Saying farewell to Betty Lou Gaeng: Longtime historian, ‘Looking Back’ columnist dies at 96

Betty Lou Gaeng speaking at the 2018 Edmonds Memorial Day ceremony. (File photo by Larry Vogel)

Betty Lou Deebach Fessner Gaeng

Longtime local historian Betty Lou Gaeng died Monday, April 17 at age 96 in Anchorage, Alaska.

Until very recently, Gaeng was writing  “Looking Back” columns for the My Neighborhood News Network family of publications — My Edmonds News, MLTnews and Lynnwood Today. The column focused both on Gaeng’s memories and her meticulously researched history of Southwest Snohomish County, which she called home for most of her life.

Betty at the Lynnwood history event in 2019. (File photo by Larry Vogel)

“I start with my own memories,” Gaeng explained during a 2019 presentation she gave in honor of Lynnwood’s 60th anniversary. “Then I go to all the different research places I can until I can’t find anymore.”

I first met Betty 10 years ago, but it feels like she has been part of the My Neighborhood News Network since the beginning. The energy, intelligence, wit and commitment to accuracy she displayed in her 80s and 90s made an impact on me, and I frequently told people that “I want to be Betty when I grow up.”

Betty moved to Anchorage in 2019 to live with her son and daughter-in-law, but she continued to stay in touch via email and phone, and she kept writing her “Looking Back” articles.

In a contributor closeup column she wrote for us in October 2020, Betty began the story of her life this way:

My birth name was Betty Lou Deebach. I was born in Yakima, Washington in January of 1927, the daughter of Walt and Marie Deebach, longtime residents of Edmonds. My parents’ last Edmonds’ home was at 610 Glen Street, and was one of the several Sears Craftsman houses built in Edmonds. In 1991, with some tears in my eyes, I stood and watched as our old family home was ripped apart to make way for more condos.

In the spring of 1933, we moved from a nice house in Seattle to what was the outlying area of Puget Mills’ Alderwood Manor. As a 6-year-old, with my parents and two older brothers, I found what it was like to live in a run-down house on a 10-acre chicken farm, surrounded by the ugly stumps and snags, left over from years of logging the land.

In the fall of 1933, I entered first grade at the red-brick Alderwood Manor Grade School on North Trunk Road West, now 196th Street.

On the farm in 1934: Betty Lou (center) with siblings (L-R) Walt Jr.and Bob Deebach.

Soon after she finished fourth grade, in late spring 1937, the Deebach family moved to what is now called the Edmonds Bowl. Betty entered the fifth grade at Edmonds Grade School, when Frances Anderson was the principal. (The former grade school, next to the Edmonds Library, is used for City of Edmonds recreational programs and is called the Frances Anderson Center.)

After graduating from Edmonds High School, she lived at home in Edmonds with her parents and worked in Seattle for several years. She married, became a housewife and then a single mom in 1963, raising and supporting four children. She began work as a legal secretary for a prominent downtown Seattle law firm, advancing to legal assistant (in today’s world, a paralegal).

Photo of Betty Lou Gaeng taken in July 1974. “This is what a 25-pound and two 35-pound king salmon look like,” she said.

In her contributor closeup for us, Betty noted that in 1973, at the age of 46, “I married again — a man from Alderwood Manor (Lynnwood) — and my life completely changed. My second husband, Fred Gaeng, was a boilermaker/boat builder. We built two fishing boats for ourselves, and for several years, commercially fished in Southeast Alaskan waters, trolling for salmon. I learned to run a boat, to navigate, and in case of an emergency, to handle everything on my own. As a child I loved to read, especially adventure stories. For eight years, while at sea in the rough waters of Southeastern Alaska, I was able to experience some adventures of my own.”

Betty Lou Gaeng and daughter Marilyn Fussner Courtade at the South Snohomish County Old Settler’s picnic in August 2018. (File photo by Larry Vogel)

Fred Gaeng died at age 77. “By then, in my 70s, having raised four children and buried two husbands, I looked for something to do with whatever time was left for me,” Betty recalled. “So, here I am, over 20 years later, still working at what I chose to do with the rest of my life. I became involved in volunteer activities, where my knowledge of the history of the people, events and places of Snohomish County were helpful.

