Elizabeth “Betty” Eleanor Hay, was born November 3, 1928 to Charles W. Hay and Alliba Thurmond. Alliba was the daughter of Elisha Thurmond, founder of Thurmond Monument Company and mayor of Marion from 1927 to 1931. Charles Hay was a local Marion merchant and president of the Marion Chamber of Commerce through most of the 1930’s.
Betty’s name was derived from the first name of her half-brother, John Hay’s, fiancé who perished in a train accident named Elizabeth and Eleanor, who was the name of her mother’s aunt from Franklin County.
Even though, Betty’s family was living on S. Market Street at the time, Betty was born in DuQuoin, due to the presence of her mother’s first cousin, Dr. Marion Webb, who later went to Vienna, Austria to study.
A large part of Betty’s youth revolved around pony and horse riding. When she was about four years old, her uncle Ralph Thurmond brought her first pony to her parent’s home at 513 S. Market Street in the rumble seat of his automobile. From that moment on her life revolved around her pony “Sally.”
Shirley Melvin, daughter of Virginia (Bracy) and Arthur Melvin, who only lived a few doors south of her home on S. Market, also had a pony and the two of them enjoyed many hours, riding and participating in events. Betty competed in local and State Fair events, placing in venues such as the state fairs held in Indianapolis and Springfield. She and Shirley were once featured in a St. Louis Post Dispatch article and were written up in the local papers on a fairly regular basis.
At the age of seven, Betty had already won her fourth consecutive first place for Combination Harness and Saddle Class at the Marion Horse Show. Records indicate that at age 9, Betty won the All State Horse Show at the Illinois State Fair in 1938 and 1939 for a pony under 46” named “Wildfire.” She also won the Saddle Pony Championship Stake at the National Horse Show held at the Indiana State Fair and held the distinction of being the youngest rider to ever win the award at that time. Betty freely admitted that her pony was her best friend.
At one time, Shirley and Betty kept their ponies in a stable located behind the family homes on S. Market Street but later, also maintained a stable at the Williamson County Fairgrounds like a number of other locals like Sheriff Arleigh Wilkins, Wilma Hudson, Ralph Thurmond, Shirley Walker and Susan Cockran.
An article appearing in the Marion paper of the period indicated that when Betty once went to the Fairground to check on her pony that it was missing. The tracks left by the pony were followed off the fairground to a secluded spot near railroad tracks east of the grounds, where the pony was found tied up and waiting for the thief who took it to haul it away at a later time. Needless to say, the pony was recovered thanks to CCC workers camped in the centerfield of the fairground due to a flood.
As a Marion merchant, her father, who called himself “the Styleologist”, utilized Betty’s name by labeling a line of infant and children’s wear as the Betty Hay Brand which included dresses, luggage, coats, hats and hosiery.
Betty’s playmates on S. Market Street included Emily Stotlar, Trevor and Gordon Cox, Shirley Melvin, Denton Ferrell, Shirley Miller and Tommy Peebles.
Betty’s primary education was received in Marion at the Logan School that used to serve as the city’s first dedicated high school on E. Main Street next to where the Washington school now sits.
With the economic instability of the depression, the early 1940’s forced the Hay family to move temporarily to Carbondale to live where her father, Charles Hay, had grown up. His great grandfather, William Morrison had owned a considerable portion of land that later became the University Farms. The Hay family lived in a rooming house that had been owned by her father’s family for decades located at 502 S. University Avenue.
It was here in Carbondale that Betty attended her first year of high school. After that, influenced by the movie “Gone with the Wind”, she desired to attend a school in the deep-south. Although she had a scholarship at Ward Belmont School in Nashville, she ended up attending Bernau Academy in Gainsville, Georgia, which she completed in 1945.
When returning to Carbondale, she found that she lacked one history credit to gain a University High School Diploma, so she attended William Woods College in Fulton, Missouri to take a college level history course to satisfy her high school degree requirements.
While attending William Woods College, she and a number of the other girls from the college called “Willies” were able to attend the famous “Iron Curtain” speech performed by Winston Churchill at neighboring boy’s school, Westminster College, in Fulton on March 5, 1946. Other Marion girls who attended William Woods were Sue McCoskey, Alicia Chicon and Shirley (Walker) Mitchell.
After returning from William Woods College, Betty met Stan Wilson whom she married in June of 1947. Stan was then an SIU student from Centralia. The couple lived in a farm house on the old University Farms property held by her father’s ancestors. They later moved to Marion and lived in her parent’s home on S. Market Street till they could procure a home.
Around that time her Uncle Ralph Thurmond and Cecil Barth were involved in developing new homes around Circle Drive in southeast Marion and the couple occupied one of the homes next to the Reel family.
In August of 1948, the couple had their first child, a daughter named Sally Hay Wilson, followed the next year in October of 1949 by their second daughter, Susan Hay Wilson.
In 1952, Betty served as President of the Marion Junior Women’s Club.
After separating from Stan Wilson in 1957, Betty returned to live in her parent’s home on S. Market and rented out the home on Circle Drive. She went back to school at SIU in Carbondale. During this period she also taught horseback riding at Little Grassy Lake.
In 1960, Betty married Ed McDevitt who was working for Container Corporation of America and later worked for the SIU Alumni Service. They lived in the home on Circle Drive until after the death of her mother in 1971, after which, they later occupied the S. Market Street home.
Betty completed her college education, graduating with a Master’s Degree, around 1977.
School Superintendent Bob McKinney called Betty one day to advise her that she was hired to work in the Unit 2 school system. Her first position was at Creal Springs, but over a course of 32 years of teaching primarily Kindergarten she also served at Longfellow, McKinley, Lincoln and ended at Washington School. Betty retired in 1988.
Ed McDevitt passed away in January, 2000.
In 2013, Betty was extremely instrumental in helping this author in reconstructing a considerable portion of Marion history, particularly as to genealogical information. Betty, even at the age of 85, then still retained a remarkable memory for names and places.
Betty Hay McDevitt passed away on May 3, 2016. Funeral services were held at Rosehill Cemetery on May 6th.