Van Betten, Pat Interview, 2007 February 6. OH-01864. [Transcript.] Oral History Research Center, Special Collections and Archives, University Libraries, University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Las Vegas, Nevada.
Interviews with Patricia and Herman van Betten An Oral History Conducted by Claytee D. White A Nevada Oral History Project of the 1970s Oral History Research Center at UNLV University Libraries University of Nevada Las Vegas ©A Nevada Oral History Project of the 1970s University of Nevada Las Vegas, 2007 Produced by: The Oral History Research Center at UNLV Libraries Project Director, Interviewer, and Editor - Claytee D. White Transcriber - Kristin Hicks Production Assistants - Delores Brownlee and Riva Churchill The recorded interview and transcript have been made possible through the generosity of the Boyei Foundation. The Oral History Research Center enables students and staff to work togethei with community members to generate this selection of first-person narratives. The participants in this project thank the university for the support given that allowed an idea the opportunity to flourish. The transcript leceived minimal editing that includes the elimination of fragments, false starts, and repetitions in order to enhance the reader's understanding of the material. All measures have been taken to preserve the style and language of the narrator. In several cases photographic sources accompany the individual interviews. The following interview is part of a series of interviews conducted under the auspices of the Boyer Early Las Vegas Oral History Project. Claytee D. White, Project Director Director, Oral History Research Center University Libraries University of Nevada Las Vegas • • • 111 I Table of Contents Interview with Patricia van Betten Pages 1 - 43 Midsection containing clippings and photographs, separated by green sheets to distinguish the narrative contributions that are numbered and indexed individually. 32 pages Interview with Herman van Betten Pages 1-42 iv A 1 Herman & Pat 1970's Preface Patricia and Herman van Betten met in Pittsburg through their volunteer work on the John F. Kennedy Campaign. After their Connecticut wedding and Herman's studies at the University of Texas and the University of Southern California, they and three small children moved to Las Vegas. Their fourth child, a native Las Vegan, was born in 1968. In 1967, Herman acquired a position at the Nevada Southern University, which is now the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Beginning in the 1970's the couple worked diligently to make the Las Vegas community a great place to live. They participated in The League of Women Voters, The Consumer League, the Welfare Rights Movement, and the Community of a Hundred. Patricia served as the President of the Consumer League and Herman was elected to the local school board. They were jointly appointed by the ACLU as Civil Librarians of the Year, 1990-1991. Currently retired, they engage in civic, environmental, and historical activism in the village of Blue Diamond. Their lives prove the quote by Margaret Mead. "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has." These interviews with Herman and Pat allow you to grasp the idea of community change that endures for decades and causes you to think of the possibilities of your own volunteer service. Melanie, Herman, Tom, Patricia, John, Paul This is Claytee White. I'm with Pat van Betten. It's February 6th, 2007. And I'm in her home in Blue Diamond. So how are you this morning? I'm just terrific. Thank you. And would you spell your last name for the transcriber? Yes. It's lower case V-A-N, space, upper case B-E-T-T-E-N. Thank you so much. You're welcome. I want to know about your early life. Tell me when and where you grew up. I was born and raised in a small town in Connecticut, southeast corner called Norwich, named after Norwich, England. And for a while they did sister-city things when I was little. I was born in a little neighborhood that had mostly people who worked in the factories. My parents built their own home on a little street called Pratt Street, very close to a park. We walked to school. I walked to Greenville Grammar School, K through eight. Our class pretty much stayed the same, not much turnover. The teachers were regulars. Then I went to the Norwich Free Academy, which was a public school with its own board of trustees. They were people who were quite visionary I realize as I age. One was the person who set aside the land tor the park, a beautiful big park with walking trails, a skating pond, a swimming pond. And then in the academy, which was a free school, you had choices. I was in the classical program. Other programs were scientific, general, and commercial. It was just wonderful. Everyone went to that school. It was "the" school. The population was about 30,000 and it's still about 30,000. It was a lovely place to grow up. We had an empty lot next to the house where we would play ball in the evening. We walked to school. We walked home for lunch up Eighth Street hill, down the Mohegan Park Road and up Pratt Street. And you never thought a thing about it to walk home for lunch and walk back to school. So it was very nice. What did your parents do for a living? My dad was a glass blower at the American Thermos Bottle Company, which makes the glass liners for Thermos