Diaries Through the Decades

Not many students at Geneseo would know that we recently came out of the Great Recession by just looking around. There aren't any breadlines here, nobody selling apples on the street. Students are still buying sandwiches for $7 apiece. Times are not that tough.

And yet it is still compared to the Great Depression of the 1930s. Betty Howe, 92, grew up during the Depression, and, the way she describes it, times now are a little different.

"I only made like, $4 to $8 a week, but when you think of the Depression, that was better than nothing," said Howe, who worked for a dentist in her hometown of Dansville, N.Y. In addition to reception duties, she said she kept track of money and assisted with patients.

Betty gave at least half of each paycheck to her parents to help them through the difficult times as a voluntary payment for room and board. "So I ended up with $2 for spending money," Howe laughed. "That's what you call the Depression."

Howe said she still remembers how she earned her first pair of new shoes. Her grandfather, who lived with her family, was a salesman. Every week, she cut his toenails to save him from straining his back. After a particularly good sale, Howe's grandfather took her to the best shoe store in town.

At an early age, Betty became acquainted with a man named Dorr Howe who lived two blocks away from her. The doctor who had delivered baby Dorr told his parents that if they named their new son after him, the delivery would be free. Dr. Dorr received a legacy, and the Howes saved some grocery money.

At first, Betty said she didn't think much of Dorr, but this soon changed. "He was such a quiet person that I really didn't pay too much attention to him," Howe said. But when a mutual friend invited the two of them to a party, she saw something deeper in him. They dated through high school. Betty said she remembers when Dorr proposed; they were sitting on a hill overlooking the creek running through Dansville.

Times were hard, and it would be some time before the couple could follow through with their plans. Howe said Dorr refused to put them into debt. They worked together. "We saved up enough money between us to buy all of our furniture," she recalled. "You'll never believe we only paid $15 to rent."

Howe said she and her husband did what they could, but some of the niceties of marriage had to be put on hold. "When he got all done paying for furniture, he didn't have quite enough money to pay for the wedding band," Howe said, "So two years later he bought me this one," she said, explaining that Dorr wanted her to have a large band with a diamond. She still wears it today, years after his passing. "I would have been crazy if I hadn't married him, anyhow," Howe said. "He was such a good person."

Eventually, Howe said she was able to stop working at the dentist's office and so she committed herself to Dorr, their daughter Faye and volunteering. She was very active in the Dansville Methodist Church, which she had joined at age 13. She said she counted the tithes and offerings every week, helped coordinate events for the senior center at the church and was involved in many other activities that gave back to the community.

A sense of gratitude for what she had during a time when people had so little is evident in Howe today. When her minister heard she was traveling to Morgan Estates Assisted Living Facility in Geneseo, Howe said he gave her a plaque listing everything that she has been responsible for - he said it would take five or six people to fill in when she left.

Today, Howe is happy. She lived through serious times, but found joy in what she had. She said she sees little correlation between the modern economy and the Depression. "You've never gone through what we've been through," Howe said. She urged today's youth to value what they have and not to squander it or fall into heavy debt.