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Cooking with Betty – Rockin’ Retro Recipes
Meet Betty Finnell, my mom. She is the most amazing woman I’ve ever know. Although she passed on several years ago, she continues to inspire me every day. Let me share with you why.
Betty June Finnell was many things. Among them:
She was a Consistently Successful Entrepreneur
- Faced with the dilemma of losing her job to returning GIs, Betty gambled all the money she had, $500, to finance the start-up of an auto recycling facility. The year was 1947, A & A Auto Salvage was born, and her business partner, Jim Finnell soon became her husband.
- Reminiscing, Betty would occasionally tell stories of those first days: “One of the things I remember most about our start-up was the cold winter. We had a single potbellied stove in the building and the only way to get warm was to stand in front of it. It was so cold that the ink in the inkwells was frequently frozen.” As the years progressed, and her successes mounted, when she felt I was less than appreciative of the cost of a dress or a new toy, she would often remind me: “Do you know how many years I had to work in the cold – – – and the dirt – – – – and the filth to afford that for you?”
- In 1959, Betty started Finnell Corporation, and organized Master Wreckers, one of the nation’s first long line voice communication networks for auto recycling yards, uniting recyclers in five states. Betty managed the network, while Jim ran the salvage yard. The local paper once published a story on Jim and Betty’s business. The picture for the story is shown above: Betty in a pencil skirt, with pearls, a pin-up girl sweater, 4” stiletto heels and a clip board “taking inventory.” Whenever she saw that picture, she would comment, “That’s crazy, I never wore that outfit… out in the yard.”
Betty was an Innovator
- During the 1970’s she worked with the AT&T engineers at Bell Labs in New Jersey to design a voice data circuit to transmit voice and data simultaneously over her network. She then established the nation’s first Voice Data Network and marketed it successfully to recyclers across the country.
- In the 1980’s, facing a limited supply of telephones for her long line communication networks, Betty started a third business, Finnell Systems, which manufactured and successfully marketed these specialized voice line telephones to many industries across the country.
She was a Lifelong Advocate for the Recycling Industry
- Betty was one of the founders of the Kansas Auto Wreckers Association and served as its President for many years.
- In the early 1960’s President Johnson’s wife, Lady Bird, began her highway beautification efforts and advocated so-called “clean up legislation” that seriously threatened the industry. Lady Bird later said, “I told my Secretary, ‘I hate the sight of those filthy junk yards. I want to see them all hidden from view.” Upon learning of this pending legislation Betty composed a letter to Lady Bird vehemently defending the salvage industry and the recyclers. She wrote, “I am the proud owner of a salvage yard. It is not a junk yard. I’ve worked very hard to make it attractive through extensive landscaping and a well maintained fence which screens it from view. I am working with the other salvage yards in the state to help them accomplish the same thing.” She enclosed multiple pictures. When Lady Bird received the letter, she later told Betty, she ran down the hall yelling for her secretary, “Liz, Liz – Here’s one of the junk yard owners who agrees with me.”
- Betty was invited to Washington, D.C. on several occasions to take part in the President’s Highway Beautification Conferences. At a reception in the Rose Garden, Betty remembered: “I was so nervous that the only thing that stands out in my mind was Lady Bird whispering to me, “Watch out for that dog doo down there, they forgot to clean it up.”
- As a result of her lobbying efforts for the industry, Betty received an appointment from President Johnson to serve on the President’s National Council for Beautification.
Betty had a Unique Relationship with her husband Jim
- One Christmas Betty worked especially hard to purchase new ornaments to decorate the family Christmas Tree. She bought many presents for Jim and their young son David, including a BB gun for David. Later on Christmas Day, Betty was elsewhere and the house and began hearing the faint sound of “plink…”, “plink…”, “plink…”. She arrived in the family room to find Jim and David shooting the balls off the Christmas tree with the new BB gun. She chased them both out of the house. It was a warm Christmas.
- Each year Jim would purchase a new Cadillac. He would say it was for Betty, but she always suspected these were ‘his’ cars. And somehow she always managed to ruin them.
- One of the first brand new Cadillacs got baptized with a large hole in the leather seat from Betty’s cigarette.
- Shortly thereafter, the all-white interior of the next new Cadillac got drenched in Betty’s large chocolate milk shake.
- The final straw was on a very hot Saturday afternoon when Betty decided to take a load of fishheads and guts to the local Park trash for disposal. She loaded the fish into the trunk of the current ‘brand-new Cadillac’ and drove to the Park. Wherein she promptly broke the key off in the lock and had to wait till Monday morning for a locksmith to correct the problem and retrieve the rotting fish guts. Jim – switched to Lincolns.
Thereafter, every week at dinner during the summer months Betty would inevitably spill a large glass of iced tea into Jim’s lap.