bottles, if you remember what those are. My mother was at home, but she took 1 some jobs to save money for college for us. Neither of my parents finished grade school. I've interviewed my mother. In her history she talks about not being allowed to have any books in the house. Couldn't do homework; had to sit on the steps of the school and do her homework. And so they were determined to have their children go to college. And it s really lovely because one ot my aunts had a washerette. My mother worked there doing people s laundry, going through the dirty clothes, folding the clean clothes, you know. Then she took a job at a little general store down by the school, the elementary school. She met one of the owners of the store through the PTA work at school. They wanted her to come to work at the store. She worked there for I don't know how long. I want to say maybe 40 years. I called her the Carol Burnett of the Leader Store because she retired once from working on the floor where she sold plumbing supplies, then was rehired and kept busy dusting furniture. It was a store that sold everything -- appliances, furniture, plumbing supplies, you name it. A general store? It was a general store called the Leader Store. And so she retired and they had a party and they gave her a watch. And then they said, Okay, Mary, what time are you coming to work on Monday? So she stayed. She just became part of that Navick family. It's so beautiful. She never missed a bar mitzvah. She never missed any of their celebrations. Give me the last name of that family again. Navick, N-A-V-I-C-K. Of course, we were very active in St. Mary's Church, which was on the same avenue as the Leader Store. It was just really wonderful. It was so wonderful. They just treated her like family. Your mother's name is Mary. What is your father's name? My father's name is William. His middle name is Amadeo. He was also referred to as Madeo. Some people that we refer to as American called him Bill. They were both first-generation American-bom with Italian parents. And so my mother would just — I love to talk about her because she was an environmentalist before there was a term for what people did to save and reuse and recycle. And she wouldn't be able to define the word for you today if she had to. She's 93. But she did it. One of my memories is on trash day, which was 2 once a week, we had a tiny, little galvanized trashcan. It must have been less than 36 inches high. It was always only half full. And a family of how many? Well, I had a brother and sister. So a family of five. You know, if it was a vegetable scrap, it went into the mulch thing. We had a big garden. They grew a lot of their own vegetables. We used to have a man come by. He was always called the ragman. He would have a horse and a buggy. He'd come down the street. And you could go out with a bag of rags and sell it. He would buy the rags. But before we did that we had to cut all the buttons off and put them in a button jar. She did a lot of canning, a lot of preserving. We would go up to the woods in the spring and summer and pick blueberries and blackberries. Then we would sell them for a quarter a quart. And my neighbor, Mrs. Marks, she would say, "Patty, when you go get the blueberries, will you remember me?" So I would go over with my blueberries, get my quarter for a quart of blueberries. We'd walk up to the milkman's farm and get dandelions. We had dandelion soup a lot. I remember walking home from school and being so hungry and sitting down. I would say, oh. no, dandelion soup. I'm not hungry. So all those years your mother worked, how did you have a lunch ready when you got home from school? Well, she wasn't working I think until I was in high school. And when she did work it was when -- she was a stay-at-home mom when we were little. My dad used to work swing shift. It would be two weeks days, two weeks nights, two weeks evenings. So sometimes we'd have dinner before we went to school in the morning and sometimes we'd have it noon and sometimes we'd have it at four. So it depended on his schedule. But anyway, the high school counselor — it was interesting in hindsight now « the high school counselor asked me did I want to be a nurse or a teacher. And I said, well, I wanted to be a nurse. There was a nurse in our neighborhood and she always looked so nice walking to the hospital. You know, I used to take care of my dolls. So I was looking at Massachusetts General because I had heard about that hospital. My mother had had some surgery there. And my friend's brother said, Have you thought about really going to a college or a university? And so I started 3 getting information about that. He suggested Catholic U in Washington, D.C., which is where he had been a graduate student. So I applied and I was accepted. So that's where I went to nursing school, Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. I graduated high school in '54. I graduated college in '58. So I think the tuition our first year was a whopping $6,000 or something like that. But it was quite expensive for us. I know my dad would come home from the factory because she always would make his lunch. He'd bring his lunchbox. Of course, you never had anyplace to go out to lunch. He would have pepper sandwiches and he would have all this Italian stuff. He would say that they were saving to send us to college. Well, I was the oldest. He