Betty M. Fitzpatrick, age 96, passed away on July 20, 2017, at Eagle Crest South, La Crosse, WI. She was born June 11, 1921, to Joseph and Mayme Wiltinger in La Crosse.
She graduated from Aquinas High School. In February 1942, she married the love of her life, Merle “Fitz” Fitzpatrick. When her husband enlisted in the Army Air Force, she traveled across the country to training bases in Nebraska and Indiana to be with him. She saved the marriage license that she carried with her to prove they were married in order to rent a hotel room together. As she recently said, “Times have sure changed!”
Before “Fitz” was sent overseas in September 1943, they decided that, even if he was killed in the war, they wanted her to have a living memory of him so they conceived their first child, who was born when “Fitz” was stationed in England. For 21 months, Betty was a single mom taking care of their son. She didn’t know that “Fitz” was engaged in the Battle of Normandy, the Battle of Northern France, the Ardennes, or that he was shot down over Belgium. When he returned, they opened a neighborhood grocery store in the Holy Trinity neighborhood. Betty ran the household in the back of the store, and helped out in the store as cashier and stocking shelves. Later they had three more sons. One of their sons, Ken, contracted polio in his first year. Betty assisted him for all 63 years of his life, including multiple trips to Madison to get the latest care for Ken which included surgeries, casts, and braces.
Her interest in and love of architecture led her to design the exterior and the floor plan for a new home for her growing family of six; she continued to design floor plans with many unique ideas, for family and friends. Betty’s father was the owner/operator of the Popcorn Tavern. When he died in 1952, Betty and Fitz took over the Popcorn. Betty continued to manage the household, handle the family finances and help out at the Popcorn.
Throughout the 1950’s and 1960’s, she was active in bowling leagues. In the ‘60’s, she, Fitz and the family spent many weekends boating on the Mississippi.
She had a keen interest in fine china and silver, and in the 1960s obtained a part time job working for Garvalia’s China Shop in downtown La Crosse. In the early 1970’s, she became a full time receptionist and telephone operator at Viterbo College, where she worked for over 20 years. Throughout her life, she was the center of the family’s life, the confidant for her husband and children, the controller of finances, the stabilizing force, the teacher of values, and final arbiter of punishments when they were needed. As her children became adults, and particularly after her husband passed on, she remained the person to whom all family members went for advice and support. She did not waiver; seemed to never be shocked; and was not judgmental. Her wisdom and compassion was a wonderful combination which was valued by all.
In 1984, Fitz died of cancer at the age of 62. Betty continued working at Viterbo and later worked part time at Mary, Mother of the Church. Despite losing the love of her life, she remained an independent, self-reliant, active woman who volunteered and helped by babysitting grandchildren, volunteering at church, and planting flowers with her garden clubs. She even joined a political party and worked for a variety of candidates. The fact that she valued education is best evidenced by the fact that two of her sons became attorneys and another a doctor, who also graduated from law school.
After living independently for over 30 years, she hated to give up her apartment. But, she found a new home at Eagle Crest South and enjoyed the staff who assisted her while she was there for over the last one and one-half years of her life. Still, when people came to visit her, she apologized that she didn’t have cookies or coffee to offer them, even when she had trouble getting out of bed independently. In her mind, she could never do enough for other people.
As her granddaughter, Molly, said, “Betty was a strong, independent woman. She cherished each member of her large family and her countless friends. She was a caring, compassionate, and fun-loving woman with a great sense of humor and wit. Beyond spending time with family and friends, she had many passions and hobbies including gardening, bird watching, and card games. She spent most of her time out with family and friends being the social butterfly that she was into her 90’s. She was a devout Catholic and let her faith and values guide her throughout her life.”
She was preceded in death by her husband, “Fitz”, her sons, Ken and Dr. Richard Fitzpatrick (Carol), her brother Jerome Wiltinger, three grandchildren James, Joseph, and Ann; and one great granddaughter, Caroline. She is survived by her sons, Tom (Holly Blanchard), and Ron (Patty Maringer-Fitzpatrick); former daughters in law, Sandy Rybold and Mary Fitzpatrick; 13 grandchildren Michael (Kathleen), David (Laura), Kevin (Angela), Sean, Kathleen Fitzpatrick Hackstaff (Cal), Heather Udo (Aniekan), Molly, Amy Barnes (Matt), Daniel, Kelly, Nicholas Deml, Austin, Dylan; and 7 great grandchildren.
There will be a visitation at Blaschke & Schneider Funeral Home, 1501 West Ave. So., La Crosse, Wis., Wednesday, August 30, 2017, from 5:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. Family members and friends will be given an opportunity to make remarks and share memories about Betty from 6:15 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. There will also be a visitation on Thursday, August 31, at Mary, Mother of the Church Parish, 2006 Weston St., La Crosse, Wis., from 12:00 pm to 1:30 p.m. Following the visitation a Mass of Christian Burial will be held at Mary, Mother of the Church, at 1:30 pm. Rev. Brian Konopa will officiate with a private burial will take place for family only.