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Article Published November 13, 2019

Born in 1917, Betty Hotchkiss Offers Tips on Longevity

By By Elizabeth Reinhart

The United States had just entered World War I in 1917, the year that Elizabeth “Betty” Hauser was born.

“It was ‘the war that was going to end all wars’—that is what they said back then,” 102-year-old Betty reflects.

Someone who lived through two world wars, Betty remembers listening to the radio when the second world war started. Her brother, Joe, would lose his life in the Battle of the Bulge, one of the battles that had the highest number of casualties for American troops.

Growing up in the 1920s and ‘30s, times were different.

“When it snowed, we had to shovel our street so buses and cars could get through,” said Betty.

Her father, who was a toolmaker at A.C. Gilbert in New Haven, would return home from work by trolley.

“We used to sit on the front steps waiting for him,” Betty says. “We were only allowed to run to him after we saw him step off the trolley.”

A life full of simple pleasures, Betty and her siblings would make their own toys. Her father and uncle would plant a neighboring lot with vegetables, making wine from their own grapes and elderberries from neighboring bushes.

To help the kids cool off in the summer, Betty’s mother would place pans of water under these same grapevines.

“It was a good life,” Betty says. “It was a great life back then.”

The second eldest in a family of nine, Betty and her family enjoyed spending time together.

In the 1940s, they rented a house for the summer on Cosey Beach Avenue. The cost for their four-month stay was $350.

“The prices were so cheap back then,” said Betty. “Bread was 5 cents. Sugar, butter, all of it.”

All nine members of the family were musical, gathering around the piano to sing on numerous occasions and at mass on Sundays in the church choir.

“I took vocal lessons,” says Betty. “I sang all the time.”

There was less time for Betty to sing once she graduated from high school and started working for the now dissolved garment company Berger Brothers in New Haven.

She worked there for nine years before she became dissatisfied with the quality of life afforded by the busy company and went to work at Happy Fenton’s Bar in Momauguin. She started as a waitress and eventually became a cashier and bartender.

It was there that a young man who frequently visited his aunt in the area would come to play the pinball machine.

“After my shift ended, I would play pinball with him,” Betty remembers. “We started going together.”

Edward “Ted” Hotchkiss and Betty married when he was on a two-day leave from military service during World War II.

They purchased their first home in East Haven in 1961.

“We got the keys on Dec. 31 and moved in on Jan. 1 of 1962,” Betty says.

Ted and Betty would raise two daughters, Debbie and Pam.

When she wasn’t busy nurturing her children by making meals from scratch, she tended to a garden in their backyard.

“In the morning, I told my husband that I was going to take the trash out to the compost pile,” Betty says. “I always saw things that needed to be done in the garden. I would never come back in.”

The best part about gardening, “was getting my hands in the soil. It made you feel so good,” she adds.

In addition to gardening, Betty found that everything she needed was within walking distance.

“I used to walk down to the center, when they had a row of stores on one side and a couple of stores on the other,” said Betty.

Her youngest daughter “Debbie was in a baby stroller and Pam would walk.”

As someone who disliked driving and didn’t get her license until she was in her 50s, Betty says that walking may have contributed to her long life.

“I don’t know what it is,” said Betty. “I did a lot of walking.”

For her 100th birthday, in which several friends and family gathered to celebrate her, the following was written on a sign, as “Betty’s advice for a long, happy life: Always think positive, no matter what. Always. Keep active throughout life. [Drink] one glass of beer a day. Eat good meals.”

Her positivity, family and close-knit neighborhood of friends also seems to make a difference.

“I have a wonderful family,” she says.

A timeline of historical events that was shared at her 100th birthday celebration also marked the most important events in Betty’s life. They included the births of her grandchildren Ryan, Sarah, Shannon, and Jamie and her great grandchildren Slade, Lucien, and Genesis.

Babysitting her grandchildren was one of her greatest joys in life, she says.

Ted and Betty also enjoyed traveling in retirement, including to China Burma India Theater veterans conventions.

Nowadays, her perseverance through some health struggles shows.

“If something happens to you, accept it. Deal with it and move on,” she says.

This approach to life has benefited her in many ways including finding a creative work-around to watching her favorite baseball team, the Boston Red Sox, on television in spite of her macular degeneration: binoculars.

She revels in the team’s successes and has a signed photograph from a player in her living room.

“She looks forward to every single event, day, moment, experience,” said neighbor Allysa Zordan in an email. “Not because she feels she’s short on time (she reminds me often that she plans to live many more years) but because there are so many good things in life right now…and plenty more to come!”