would just get criticized so much from people at work. Why are you wasting your money on a girl, sending a girl to college? That's really stupid. I mean things like that. And he would come home. He told my mother. And my mother said, This is what you tell them. You tell them, Are you paying for it? Well, then tell them to keep their GD mouth shut and that's the end of it. So it didn't bother her. She did everything. She did everything you know to do. But it was so natural for us to live that way. You know, it seemed so normal. But they ended up with three children all completing private schools. It was wonderful. My sister went to Boston College. Her name? Her name is Lillian, L-I-L-L-I-A-N. That's my sister's name as well. It's a lovely name. And she taught school for many years in Connecticut. She's a biologist, a botanist really. I like to think of her that way. My brother went to St. Thomas College in St. Paul and then went to Georgetown Law School. So my parents can feel very good about the fact that they made it all possible. So now we tell them --1 mean we would tell them and tell my mother now just don't be concerned about any of us because you made it possible for us to be successful. And so it really was wonderful. I remember after I was married and my husband and I were at a party, I met a woman who was in law school. I swear to God I was stunned. I said I didn't know we could do that. I mean I 4 was stunned and I was offended that a counselor never said what else you could be. And now that I see where my other classmates who lived on the other side of the town — you know, the town has a revolutionary core history and there are some old families. I mean they did other things. I'm delighted with nursing. I love it. I think it I had done something else I would have ended up in nursing anyway because I do love it. But not to know that you had other options and I see what that other woman had become...but anyway, that just startled me. I think that's wonderful. Now, tell me how you met your husband and how the two of you came to Las Vegas. Well, after I graduated I did visiting nursing in New Haven, Connecticut, which was wonderful. My very favorite as I look back, I think my most wonderful, favorite job. I decided to move to Pittsburgh to do public health there. I was working for the Allegheny Public Health Department. I was sharing an apartment with a gal who worked at the health department while I was looking for a place to live. I learned from my supervisor about a place called the Greystone, which was in downtown Pittsburgh. It was four gray stone buildings that were boarding houses. I think two of them were coed and I think two were just for women or one for women, one for men. I was in the women's. I moved into the women's. I think it was either 125 or $150 a month. And that included breakfast and dinner and room service, linens. And so I lived there. I had a little car and then I had a district out in the boroughs. So the place was owned by Mrs. Yarrington. And people always say that she had been a Follies' girl. Anyway, she was quite petite and quite elderly, always dressed elegantly with pearls. And the dining room had been, they said, the art gallery of the mansion because the walls were covered with kind of a velvet. The meals were served at dinner by law students I think from Pitt or Duquesne. I cant remember. But anyway, they had to wear white jackets and serve us. Did you dress for dinner? This is before women were wearing pants. But we would come in from work, but you'd be in a dress. Public health nurses, we wore the uniform, the dark blue and white, a dress, and big old clumpy shoes because you're comfortable. Well, I went to dinner one night, one of the first nights, and I needed a place to sit down and there was an empty chair at a table. A political discussion was going on. It didn't appeal to 5 me. The things they were saying didn't appeal to me. So I introduced myself. And this man next to me said something about being for Kennedy. And I said, well, actually I'm a Stevenson person. I just wasn t interested in this conversation. Well, I married that guy. So we like to say we met during the Kennedy campaign. But it's a place where professionals lived. The men were mostly at U.S. Steel. My husband was a translator at Alcoa. Of course, I was the public health nurse in the group. But the meals were wonderful and they were always by candlelight. When we became engaged Mrs. Yarrington and the group gave us a party and a set of sterling candleholders like they had on the table there. Do you still have them? Yes, I do. Oh, wonderful. Yeah, I do. So we met and we began dating. Then my husband decided that he wasn't cut out for that kind of corporate life. He came in wearing a Kennedy button and was challenged and things like that. But anyway, we were very idealistic. He thought, well, he'd really like to teach. When he had come to America in the mid 50s from Holland, he was drafted. So he served some time in Germany in the U.S. Army and had taken some coursework. So one of the people at Alcoa, another Dutchman, had been to the University of Texas and suggested that. So that's where we went. And he did his undergraduate, bachelor's and master's at UT in Austin. Then he applied for and received a fellowship --1 forgot what they were called - Hubert Humphrey. It was his idea and it was a way to