Betty Lou Gaeng–if this name sounds familiar you have most likely read one of her “Looking Back” pieces online at Lynnwood Today, My Edmonds News or MLT News. Or you may have read one of her writings in the Edmonds Beacon or in the Homage section of the The Daily Herald.
Ninety-two years young, Betty has been writing most of her life, beginning in 1933 as a first grader at Alderwood Grade School. This past November, the City of Lynnwood recognized Betty as their City Historian and honored her with a key to the city.
Betty’s family moved to South Snohomish County early in the summer of 1933. Their first home was in Alderwood Manor on Manor Way. Their “stump farm” had a view of Lake Stickney. The family eventually moved to Edmonds, where she attended Edmonds Grade School and graduated from Edmonds High School in 1945. Betty was the third oldest of Walt and Marie Deebach’s six children including brothers Walt Jr., Bob, Tom, Don and sister Sally. All the Deebach children attended the same schools as Betty — Alderwood and/or Edmonds Grade School and Edmonds High School.
When Betty started the first grade at Alderwood, she was reading at an 8th grade level, self-taught from reading the Sears and Montgomery Ward catalogs. Betty described her first-grade teacher, Miss Johnson as “not a particularly memorable teacher,” however she remembers her name.
A memorable teacher for Betty was Miss Caspers, who taught 7th grade English at Edmonds Elementary. Miss Caspers assigned each member of the class an object to write about. Betty’s assigned object was a dime. She took that dime on a journey, writing about it from the time it was minted to its end when it eventually spiraled down a drain. Her story about the dime won a national writing contest. Betty remembered the importance of a dime as that is what she needed in 1938 to attend Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs at the Edmonds Princess Theater.
In addition to writing for news publications, Betty has researched and written the biographical stories of over a dozen local women for the Snohomish County League of Historical Organizations Women’s Legacy Project. Her writings include Eva Bailey McFall, appointed the first woman superintendent of schools for Snohomish County in 1907; Frances E. Anderson, an Edmonds School District Legend; and Marie Little, advocate for the Preservation of a City’s Roots.
One of Betty’s most passionate writings is “Etched in Stone: Dedicated to the Young Men of Edmonds School District 15” who lost their lives while serving in the military. Through her extensive research that continues today, she has documented the stories of over 90 servicemen that attended school in the Edmonds School District.
Betty has also written about the South Snohomish County Veterans memorial monument and was part of the group instrumental in relocating the monument from its location in front of the Edmonds Museum to the Edmonds Memorial Cemetery last year.
Betty thinks she has had an interesting life. A single mother of four children, they too are all graduates of Edmonds High School — Marilyn (Fussner) Courtdale, class of 1968; Richard Fussner, class of 1969; Julie Ann (Fussner) Cutting, class of 1971; and Daniel Fussner, class of 1972.
To support her family, Betty began a career as a legal secretary and paralegal for several law firms in downtown Seattle. After her legal career, Betty and her second husband, Fred Gaeng, worked in commercial fishing in the Gulf of Alaska for seven years, operating their own fishing boat.
After Fred’s passing, Betty moved back to Lynnwood, her childhood community. She brought with her a background in genealogy research and writing. From volunteering at the Sno-Isle Genealogy library in Lynnwood’s Heritage Park, she walked next door and began volunteering as a host for the Lynnwood-Alderwood Manor Heritage Association. Both organizations have benefited from articles Betty has written for the Sno-Isle’s Sounder publication and the Heritage Association’s Clippings newsletter.
Betty thinks of herself as a “pleasant writer,” never putting anything negative in her stories.
She likes writing for the online publications as it allows her to tell a story from her experiences and she gets others “thinking about their own stories.” She enjoys reader’s comments, allowing her to respond to questions they have or giving her more information to add to what she has written.
Before Betty finishes one story, she is always thinking about and working on her next story. Her next story will most likely be telling about a recent fall she took in January breaking a hip and shoulder, her recovery, and now preparation for the next chapter of her life with a move to Anchorage, Alaska in the very near future.
The Lynnwood-Alderwood Manor Heritage Association invites the public to “Visit the Historian–Betty Gaeng” at 11:30 a.m. on March 23 at Heritage Park, 19903 Poplar Way Lynnwood.
— By Cheri Stadler Ryan
Cheri Stadler Ryan is president of the Lynnwood-Alderwood Manor Heritage Association and chair of the City of Lynnwood’s History and Heritage Board. She grew up in Alderwood Manor and graduated from Lynnwood High School. She writes for the Heritage association’s newsletter, Clippings, and has co-authored the book Images of Rail, Seattle-Everett Interurban Railway.