One of the first questions we had to pose to Betty Dee Black, the octogeneration who has spent a good long part of her life making Sarnia and what turns out to be a very wide swath of people she’s found herself making relationships with over those many years.
We and others call heer the remarkable Betty Dee and she has certainly earned that accolade and others, not because of her entry to the world In Strathroy on September 8, 1933, but as one of twin to a midwife mother who didn’t realize she was about to deliver two bundles of joy—Bruce McLean, a brother who who was moments older.
As Betty Dee will explain today, growing up for her was very much a tomboy experience.
In grade 11, with a grandmother mother that was sick, I was the one that quit school—“I didn’t really much like it because I was a great reader and what I did like to read was not mathematics and it wasn’t French and I didn’t like those subjects. I liked history and geography and literature and things like art and things like that.”
When her grandmother passed, she decided to work on a family farm that was one of several farms around her parents had purchased around her own place.
One day as she grew, Betty Dee found herself heading to Toronto, wherein 1951 she enrolled at a hairdresser school where she connected with an instructor who ran his business in an older house not unlike the house she lives in now and has for some 40 years in Sarnia.
It was also where she discovered cold permanent waves.
Getting married in 1952, she married Jack Mitchell, who after three years in four years Jack got tuberculosis.
Betty Dee got a job with a Sarnia hairdresser and began promoting her cold wave product and did very well.
She worked another year, before she and Jack split up, having spent weeks in sanatorium and weekends.
In New Year’s Eve 1958, she took over the home she lived in, paying $300 a month and within a short period she bought the place for $12,000.
She also bought a place in Corunna that she rented out.
Betty Dee also bought a place in Bright’s Grove and hated it, moved back to her house on Vidal.
With a need for space, she needed more space and bought a building at the corner of Cromwell and Christina, after the new owners decided it wasn’t for them.
Bob Black, who was sister to a best friend of hers, became romantically involved, although for reasons we won’t go into it was a marriage that was short-lived.
That was about the mid-60s, and Black eventually passed away.
By now her venture became Black Beauty Enterprises, which incorporated all her business and homes.
The walking part of her life included a good bit of smoking, which she weaned herself in under a month by taking a 10-minute break.
Lori Mitchell has her own business that focused on cancer care wigs and a men’s salon upstairs and when she had 13 staff, a big challenge.
Along the way, in 1995 Betty Dee teamed up 42 children who raised money for local charity, which followed a trip to Florida in 1992 for a friend who is a leukemia survivor.
She had read in the paper that the opportunity to connect the 4,200 miles across Canada and split that up two kids at a time.
Sam McGee, a parrot became a companion along the way (named after a Robert Frost character). She paid a $1,000 for him and eventually became her caretaker.
A friend of that daughter’s friend was a gentleman—Mennonite background—who assisted her on here various walks.
Today, she’ll tell you that she has no interest or desire to retire.
Now one of the newest members of the Rotary Club of Sarnia, Betty Dee counters that retirement question with one of her own.“What is retirement anyway? It’s nothing more than a state of mind. I’ve enjoyed my life and continue to enjoy it. Sarnia has been a great place to live and it’s still a great place.”
And the remarkable Betty Dee Black remains one of our enduring gems.