reach out, as I remember, to broaden international understanding. So the fellowship was in comparative literature. And so we ended up at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. Our first child was born in Texas. I did public health in Texas at the Travis County Health Department. I had wonderful experiences with migrant workers and just really amazing, amazing opportunities. I really liked it. And being a Connecticut girl, who knew that -- well, I discovered in college that I talk different from other people at the time. But our little comer of Connecticut had a very broad accent like people have in Massachusetts. And so I didn't know when I would 6 say "pak the ca" [park the car] that everybody didn't talk that way. My mother still does, of course. But I've managed to learn correct pronunciation over the years. But once there was a call at the Travis County Health Department for me. And the patient couldn't remember my name, but he said it's that foreign nurse. So they gave the phone to you. Yeah, they gave the phone to me. So that was wonderful. And I remember my first contract in Texas I think was for $4400 a year. We were eligible for married student housing for $25 a month. Contrast Pittsburgh, Austin and Los Angeles. Those were dramatically different places at that time. Yes, they were. They were. It's hard because I really saw it from what I was doing with public health. And from that point things were pretty much the same. The human needs were the same. The scrambling for resources was the same. Except in L.A., I didn't work in L.A. because now I was at home with the children. But we did manage to organize the mothers at married student housing and get the oleanders removed from the playground because they were poisonous. So there's been a little streak of activism all along the way. It was funny. After we were married and we honeymooned in Southport, which is the western end of Connecticut, which is quite Republican, we went into this little motel and there was this huge Kennedy poster hanging there that my husband had sent in advance and asked them to post. It turns out the person who ran this motel was the head of the Democratic Party or committee in that little town. So people have a way of finding each other I suppose. But we do have fond memories of that campaign. And we did volunteer in Pittsburgh to get the vote out. I remember being assigned to a place called the McKees Rocks Bottoms. I thought wow. But politics has always played a big part in our life and the importance of being involved, too. How did he convert you to Kennedy? Well, that was the choice we ended up with, you know. Actually then, I really did become a big Kennedy supporter. It's just that my first choice was really Adlai Stevenson. I do like Stevenson. I remember when we were at USC Hubert Humphrey was on campus one time. I wanted to thank him for sponsoring these fellowships because we were now able to benefit. And I 7 remember, Claytee, I was in line. I had a baby in my arms. I was waiting, waiting. I was rehearsing, rehearsing. And so finally I'm getting close and I see there's Hubert Humphrey, bald and very short. I mean I didn't realize he was that short. And I was so awestruck by the man that when it was my turn I put my hand out and I went eh, eh, eh. [inhaling rapidly] And the person behind me said, Move it, lady. That was the end of my meeting of Hubert Humphrey. So much for wanting to thank him and everything else. But during that campaign when Hubert Humphrey was a candidate we were living here. I remember we used to make Muriel Humphrey's campaign stew a lot because it was a way to connect with that campaign. It's a wonderful recipe. And she would make it on the campaign trail. And I thought, oh, I've got to do it, too. But when my husband was finishing his doctorate, he needed to be close by for returning and defending it and so on. So there was a teaching position at UNLV and he was hired here. What did you think about moving to Las Vegas? What had you heard about Las Vegas? Claytee, we arrived in the afternoon in the summer. What year is this? I think it was '67. That's the first time I ever realized a breeze could make you hot. I mean a hot breeze. I never heard of such a thing. You say the breeze and you say, well, I'll go stand outside. And it's like a heat wave hitting you. It was terrible. He had found a place to rent. We were way the heck down on Shepherd Drive, which was down at the end east on Tropicana, which I think Tropicana was either a two-laner or a dirt road. I don't remember. And I think that salary was about $9,000 and we thought that was oh, wow. So he taught at UNLV and he was in the English department there. I didn't work until I went back to work in about 1975. But when we had small children at home and I was getting cabin fever, my husband said, "Why don't you find a group or something to go to like League of Women Voters or something like that?" Well, so I found a meeting of League of Women Voters and I got myself over there. I remember that's the night my life changed. It was at Bonnie Cantor's house. That's C-A-N-T-O-R. And I met these women that were so incredible to me -- Jan McCachrin, Naomi Millisor, Jean Ford, Mimi Katz, Gertrude Katz, and Harriet Trudell, who is now one of my dearest 8 friends and I love her dearly. But Harriet gives new definition to activism. She was my mentor