Local woman, now 100, lives storied life

U.S. Rep. Tim Burchett, R-Knoxville, left, takes a selfie with Edith Bettis on her 100th birthday after presenting her with a proclamation.

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Loudon resident Edith Bettis was given the royal treatment on her 100th birthday April 16, complete with a crown, limo ride across the county and proclamations from area representatives.

Bettis, born in Swayne County, N.C, in 1921, moved to Sweetwater in 1932 after her family was forced out of their home when the Great Smoky Mountains was named a National Park. She said Roosevelt dedicated the park, but she didn’t go to the dedication because she “didn’t want to see him.”

Every year she goes to a reunion on the mountain to see the families and friends who were also pushed out of their homes. Those who can’t walk up the mountain are carried.

Bettis is now the oldest living member of the community and still makes an effort to attend the reunion. Last year was the first time she didn’t attend because the gathering was canceled in the wake of COVID-19.

Earlier in her life, Bettis was going to work in chemicals in Oak Ridge before deciding to move to Detroit, Mich., with her aunt.

“After I went to school, I went on and didn’t know what to do,” Bettis said. “There wasn’t any jobs available. Some people we knew were in Detroit, and they said, ‘Why don’t you come up and you can live with us until you’ve found a place to live? You can get a job at anything.’ That’s where me and my aunt, and she was the same age as me; we were just like sisters. Where she went, I went. Where I went, she went. We went to Detroit to work on airplanes as riveters.”

Bettis worked as a riveter for 10 months during World War II and made $1.05 an hour on second shift. Eventually, she moved back to Sweetwater.

“It was pretty uncommon for two single women back in that date to travel by themselves by bus to Detroit,” Jane Bettis, Bettis’ daughter-in-law, said.

She worked in various hosieries in Sweetwater, Philadelphia and Loudon. She met future husband Clarence Bettis on May 31, 1947.

“He said he heard there was an airplane that fell down over Sweetwater,” Bettis said. “He said, ‘Do you want to go see where it was at?’ I said of course I did. We went down there. There wasn’t no plane nowhere. I guess he was just trying to flirt with me. From then, I kept going with him. … After that, I married Clarence and then I had three children, and I cried when I had the fourth one. I said we couldn’t afford another one, but he come along anyway, and I couldn’t tell a difference.”

Bettis said she wouldn’t trade her children for anything and is proud of the people they’ve become. She sewed them new clothes and was an avid quilter.

Her daughter, Nancy Bettis, said Clarence worked day and night to provide for their poor family. What they lacked in wealth, they made up for in good times and laughs.

“We grew all of our food,” Nancy said. “We had a big garden that we worked in. She canned and would freeze. We had cows, pigs, that we killed to either sugar cure all the meat for hogs and put the beef in the freezer. We had a huge garden.”

Bettis has lived in the same home in Loudon for 74 years since she and Clarence were married. All of the draperies in the house were sewn by Bettis.

Jane’s mother-in-law has survived two cancers, the Great Depression, World War II and the polio epidemic.

Bettis said she wanted to ride in a limousine before she died. On her birthday, she was driven around in a limo to different parts of Sweetwater where friends greeted her and she received proclamations from U.S. Rep. Tim Burchett, R-Knoxville, state Rep. Lowell Russell, R-Vonore, and Loudon County Mayor Rollen “Buddy” Bradshaw.

Before the ride, Bettis sat on her porch where she received friends and family. She also collected 225 birthday cards, which she plans on reading twice, she said. Signs and banners were strewn across the yard where people could wish her a happy birthday from afar.

“I been telling everybody that’s asking me,” Bettis said of the key to living a long, happy life. “I said I drunk the water there in the mountains, and that’s why I’ve lived long. The Smoky Mountain water. … I’ve had a good time since I got to be 100.”

This article originally ran on news-herald.net.

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