Remembering Elwood Betts

Elwood Betts — a proud Westport native, indefatigable civic volunteer and all-around good guy — died yesterday of cardiac arrest. He was 89.

His next door neighbor sends along this wonderful tribute:

This Thanksgiving, I am truly thankful for having the honor of being the next-door neighbor of the soul of Westport for the last 6 years. Elwood Betts always had a pleasant hello waiting for me and my fellow neighbors, raising his arm with his big hand in the air with an echoing “Helllllllllo there!” When you heard that voice you knew who was outside, happy to see and greet you, rain or shine…

When we first moved to Park Lane, welcoming neighbors were first to inform us who was our street chieftain. He told us great stories about his beloved late wife, and all the joy he shared with her for over 50 years. A few years after we met, his son moved back into his childhood house to take care of his father, along with his lovely wife. We knew Westport was the right town for us to raise a family, but we had no idea we’d be blessed to live next to such a wonderful man.

Elwood Betts at Evergreen Cemetery. That restoration effort was one of his many civic projects.

Elwood Betts at Evergreen Cemetery. That restoration effort was one of his many civic projects.

That first year we moved next door to him, before the arrival of our son, he would show me his library of historical photos and information about the town of Westport, his beloved church, his family heritage. Over the years, he had collected an incredible amount of facts about town because he loved it like his family. He was Westport in my mind, and he wanted to pass on his passion by leaving behind all the reasons why Westport meant more to him than just a zip code. He wanted everyone to embrace the depth of our cultural town.

The first piece of history he shared with me was when his church, Saugatuck Congregational, was moved across the Post Road in 1950. He told me how the road had been blocked so that 500 men, women and children could gather before the shored-up structure for a service of prayer and thanksgiving. They sang “Faith of Our Fathers” accompanied by a portable organ. Then at 60 feet per hour, the 200-ton building was moved down a 19-foot incline on 55 logs across the Post Road, to stand adjacent to the parsonage. He had all the photos in a bound book. I thought, “This guy knows his stuff!”

My wife and I quickly learned what mattered to him most: family and his church. He loved his kids and his grandchildren so much, a proud father indeed. He shared stories that made me think how lucky they were to have him as their family patriarch.

Last year at Sherwood Island, Elwood Betts (left) showed archaeologist Ernie Wiegand where the 1787 Sherwood house stood.

Last year at Sherwood Island, Elwood Betts (left) showed archaeologist Ernie Wiegand where the 1787 Sherwood house stood.

He was a rich soul who cared for everyone else first, putting himself last. When his beloved place of worship suffered a devastating fire, Park Lane was lined with cars for months. He stepped into a leadership role, towards restoring Westport’s centerpiece of grace and place for the faithful. People rallied for him, took his direction and the spirit of community spread from there.

I learned recently that because the church is under restoration, he had offered to host the men’s group on Thursday mornings at his home. Even at the age of 89, he was still thinking of ways to help his community.

Tomorrow I will truly miss wishing a “Happy Thanksgiving” to a man of such character, integrity, sincerity, and humility — my irreplaceable neighbor and friend, Elwood Betts.

God bless you and your family. Here’s thanks for all your efforts to make Westport what it is today. May we all live up to your standards of preserving its authenticity.

Click below for Elwood Betts’ oral history of Westport:

(Calling hours are this Friday, Nov. 28, from 5-8 p.m. at the Harding Funeral Home. A memorial service will be held on Saturday, Nov. 30 at 11 a.m. at Greens Farms Congregational Church. A reception will follow.)

(For more “06880” stories about Elwood Betts: resurrecting Evergreen Cemeteryremembering the Hindenburg over Westport; remembering Sherwood Island Mill Pond)

16 responses to “Remembering Elwood Betts

  1. He was a great man.

  2. Thanks for posting this, Dan.

  3. Elwood was an incredible friend and mentor. I had the privilege of being a member of the Saugatuck Congregational Church Thursday morning men’s group for a long time, plus being a fellow church member. The reason the church survived the fire is largely due to Elwood. As a member of the Board of Trustee’s he did extensive research on church fires and pushed for a plan to clear out the attic and put in sensors, alarms and firewalls. The night of the fire the main structure ALMOST was lost, but the firewalls held thereby preventing a more extensive disaster. His knowledge and passion for Westport was deep and incredibly passionate. Plus many do not know he gave many hours of volunteer service in Bridgeport, his place of employment at the GE plant there. Every week when leaving his house after another men’s meeting I would always look for his parting blessing, “go with God”. That blessing is now part of my soul and will be the piece of Elwood that lives on in me.