with all my activities in the Democratic Party. It was so wonderful to see these women who were so knowledgeable on the issues and discussing them and planning. Dorothy Eisenberg. I mean wonderful, wonderful women. I know I've left some out. So you get the idea. I mean it was a collection ot really bright women. I was involved with that. And I don't remember the issues now except that was the catalyst for me to get involved in the consumer movement. Before you talk about the consumer movement — that's one of my main points — tell me what the League of Women Voters is and what it's all about. Well, the League of Women Voters is a collection of bright women — and by the way, they have some male members ~ who become very knowledgeable in a nonpartisan way on issues that are relevant and then publish those findings, share those findings, encourage people to work for retorm, encourage people to become knowledgeable on the issues. And I mean really knowledgeable way down to thorough, thorough. It was just an eye-opener for me that there was such a group. So once they become knowledgeable on an issue, they didn't, then, publish information about that issue? Yes, they do. And they have presentations. In fact, a group that I am involved with now, the Nevada Health Care Reform Project, was founded by League of Women Voters. I mean it was their concept, their plan. And we are a coalition. And I've been representing nursing on it now for I would say maybe 13 years. We have monthly meetings. Ruth Annette Mills is our chair or president or whatever you call it. I guess you say president. And I've been the vice president. But we have written into our bylaws that the leader will always be from the League of Women Voters because then you have the assurance that you do not have a special interest at the helm, which is so critical. And I think that's what makes the League so valuable is that knowledge. Well, the League propelled me into the need to do something about the consumer movement. And I can't tell you exactly what the turning point was. I simply can't remember. But it was that. It was being exposed to women in the League. But it was also the Kennedy influence. We were in Texas when Kennedy was assassinated. And that assassination was in Dallas. And Austin was the next stop! My patients had little flags in their windows waiting for Kennedy to 9 * come. I can't remember exactly how I learned of the assassination, but I remember that I drove home immediately to our little apartment. Our neighbor who lived downstairs ~ I said Kennedy's been assassinated. And he said they should've killed the speechwriters, too. And so I was stunned. But it was such a turning point. We didn't have a TV. We drove over to a friend's, a nurse that I worked with. In fact, she's the coauthor of the nursing book with me. They were our longest friends after we were married. I mean the first married couple we met. They had a television. So we threw the baby in the car. We had a crock-pot. We just lived on crock-pot beans and just were glued to a black and white television. And as we were driving from our little apartment over to their house, Oswald was killed. And so we got there and we were just stunned. I mean people were stunned. So I think that left you with a sense of — I mean it in the most wonderful sense. People had a belief that they really could make a difference and that you must do something to make a difference especially after this assassination, that you must apply this "ask not what America can do for me, but what I may do for America." Is that the Kennedy influence? That's the Kennedy influence. That was in his inaugural address. We have his inaugural address. We have a lot of Kennedy memorabilia. So the consumer movement, there were just a collection of people that were interested in the same thing at the time. It was the most wonderful group of people, all volunteers, never counting the time you put in, never counting the effort. We focused on really ~ our goal was to really make a difference for the consumer. And as it turns out I think some of our earliest actions had to do with wedding chapels. That's such a Vegas thing. Jack somebody was on our board. You know, whatever people were interested in on the board that's what we would do. Muriel Stevens was on the board. She had a television cooking show at the time at Channel 5 and she had a radio show. Charlie Levinson, who's now deceased, was absolutely wonderful. He taught in the hotel school. We called him our milk and meat man. I mean he knew milk and meat. We got into things with the dairy commission, with meat quality, price controls. Geri Renchler and her husband were very interested in the problems of food additives. It was the most wonderful time. It was a time where Muriel would invite me to go on her 10 radio show and we would talk about an issue. Joe Delaney, who is now deceased but was really a wonderful local personality, had a radio show. And I remember I think it was either at the Sahara or the Landmark. I think it was KDWN and I think it came from both places at one time. But go in and do a show with Joe. Then Harvey Allen had a radio show and he'd invite you in. You could talk about the issues on the air. It was just wonderful, wonderful. We did price surveys. We did grocery price surveys. We did Christmas toy surveys. We published the results so people could see where