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Life Story / Obituary
A generous and compassionate woman, Betty Byrwa devoted her life to serving others. She accomplished so many things of which to be proud, but her greatest source of pride and joy was found in her role as a wife and mother. She was an active member of the community and made many wonderful friendships over the years. Although she will be deeply missed, Betty leaves behind a wonderful collection of memories to be cherished forever.
Looking back on the 1930s, it is difficult to recall much of anything that wasn’t affected by the Great Depression. There were few jobs and a soaring unemployment rate that left countless American families without homes. Despite these tough times, Alonzo and Charlotte (Coulson) Speace celebrated with great joy the arrival of their newborn baby girl, Betty Jane on May 19, 1935, in Elkton, Maryland. The only girl in a family of five children, her birth brought much happiness and promise to the family home.
Betty was raised on a farm which instilled in her the value of hard work at a young age. She attended elementary school in a one room school house where each grade was a separate row. Her father worked for the B&O Railroad at Singerly Tower as a Telegraph Operator and her mother was a remarkable homemaker, a skill she undoubtedly learned as she herself was one of twenty children. Family reunions grew exponentially in both size and excitement. Betty always held a special place for her 4 brothers, gathering with all of them on occasion no matter the distance over the years. Betty enjoyed going up in the tower with her dad and pulling the levers to switch the train tracks. During her childhood, Betty was very active often playing outdoors; swimming in the creek, picking berries, climbing trees with her four brothers, and taunting the neighbor’s bull! She also learned many responsibilities around the household including helping her father with the garden and canning with her mother. Sadly, her father died when she was at the tender age of thirteen. Betty focused on her studies and graduated with the Class of 1953 from Elkton High School. She later went on to pursue a degree from Goldy Beacom College in Wilmington, Delaware.
Known for her beauty with platinum blonde hair, blue eyes, and a firecracker personality, Betty was a good catch for any fellow. She married her first husband, Paul Cameron, and together they welcomed home her first three children: Ken, Steve, and Paul. Their marriage ended in divorce and by 1959, she met Frank Finch. Together they had two sons, Frank and Sam, raising them alongside Steve and Paul. She was forced to leave Ken with his father, but Ken eventually was able to move back. They settled in Wyandotte, Michigan. Their marriage faced many hardships when Betty was diagnosed with a brain tumor and underwent surgery in the early 1970s. It was a trying time with a household of children as well as physical therapy for Betty to learn to walk all over again. Unfortunately, their marriage also ended in divorce.
Her wonderful personality, as well as her determination, attracted her to her third husband, Stanley Byrwa. Sharing many commonalities, they joined in marriage and welcomed home their daughter, Maria, completing her family of six children. Betty also developed close relationships with Stanley’s adult children, Judy, Kathy, David, and Tim, and enjoyed their visits over the years.
Betty and Stanley shared many wonderful years together raising their family in Hazel Park. They enjoyed spending time, almost every weekend in fact, at their property in Grayling. Betty was an active mother who always took time for fun! They enjoyed going for leisurely Sunday drives. One of Betty’s famous sayings was, “Have gas, will travel!” She enjoyed countless days out on the water fishing with her boys or swimming in the river and walking the twenty-one acres. The evenings were always joined around the fire pit for stories and laughter! As a mother, Betty valued education yet was quick to grant her children a day off from school to stay home and spend time together! In her younger mothering years, she was active in the Boy Scouts serving as a den leader, even taking 1st place for their float in a parade!
She also modeled for her children the importance of political activism in the local elections and over the years taught them all how to stuff envelopes and canvas the neighborhood for those politicians she valued. She was also a fantastic storyteller. Her children grew accustomed to her many stories which were real-life reflections that painted such a vivid picture that any listener could relive the moment with her. She especially loved telling stories of the Bible teaching life lessons on God’s grace and love. Lighthearted and kind, her overall message was that of resilience. When life challenged her, she saw it as an opportunity to gain strength and used her humor and optimism as gifts when things were difficult.
Betty was a woman with many interesting hobbies. Throughout much of her life, she sold Avon products as a consultant to supplement her income and won many awards for her sales. She helped with the Athletic Boosters, working the concession stands, and was involved in many parades. After many years of being known as Mama Betty, she retired from her role as a school aide from Hazel Park Schools in 1999. Retirement afforded her the time to remain involved in the community. She continued to serve on the Friends of the Library Board and was a member of the beautification committee in charge of planting flowers all throughout the city. She also never turned down a friend in need, often driving them their appointments.
With a special heart for little children, she also cherished the years she volunteered in the nursery at Tabernacle Baptist Church. As much as she loved the little ones, she also loved animals and rescued many stray cats over the years. She was a wonderful cook and loved cooking from scratch always including fresh vegetables and fruits from the local farmer’s market. Born with a natural singing voice, Betty was known to break out in song often singing her favorite church hymns by heart! She had a wide variety of musical interests over the years and shared her love of music with her family.
By 2006, Betty moved to Kalamazoo to be closer to her daughter. During these years they enjoyed many trips including Las Vegas, The Grand Canyon, Disney World, and a Caribbean Cruise! Not having a formal wedding ceremony of her own she was radiant on the day of her daughter’s wedding in 2011. For relaxation, Betty crossed stitch plastic canvas crafts making coasters and miniature houses as well as completing jigsaw puzzles. When she finished with a puzzle, her daughter would glue it and hang it to decorate her room.
Perhaps nothing brought her more joy than becoming a grandmother. Betty looked forward to her walks and bike rides with her two youngest grandsons. They took turns pushing her in her wheelchair while hunting for baby turtles or the perfect stones to skip across the pond.
May her silliness and sarcasm bring back the good memories and fun-filled times she shared. May her loved ones be comforted knowing that she is now at peace and may they never doubt the immense love she had for each and every one of them.
Betty Jane Byrwa, age 84, transitioned to be with her Lord and Savior on March 31, 2020, by natural causes. She is preceded in death by her husband: Stanley Byrwa; four brothers: Bob, Frank, and twins, Will and Dan; her parents and her stepson, David Byrwa. She is survived by her loving daughter: Maria (Joe) Willoughby of Kalamazoo, MI; her sons: Sam (Rebecca) Finch of Auburn Hills, MI, Frank (Kathy) Finch of Ave Maria, FL, Paul (Kelly) Cameron of Leavenworth, KS, Steve (Danita) Cameron of Centerview, MO, and Ken (Anita) Cameron of Aberdeen, MD; stepchildren: Judith Byrwa of Harbor Springs, MI, Kathleen Berry of Wyandotte, MI, and Timothy Byrwa of McMillan, MI; along with many grand and great-grandchildren, nieces and nephews. Cremation has taken place. A celebration of life will be held at a later date once COVID-19 precautions are lifted. Please visit Betty’s personal webpage at www.BetzlerLifeStory where you may archive a favorite memory or photo, and sign her online guestbook. Memorial contributions may be directed to the Kalamazoo Humane Society. Arrangements by Betzler Life Story Funeral Home, 6080 Stadium Drive, Kalamazoo (269) 375-2900.