St. Barnabas salutes 100-year-old Woodlands resident Betty Conn for a lifetime of service to her community, her church and her country.
Born and raised in Masontown, PA, near Uniontown, Betty was the oldest of Josephine and Arleigh Conn’s three children: Betty, Joseph “Joe” and Arlene. Brother Joe was drafted into the Army Air Corps in the Spring of 1943 when Betty was a senior at Indiana State Teacher’s College. The family was seeing Joe off when Betty told her parents if Joe had to go into service, then why shouldn’t she. Her father was concerned that she would never use her education, but Betty promised him that after the war she would become a teacher – a promise she kept.
So Betty became a Marine, earning the rank of Sergeant by the time she was discharged. Betty’s teaching career actually started in the Marines. Her wartime assignment – aerial gunner instructor teaching fighter pilots how to shoot wing guns on F4U Corsairs.
“Of course, they had to teach me first,” Betty said. “The front portion of a Corsair was set up before a white screen. Pilots would slide into their seats and fire their guns at a simulated Japanese Zero. It was like a Disney ride. They were able to dive, climb and bank while flying and firing their guns.”
“I like to think,” she added with a grin, “that we won the war because I was a good teacher.”
Betty taught 5th grade in Uniontown and then 8th grade social studies. She went on to earn a Master’s degree in Supervision from West Virginia University on the GI Bill. The last 14 years of her career she supervised reading in the North Allegheny School System, retiring in 1981. While teaching Betty was very active in her church’s Bible studies, the young people’s program and Sunday School.
Betty researched retirement communities before choosing The Woodlands. She and her roommate Sally Treffert, were among the first Woodlands residents. That was in 2000 and Betty is now the oldest resident both in age and in residency.
During her first 15 years at The Woodlands Betty participated in all the activities and every get-together and party. She served on the Steering Committee, chaired the Welcoming Committee, hosted an annual Christmas party.
“Now, at 100, I’ve slowed up a bit. Mostly I eat and sleep,” Betty confided with a smile, “The last things I will give up are the beauty shop and church.”
Betty says coming to St. Barnabas was the best decision she has ever made. Her townhome is near the old P&LE train tracks. She and her roommate love the sound of the trains, occasionally waving to a conductor – an old tradition seldom possible today.
“The people in The Woodlands are wonderful.” Betty said. “We are just like a family. It’s stress-free living.”
Betty is known for her quiet sense of humor. Shortly after her 100th birthday, Jan. 14, 2021, Betty wrote to the insurance company that handles medical insurance for Pennsylvania teachers:
Gentlemen, I am 100 years old and have never been hospitalized. I have never taken any medications, not even aspirin. But I do eat a pound and a half of dark chocolate squares from Aldi’s every month. I am suggesting that you cover the monthly cost of these chocolates as a part of preventive medical insurance.”
The insurance company did not act upon Betty’s request, just acknowledged her handwritten note with a form letter.
Marine Sergeant Betty smiled and ate another chocolate.
F4U Corsair’s wing guns were manned by the fighter pilots in WWII. Marine Sgt. Betty Conn was their aerial gunner instructor.