Betty Ellen LaLonde died Nov. 23. She was 99. Her family provided the following.
The woman who was long known to our valley as “Grandma Butterfly” has received her heavenly wings. Betty leaves behind a legacy of vibrance, laughter, love and service for the Jackson Hole community.
Betty Ellen Schwartz was born the fourth of six children in 1921 in Rantoul, Illinois. She grew up working the family farm near Saginaw, Michigan, where her daily chores included milking cows, plowing fields, sewing clothes, and growing and harvesting the family’s food. This instilled a hard-working, can-do attitude that would later serve her well throughout her life and in Jackson Hole’s still-formative years.
Betty met Robert F. LaLonde when they were teenagers. They married Aug. 2, 1941, in Saginaw and were married for 74 years before Bob’s passing in 2015. Bob joined the United States Army Air Corps in 1941, later transferring to the United States Air Force, where he achieved the rank of colonel. While perhaps not her first choice of occupation, as an officer’s wife Betty was a patriot, serving the country dutifully and faithfully at Bob’s side throughout his 27-year career.
The LaLondes first visited Jackson Hole in 1947 during a trip to Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks, when they fell in love with what they affectionately referred to as their “beloved Teton mountains.” They purchased property north of town, where they began building their homestead by hand, naming it “Teal Eye Lodge” for Betty’s favorite color, teal eye blue.
While they worked on building the lodge, Betty and Bob would camp under the stars, and their only child, Rose Marie, was “conceived in a tent beneath the Tetons at Jenny Lake Campground.” Rose was born in 1951 at Travis Air Force Base in California. Every year the LaLonde family returned to Jackson, where they spent their monthlong vacations continuing to build Teal Eye until they were able to permanently call Jackson home after Bob retired from the Air Force in 1970.
Of Betty’s many significant contributions to the Jackson Hole community, she is credited with teaching hundreds of residents from multiple generations how to swim. But Betty did not develop her own natatory skills until she was 32 years old. In 1953 she and 2-year-old Rose sailed in a freighter across the Pacific Ocean to join Bob in the Philippines, where he was stationed. During the voyage the ship was caught in a hurricane so severe that Betty promised God she would learn how to swim if they survived the journey.
After fulfilling her promise, she served as a Red Cross swimming instructor for 56 years and also served on the local Red Cross board. Additionally, she founded a swimming instructional program specifically for children with special needs, called Children Have A Potential, and for years hosted an annual Christmas party with Santa to engage with and celebrate every child who came beneath her wings. National Red Cross President Elizabeth Dole recognized Betty’s service by visiting Jackson to honor Betty’s 50th year in the Red Cross.
Betty was unforgettable in myriad ways, but she may be most remembered for her beautiful voice, which was also rarely at rest, whether she was spontaneously breaking into song or simply “engaging in her favorite sport: talking,” as Bob would put it. She was a talented, self-taught songstress (and also taught herself to play concert piano, guitar and harmonica). She played the organ at the Christian Science Society church of Jackson Hole, and she and Bob were church members for their entire adult lives. Betty also sang soprano in the Jackson Hole Chorale for many years.
Bob represented Teton County as a state senator from 1989 to 1994 and remained active in the Republican Party throughout his life. Any enthusiasm Betty might have lacked for political discourse, however, she made up for as a prolific, professional conversationalist on literally any other subject.
It thus follows that she was an animated raconteur who could command a room with her tales, which, however enthralling, were known to vary in their historical accuracy on the more trivial points. She had a keen wit and an unmistakable laugh, and while she could not abide any crudeness she would frequently turn her sense of humor to the topic of her ample bosom. In particular, she would have great fun at the expense of unsuspecting newcomers to the valley who were left blushing and sputtering, as she explained why the French trappers named the Grand Tetons as such.
Above all else, she loved God deeply, and his name was always on her lips. Whether Betty was reciting the 23rd Psalm, offering a word of encouragement in a time of need or exclaiming “God is love!” upon braking as a yellow light turned red, her faith was the unshakable cornerstone of her life, marriage and family. She loved all of God’s creation and his creatures, especially butterflies.
As she rarely left home without a piece of butterfly-shaped jewelry, she became known around town as “Grandma Butterfly” and would reward any child who caught her without her signature totem with a crisp dollar bill. Betty maintained that after her death her spirit would return as a butterfly among the Tetons. ... at least during the summer months!
Betty and Bob were so closely knit together in their marriage and their love that their memories are as inseparable as the two were while they were alive. In a 2011 Jackson Hole News&Guide profile celebrating the LaLondes’ 70th anniversary, Betty said marriage was hard work, but that’s OK: “Never give up the ship. It may be a wreck, but cling to it.”
In a letter Bob wrote to Rose and her son, Lars, he asked that all those who loved him and Betty not grieve but rather remember them “for the good things we did for our beloved Jackson Hole and its wonderful people.”
Betty is survived by her daughter, Rose LaLonde; grandson, Lars Sturlin; great-grandson, Robert Sturlin; and her “adopted daughter,” Gayle Roosevelt, and “adopted granddaughter,” Lacelliese King.
Donations in Betty’s memory may be made to the American Red Cross at RedCross.org.