you could buy things. I'll show you later some of the pages with the prices because the prices of things were incredibly low. It was a result of the surveys and the public ~ and we had a newsletter. We'd be involved with utility rate increases. Especially the meat and the milk with Charlie was absolutely wonderful. And then at one time ~ well, when O'Callaghan was governor, in his State of the State he took two of our issues and made them priorities for his session. I remember Harriet called me and she said, Aren't you thrilled that O'Callaghan has those two? Because by now I was very active in the Democratic Party thanks to Harriet. Do you remember the two issues? Yes, indeed. She was my mentor. But she told me that. And I said, But, Harriet, we have so many more issues than just two. And she said, Do you realize what it takes to get issues into the State of the State Address? I said no. She said, well, this is wonderful. They were — at the time we had a sales tax on food. He made it a priority to remove the sales tax on food because it discriminates against the poor and against people on fixed incomes. So we're talking the 70s now with this Consumers League of Nevada. And then the second issue was really an important one, equally important I think. That was what we called open pricing for prescription drugs. And at the time you could not -- well, it was prompted by a report that was in Consumer Reports from Consumers Union. And by the way, with the Consumers League startup we had wonderful help from a man in Arizona, Currin Shields. The consumer movement was blossoming at that time in a lot of places. The report from Consumers Union was that people could not get prescription drug price information over the phone. In other words, if you had a prescription and you needed 20 of something, you couldn't get 11 on the phone and call three different pharmacists and see what it would cost. You had to physically take your prescription in and show the pharmacist and go from place to place. So it was not a consumer-friendly law. That's the State Board of Pharmacy. So we decided we would do some pricing of prescription drugs and we'd go different places. And it was not easy, but we did it. And we published the results and it was dramatic. The percentage increase from one to another was, oh, I think — well, more than 300 percent on some of them. Anyway, I'm so delighted that all these newsletters are in Special Collections at UNLV because this is really valuable. Well, there were places that refused to give pricing information. I mean the State Board of Pharmacy was hostile. I remember one pharmacy that was so expensive and they were so critical of Consumers League about it. They were the most expensive and they were close to the Strip. So we published that report. And then O'Callaghan when he was governor made it a priority to have open pricing on prescription drugs. It was about that same time that Joe Neal proposed a consumer on the State Board of Pharmacy, I believe. And I don't know about the makeup of the State Board of Pharmacy now because I haven't kept up with that. But at that time we had the Dairy Commission that was ~ I mean we were coming in I think like a breath of fresh air for the consumer. And the good old networks that had been operating unchallenged and unquestioned were suddenly becoming very defensive. So those two issues Governor O'Callaghan passed and he changed life economically for people in this state, especially removing the sales tax on food. Can you imagine? And so that was so major. Now, we also wanted an independent Office of Consumer Affairs, which we did not get. But he did establish a division in the Department of Commerce. And I will say that he was very supportive. And so those were wonderful successes, really wonderful successes. They are. And then in about the mid 70s we decided it would be fun to go with the family to Holland. And so I thought, well, I could go back to work and we could save for that because at the time the university faculty salaries were not spectacular. So I did. I wanted to go back to work part-time. At this time my husband was on the school board. He had run for office and was elected to the Clark County School Board. 12 Before we talk about that, the Consumers League's first item was something about wedding chapels. That's such a local issue. Could you please explain that? Well, I have all the scrapbooks on it. I don't know if this was ~ on our very first newsletter we had somebody testify against the price increase by Southwest Gas and Nevada Power. And we did the Market Basket Survey. But the articles about the wedding chapels were about people being charged tor things like the flowers when they thought we were going to get a cheap wedding. It's really kind of fun. Are these the flowers that they use for everybody's wedding? Probably. Yeah. And so Richard Bryan was on our board in the beginning when we started. It was just really wonderful. We were going to have a speaker from Washington who didn't show up. We started I think in '71. One of the first ones after we formed ~ I mean we started in August of'71. Then one of the first issues was an article by Chris Crystal, who was a wonderful reporter for The Sun, called "No Bliss for Him," about all the extra charges at the wedding chapel. But, you know, it was like we were trying to fill this huge vacuum with concer