Betsy Hayes Fredell

Betsy Hayes Fredell - Henrietta, NY - Rochester Cremation

Henrietta, NY: Betsy Hayes Fredell, April 11, 1921-January 20, 2021

Even approaching a century on earth, Betsy Fredell was fielding calls from relatives across time zones and continents. She had become a reservoir of family knowledge and remained such an entertaining conversationalist that one nephew in the eastern Mediterranean reports their regular calls would typically last around 90 minutes. Her letters pushed the boundaries of a first-class stamp. Her points of discussion in one recent (short and pandemic-limited) visit ranged from new work in virology to the novels of George Meredith to the finer points of Ojibwe birth records in French Canadian parish registers.

Betsy passed away on January 20, 2021, at the age of 99. She was born Agnes Wanton Hayes in South Hadley, MA as the youngest of five siblings. Betsy called herself a “little surprise” to her parents since she was born over a decade after her sibling next in age. Her father Samuel Hayes, Professor of Psychology at Mount Holyoke College, was also known for his invention of the Hayes-Binet test and his work at the Perkins Institute for the Blind in Watertown, MA. Her mother, Agnes Stone Hayes, published short fiction for children and enjoyed a brief time as an entrepreneur with a cloth prototype for disposable tissues. Among Betsy’s most potent memories was her family trip to London as a child, where she visited the Cecil Sharp Folk Arts Center and saw the statue of Peter Pan at the tail of the Serpentine in Kensington Gardens. Growing up, Betsy’s training in cello brought her into the ranks of the family orchestra, a string-based group led by her parents as a regular feature of family life that drew in some neighbors as well. Despite the pressures of the Great Depression her musical skills brought her to a summer’s training at Tanglewood Music Center Summer Academy, where she saw to her enduring excitement the conductor Dmitri Metropolis. She enjoyed years of playing in amateur string quartets into her 70s. She also performed on piano and sang the English ballads and Appalachian folk songs she loved, an indelible memory for her children growing up. In her early teens she legally changed her birth name to Betsy, the name she preferred throughout her life. In college at Mount Holyoke her interest in biology led to a B.S. degree in science and eventually a Masters in Public Health from Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

During World War II, Betsy served as a lab technician on Cape Cod. In that time she met her future husband, William Fredell. They were married in Ann Arbor, MI after the war, and moved first to St. Paul, MN, where Bill’s family lived. Their oldest child, Barbara, was born in that time. Among the adventures of those years were living in an apartment building with one neighbor who claimed to have been Trotsky’s bodyguard in Mexico and other neighbors who taught this young wife recipes from a wide range of national cuisines. Not long afterward they moved to Watertown, MA, where Peter was born. Then they resettled in Montpelier, VT for several years where Joel and Lois were born. They enjoyed life in Montpelier: Betsy’s family was near enough for regular visits, the neighborhood was ideal for the children to roam (though Betsy had to crawl out of one upstairs window to retrieve a naked 4-year-old on the porch roof who had grown bored with his nap), and Betsy often recalled the pleasures of playing string quartets while one or another child roamed under their chairs. Betsy also earned some master’s points at a national Bridge Tournament during that time. Various pressures, including a polio outbreak in the family and the birth of Betsy’s youngest child with Downs’, encouraged Betsy and Bill to move to East Rochester, NY for better employment, near where Betsy’s maternal grandfather had run a prominent music shop and piano manufacturing business, Gibbons and Stone, whose instruments can still be found in upstate New York. Her children remember fondly playing with a marble maze built from piano wood parts by this grandfather for Betsy. During this period Betsy worked in labs while also keeping house, cooking meals, and managing four children. After the first three children were out of the house Bill was promoted to a job in the San Francisco area, so Betsy and Bill moved to Belmont, CA with Lois. Betsy continued to work, now full time, but also discovered the joys of California’s landscape and foods. She loved to sit on to the beach, despite the cold Pacific wind, with sourdough bread and cracked crab. She took great joy in travels around the West and cross-country in their VW camper van. At retirement, Betsy and Bill moved back to Rochester, NY to be nearer children and grandchildren. They also seized the opportunity to travel abroad: England and Ireland, Italy; a river cruise on the Rhine and sea cruises to Scandinavia, the Mediterranean, and the Caribbean. Betsy also continued to explore her artisan side through major knitting projects along with crochet, tatting, enamelware, and other crafts. Throughout the final illnesses of Bill and Lois Betsy was steadfast at their bedsides and a beacon of compassion. Among the projects Betsy took up in these years was genealogy, making substantial advances on previous family attempts. Her sharp intelligence and clarity of mind held strong quite literally up to her final few days.

Betsy was preceded in death by her husband Bill and daughter Lois; by her brothers Lyman (Stoney) and Samuel Hayes, her sisters Janet Renshaw and Mary Ellen Woodcock. She is survived by three children and their partners: Barbara and Michael Ruth, Peter and Yong Bom Kim-Fredell, Joel Fredell and Susan Nassar; by four grandchildren and their partners: David and Leticia Ruth, Stephen and Angela Ruth, Leila and Mishkar Nuñez-Fredell, Kira Kim-Fredell and Mark LaMagna; and by five great-grandchildren: Casey and Kyle Ruth; Christian, Eliana, and Elizabeth Ruth.

The family would also like to express its deep gratitude to Betsy’s friends and helpmates in her final years at the Rockwood Center for Senior Living: Deborah Pampalone and Nancy Sutter. We are profoundly fortunate to have had Betsy with us, always in such fine fettle, for 99 years. A memorial is planned for late spring or early summer.

1 Comment

  1. Patty Perreault Bennett on March 28, 2021 at 5:46 pm

    I wish I had known this lady. I also went to Mount Holyoke College. I was born in Holyoke, but I grew up in South Hadley. I graduated in 1972. My deepest sympathy I send to all of the dear folks who are related to this talented and interesting centurion.

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