansas’s country schools, where some of her students weren’t that much younger than she. There were likely a number of lads in that classroom who had trouble concentrating on their lessons, spending more time gazing at the pretty blond teacher with the cornflower blue eyes.
When her sister Maurine moved to Los Angeles, Betty decided to join her there, and got a job at Bullock’s Department Store.
It was the middle of World War II and all over the country the USO was sponsoring canteens and dances to entertain servicemen about to go overseas or who were home on leave. It was at one of these dances that a tall, handsome young Army Air corpsman from Bar Harbor, Maine, named Lyman J. Kane asked her to dance. The couple had only a few days together before Lyman was shipped back to the Philippines, but they corresponded until the end of the war. After the end of the war, Lyman headed straight for Kansas. The couple was married in April of 1946.
The young couple thought they’d start their lives together in Lansing, Mich., where Lyman got a job at a small automobile manufacturing plant. But when Arthur, their first baby was born, the couple knew they did not want to raise their son in a city. The little family returned to Bar Harbor, settling into a house on Ash Street that had one bathroom on the first floor and no electricity on the second. This was not a hardship at first, but the family did not stay little for long. The following year Betty gave birth to twins, and more babies arrived every year or two of the next 12 years. By 1960 the family was complete with 10 children.
While Lyman worked as a caretaker at several summer estates and joined the Bar Harbor police force, Betty stayed home and managed the household. Their second-youngest child Patricia says that patience was the quality she remembers most about her mother.
“Of course I was one of the last,” she says, “some of my older siblings may have a different perspective.”
Regina, the eldest daughter concurs, that at the other end, there was a bit more pressure brought to bear to behave, pitch in and keep the household running smoothly.
“But it all worked out,” she says. “If the girls had to do more work in the house, the boys helped dad out at his caretaking jobs.”
She also recalls that when her brothers started dating, there was no getting into that single bathroom between 5 and 7 at night.
The Kanes weren’t the only full house on little Ash Street. Just up the street lived the Cough family with 13 children, and several other large families with kids who spilled out into the streets after supper to play stickball, kick the can, Alley Oop and such.
“Needless to say, people were very careful driving down that street,” Regina says.
After her father became chief of police, the family moved to a house on School Street. It had a few more amenities, but still the 10 children had to double or triple up in the bedrooms.
On a budget of $50 a week, Betty had to stretch a turkey, ham or chicken to last for days — from a roast, to a potpie to a soup and such. But her children recall that the meals were always good and inventive, often followed by fresh-baked pies – the collective favorite being apple. Betty’s son Arthur says he and his brothers would sometimes go hunting rabbits on Strawberry Hill, and his mother turned them into delicious stews.
And every Sunday evening after an early supper the children trooped behind their parents, like ducklings, over to the corner of Ledgelawn and Mount Desert streets to attended mass at Holy Redeemer Catholic Church, where Betty was active as a Daughter of Isabella.
Although a houseful of children didn’t allow for much at-home entertaining or vacation travel (aside from two cross-country trips to Kansas in the ’50s) Betty and Lyman did enjoy going out to dinner with friends, and dancing at the Way Back Balls. On weekends and occasional holidays, the family drove over to Surry to a Kane family-owned farmhouse where the kids would play volleyball and other games, the men would barbecue and Betty would putter in the flower garden.
As busy as she was, Betty always had time to help her children with homework; her teaching skills kicked in as she patiently went over algebra or grammar lessons. Arthur recalls that several of his friends benefited from his mom’s tutorials as well. She also made time for writing long, detailed letters to her family out west, and for her own reading. In the 1960s Betty won the Jesup Memorial Library Book Report contest prize two years in a row. She read newspapers as well to keep up with local and national current events; she was active in the PTA and Girl Scouts when her girls were scouting, and was a member of the League of Women voters and a staunch supporter of the Right to Life movement.
It was a terrible blow for Betty when Lyman, by then a legendary police chief, died in 1981, just a few years after his retirement. But her faith, good humor and large extended family helped her cope with that loss. For her 70th birthday her children pitched in to send Betty on a pilgrimage to a shrine in Medjugorje in the former Yugoslavia, where, since 1981 the Virgin Mary is believed by the faithful to make yearly visitations.
Although Betty never claimed to have witnessed a holy apparition at the shrine, she did find the journey both aesthetically and spiritually rewarding.
About 10 years ago Betty started experiencing a series of small strokes and finally one that robbed her of her speech and much of her memory. She was cared for at Sonogee the last 10 years of her life. Her daughter Patricia took her to mass for as long as her mother was physically able.
As hard as it was to witness the mother they knew drift away, her children were grateful that Betty never fully realized the losses of her daughter Helen to breast cancer, and a much-loved daughter-in-law, Phyllis.
Patricia says it is only now, as she raises her own children and ponders some of the current affairs of the world, that she appreciates the deep wells of patience and knowledge that her mother drew from as she managed her complicated, bustling household.
“I don’t have my mother’s patience, and there are many times when I find myself surprised by something my mother surely would have known,” she says. “But her example is always right there for me. Something to work on.”
Betty Kane is survived by nine children and their spouses: Arthur and Rita Kane of Portland, Robert Kane, William and Claudia Kane, Lyman Jr. and Maureen Kane, Brian and Coleen Kane, Patricia and Thomas Pinkham all of Bar Harbor, Regina Kane of Chattanooga, Tenn., J. Scott and Roberta Kane of Simpsonville, S.C., Barry Kane of Quincy, Mass., and son-in-law William Carey of Weymouth, Mass.
Betty was blessed with 16 grandchildren: Eric Kane, Jeffery, Alton, Mark and Tracy Pinkham, Sean Carey, Seth and Sarra Kane, Ryan and Kelly Kane, B. Christopher and Aaron Kane, Joshua and Erica Kane, Amanda and Michael Kane, and six great-grandchildren: Wyatt and Makenna Kane, Libby Kane, Emilynn and Lyman Pinkham, and Connor Kane. She is also survived by four siblings and many nieces and nephews.
A Mass of Christian burial was celebrated Jan. 7, 2010 at the Holy Redeemer Catholic Church in Bar Harbor, with Father John O’Hara presiding. Spring interment will be at Holy Redeemer Cemetery in Bar Harbor.
In lieu of flowers, friends who wish may donate in her memory to the Holy Redeemer Catholic Church, 21 Ledgelawn Ave., Bar Harbor ME 04609.