  4. I was pleased to count Elwood as one of my “good buddies.” He and I shared
    an interest in the history of Westport where his family was in the automobile
    dealership business. I will miss his enthusiastic welcome whenever we saw
    each other around town.

  5. Louis Gagliano

    Lou Gagliano

    First, I must confess I am biased as Elwood was my Step Father in Law.

    He was a great man and a wonderful grandfather to our son Daniel.

    My memories of Elwood was when I served as the Head of the Board of Trustees at Saugatuck Congregational Church. He and I spent countless hours in the Church rafters identifying ways to keep a potential fire from totally demolishing this wonderful place of worship and history of our Community. From removing combustable items that were stored there and determining how to build fire walls to prevent the spread of a fire were part of we accomplished this together. I KNOW that what we did kept the church from being completely destroyed.

    During this process of discovery in the rafters we found old church records not only of historical value, but documenting donations given over the years, earmarked towards the preservation of the Evergreen Cemetery, a place that he had such a passion. We were able to document that these funds had been commingled but in fact should have been set aside in a separate account.

    We reinstated these funds to a separate account for the maintenance of this wonderful historical site and a place of rest for those members of our community who are no longer with us. This was his passion, and it is fitting that this a place he restored will be where he will find his final home.

    You will be MISSED.

    With respect for your life!

    Lou Gagliano

  6. Elwood Betts was perhaps the most cheerful man I’ve known — always a smile, always a kind word. I’m so lucky to have known him for the last 45 years. He was a man of science and a man of faith, and was so devoted to his family and community. We will miss him deeply. Our profound sympathies go to his outstanding, loving family.

  7. Kim Plaut Sullivan

    What a wonderfully warm and touching tribute to Mr. Betts. My first grade teacher at Bedford Elementary School was Mrs. Betts. Wonder if was his mother. Can’t recall her first name. Anyone?

  8. This is a huge loss. Elwood was a true friend of history and the go-to guy for hyper local info on Westport’s past; neighborhood by neighborhood. I loved it that he would show up for various graveyard restoration efforts with his own special mix of stuff to safely clean gravestones. My deepest sympathy to his family.

  9. Elwood was a treasure and will be sorely missed. Here’s some information from Pastor Alison about his memorial service:
    A Memorial Service celebrating the life of Elwood Betts will be held this Saturday, November 29th, at 11:00 am at Green’s Farms Congregational Church. Reception to follow.
    Memorial gifts in Elwood’s memory may be made to:
    Evergreen Cemetery
    Saugatuck Congregational Church
    245 Post Road East
    Westport, CT 06880

  10. Elwood was a treasure at our church and town. He will be missed by all of us at Saugatuck Congregational Church. What a wonderful man!

  11. LAWRENCE AASEN 31 Ellery Lane, Westport, Ct. 06880
    Elwood Betts: Behind that big smile, booming voice and vintage jokes, Elwood was a very intelligent man–that he kept hidden.

  12. The Betts family would like you all to know calling hours will be Friday from 5 – 8 P.M. at the Harding Funeral Home. A memorial service will be held on Saturday at 11 A.M. at the Greens Farms Congregational Church (71 Hillandale Road). A reception will follow.

  13. Alison J. B. Patton

    Deep gratitude to all who have posted comments here. I can only echo them. Elwood was gracious, generous and ever enthusiastic. It has been a privilege to be his pastor.

  14. Another Town Gem lost never to be forgotten! He was so interesting and knowledgeable regarding so many issues both from a historic and engineering perspective.

  15. “My first grade teacher at Bedford Elementary School was Mrs. Betts..”
    i wonder if this was the same wonderful lady who ran The Westport Little
    Symphony and whose daughter Cathy was Concertmistress, and son
    Foster, principal clarinet ? this able youth orchestra was made up of
    talented young players from all over the county and rehearsed Tuesday
    evenings in the Bedford Elementary auditorium under the direction of
    Maestro John Burnett of Danbury, who was, for a short time, my first cello
    teacher. Mrs. Betts did a fantastic job with all the details involved in running one of the first (and best) community youth orchestras in the country…

  16. Karen Bronson Clark

    When I visit Westport I always loved to sit down with a cup of tea and hear Elwood’s stories. One of my fondest memories of Elwood was the herb and vegetable garden he and Ilene had at their home in Westport and the time he had to smoke out a pesky woodchuck. Elwood was a great story teller and I will miss hearing the stories when I visit Holly and Paul.