Betty was Courageous
- Because everyone referred to Jim as ‘Chick’ Finnell, a name from his youth, when they would speak of the two of them, it would inevitably come out as ‘Chicken Betty’. She was anything but.
- An excellent definition of courage is “Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something else is more important than fear.”
- Betty was afraid many times. But it never once stopped her. Many of Betty’s accomplishments were after Jim passed on. She did most of those things by herself.
- In her 60’s, she saw an opportunity to expand the business, and she mortgaged her paid-for home to get the necessary money. When the Banker “kindly” told Betty that perhaps she would be happier retiring and taking up something more suitable for a woman her age, she told him were he could go and specifically how he could get there. She moved all her accounts to a competing bank across the street with a more reasonable attitude and better interest rates.
- Shortly after this, Betty received a monthly invoice from AT&T for her Voice Line Network at a grossly inflated per-minute rate. With it was a letter announcing that, due to the deregulation of AT&T, the monthly expense for her Voice Line Network business would be tripled. She knew there was no way the business could survive at that expense level. I was her business partner at that time and assumed that was the end of the company. Betty said, “Not so!”
- She called the AT&T Regional Vice President and simply stated, “We are not paying that rate. I’ll close the doors first.” AT&T caved on the pricing, the business continued and the bank loan was quickly paid off.
- When the new business flourished and the original banker subsequently attempted to woo her accounts back, Betty just smiled and said, “I really don’t think so.”
Betty was Incredibly Compassionate and Kind
- Betty had a unique way of feeling, and helping others feel, empathy. When seeing anyone in distress, Betty would say with a great depth of feeling, “Poor Soul.” And she would say it with such sincerity and such empathy and such compassion that even the toughest heart would be moved. I often thought Betty could say ‘Poor Soul’ about a rock and I would immediately feel its plight.
- As a result of this compassion, Betty was constantly reaching out to help others in their moments of need. If she saw someone who was being bullied or excluded Betty would immediately gravitate to that person and become their friend.
She was Unstoppable
- Occasionally, when some of the local pawnshop owners couldn’t pay for a car part, they would dump little diamond chips on her desk, to which Betty never objected. Sometimes, they would trade her larger diamonds for their larger parts. Betty eventually had this collection made into various pieces of jewelry.
- One of these was a very large diamond ring, which she always wore. But the circumstances would determine exactly HOW she wore it. If she were in a bad part of town, or if she was haggling for something (an activity at which she excelled), she would give it a flick with her thumb, sending the diamond ‘palm-side’ down, and suddenly she had a plain double banded wedding ring. However, if she felt she was not getting the service she deserved – at the bank for example, the diamonds would suddenly become VERY prominent and she would emphasis her point by firmly smacking her ring hand down on the Officer’s desk.
- And it wasn’t just business in which she was unstoppable. Betty would work all day running the company, then come home at 4:00 and fix a full dinner. And Betty didn’t just throw something on the table. She would fix a main dish, such as beef stroganoff, roast or spaghetti and meatballs, several vegetables, a salad and often dessert.
Betty Never Met a Stranger
- After Jim’s death, Betty and her friend John Ruggerio traveled around the world: Hong Kong, Bangkok, England, Germany and Switzerland to name just a few… but the place she loved most was Italy. John was from a little town called Locorotondo. (Loco-ro-taun-doe)
- On their first visit there they noticed the name on the cantina was Ruggerio. John thought he had relatives there, but it turned out the whole town was family. Once everyone realized their long lost relative was in town, she and John had dinner invitations from 4-5 families each Since it was important that no one was slighted, they accepted them all. To further avoid any faux pas, they sampled each family’s unique vintage with each dinner. By the time they got to the last house each evening, Betty who never took an Italian language lesson in her life, was communicating with the best of them. She befriended one of the little old ladies, named “mama” who couldn’t speak a word of English and Betty and “mama” would converse for hours.
She was a Classy Lady
- Betty went out of her way to build people up. She never wanted someone to feel diminished or uncomfortable. When someone would ask her if her (very real) diamond ring was real, she would smile and ambiguously say, “Well, it sure sparkles like it, doesn’t it?”
Betty loved to Cook
- She especially enjoyed watching Julia Child. She would rapidly take notes then re-create the dishes, much to the delight of her family.
- She started a neighborhood gourmet Dinner Club. They would meet at each other’s homes and fix elaborate meals for each other.
- When Betty later moved to a smaller townhouse, she decided to host a dinner party for her neighbors. All 32 of them. She served beef tenderloin with béarnaise sauce, to-die-for luscious potatoes, 3 or 4 side dishes, fresh bread and multiple over-the-top New York-style Cheese Cakes. All homemade. It’s these recipes and others from her recipe box (which I cherish) that I share with you here in the hopes you’ll love them as much as I do!
Betty was an elegant lady. She lived a great and glorious life. It’s no secret that I love my mom very much. But how could I do otherwise?
Betty Finnell IS……………a champion.
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