Bettye York, a member of the Kenyon community since 1961, has died at the age of eighty-six. The College was just recently notified of her death, which occurred on April 29, 2014, in New London, Connecticut, where she had lived in a facility for dementia sufferers in recent years.
Cornelia Ireland Hallinan ’76, trustee emerita, served on Kenyon’s admissions staff with Bettye in the late 1970s and became a close friend. “Bettye was exuberant in everything she did for the College’s students, both before and after they enrolled,” she recalled. “In fact, she was an enthusiastic person in general, a model of productive activity. The Yorks were both important to the community in so many ways, and their loss is deeply felt.
“I have some of Bettye’s favorite recipes,” Hallinan added, “and I will cherish them now even more.”
Arriving in Gambier in 1961 as a faculty spouse married to Owen York, Bettye became involved in the League of Women Voters, serving several terms as an officer, and in Kenyon dramatics, including a memorable turn in a 1969 production of Eugene O’Neill’s A Touch of the Poet. When her children grew older, she took a part-time job as the College’s activities secretary. Having left the University of Evansville when she married, Bettye decided to complete her bachelor’s degree at the Ohio State University, from which she graduated in 1977 as a member of Phi Alpha Theta, the international honor society for history majors.
Later in 1977, Bettye settled into an assistant director’s position in the Kenyon Office of Admissions, which was directed at the time by her old friend John D. Kushan. In her role as head of the alumni admissions program, she came to know, and to be relied upon by, countless graduates helping to spread Kenyon’s name far and wide among potential students.
The Rev. Marylen Marty-Gentile ’74, who worked with Bettye for five years as Kenyon’s admissions representative in the Chicago area, remembered her as “an anchor in the office during the transition from John Kushan as the long-time director to John Anderson, and a highly effective admissions officer in her own right. But most important, Bettye was a generous teacher who helped me and others be better at representing the College we loved and serving young people interested in attending Kenyon. Her wit helped cut the stress of long meetings during admissions crunch time. Bettye was a gracious hostess, a fabulous cook, a dear, dear friend, and a mom to many. The world feels a little empty today on hearing this news.”
Another close friend and former member of the admissions staff, Ellen Turner ’80, reiterated stories of the widely held affection for Bettye. “She was a terrific colleague, and a dear friend to hundreds of people. In my case, I always thought of Bettye as my second mother after my own mother died, in 1984. She knew so many Kenyon alumni, and she used that knowledge to her advantage during her years in the admissions office, where she started the College’s alumni admissions network in the late seventies and made it vital to Kenyon’s program.”
“Bettye was seamlessly involved in college and community,” remembered Alice Cornwell Straus ’75, coordinator of alumni admissions volunteers, “and along with her manifest love for her husband, these were the complementary forces in her life. She took young employees under her wing, teaching them how to work diligently, efficiently, and with laughter. A consummate hostess, Bettye was also Gambier’s personal yenta, welcoming new arrivals in town into her social networks, introducing them to people she thought they should know or would like. She gave her kind attention to all she did, and we all thrived because of her ministrations.”
Bettye Lambert was born in Evansville, Indiana, on July 16, 1927. She was married for more than sixty years to her childhood sweetheart, Owen York, longtime Kenyon chemistry professor and academic administrator, who died in November 2011. The Yorks had three children, daughters Diane York Linderman and Linda York Hope and son, Michael York, and two grandchildren, Barton Linderman and Calvin Linderman.
In May 1996, the popular couple was presented with the Alumni Council Thomas B. and Mary M. Greenslade Award in recognition of decades of continuing relationships with former students. “Bettye and Owen knew how to throw a great party and how to make any stranger feel at home,” Turner recalled. “Their home was often a haven for Kenyon students and for alumni when they returned to the Hill. The world was a warmer and friendlier place with the Yorks in it.”