“I really don’t know what I am – a writer, a historian or a genealogist. I work at each and usually combine them,” Betty continued in her 2020 column for us. “Seven years ago, Teresa Wippel asked for the name of someone who could write coherently and also knew about local history, my name came up, and here I am.”

Betty Lou Gaeng (center), with members of the History and Heritage Board and Alderwood Manor Heritage Association, was named Lynnwood’s Official City Historian and presented with a key to the city in November 2018.

Betty played a key role in preserving Lynnwood’s history through her work with the Lynnwood-Alderwood Manor Heritage Association, the Edmonds Cemetery Board, the Edmonds Historical Museum and the Sno-Isle Genealogical Society. She was often recognized for her extensive knowledge of Lynnwood’s history, and was honored by the Lynnwood City Council in November 2018 as Lynnwood’s historian.

Edmonds Mayor Dave Earling recognized Betty Lou Gaeng during a 2019 Edmonds City Council meeting.

In 2019, Edmonds Mayor Dave Earling recognized Betty for her service on the Edmonds Memorial Cemetery Board and also her efforts to relocate the Edmonds School District Veteran’s Memorial to the cemetery in 2018. She continued to serve as a honorary member of the Edmonds Cemetery Board until her death.

Betty recalled that even before she started first grade, “I became a voracious reader and, in some way, or another, I have always done a lot of writing, even if it was just keeping the log books for our Alaska fishing years. Maybe because both my grandfathers were newspaper men, writing is in my genes. As to history, I had a wonderful and inspirational history teacher in high school by the name of George Hatch — I have always remembered what I learned about history in his classroom.

“To end this story of my life, I just have to mention my favorite Edmonds High School history teacher once more,” she wrote in her 202o column. “In my 1945 EHS year book, George Hatch wrote “To Betty, a quiet and observant girl, don’t ever change.” I could never figure out if Mr. Hatch meant for me to always remain quiet, or observant, or maybe some of both. Also, I can’t help but wonder what he would think of me as a historian.”

Journalism has often be described as providing a first draft of history. All of us at the My Neighborhood News Network who worked with Betty over the years will miss her deeply, and her impact on documenting our area’s history will never be forgotten.

Publisher Teresa Wippel with Betty Lou Gaeng in 2019. (File photo by Larry Vogel)

— By Teresa Wippel, Publisher



  1. I always enjoy reading Betty Lou Gaeng’s articles about the history of our area. I think it is wonderful that she was able to document so much about our local heritage. My condolences to her family and may she rest in peace.

    1. We will miss having Betty on the Edmonds Cemetery Board not only as a colleague but as a friend. Such a wealth of history about Edmonds, it’s people and the surrounding area, she suggested and then researched and wrote many of our Walk Back in Time themes over the past years. Rest In peace Betty.

  2. Very sad news. I got to know Betty Lou over the past several years, and she was a wonderful person with a passion for local history and was a treasure to us all. She will be sorely missed.

    1. I am so sorry to read this. I have emails from her in the last year tying my fathers family the Ruffner’s to her family. My grandfather Ken owned a home on a small farm type property where the Catholic Church is in DT Edmonds. She sent me numerous articles she had written or resourced on the Ruffner family in Seattle and Edmonds. Bless that woman for keeping Edmonds (and the PNW) history alive. I’m indebted to her for her work. My deepest sympathy to her daughter.

      1. I want to thank all the readers who have enjoyed my mother’s writings and all the great comments. She so enjoyed hearing from all of you.
        I will miss my travel companion, and friend.

  3. I am going to miss her stories about local history. She brought the past to life. My condolences to her family and friends

    1. Thank you for the lovely article about this inspiring lady who pursued her passion for history and making it more relevant and available.

  4. I always enjoyed Betty’s articles. They are living history. Are there any plans to do a book based on her columns?

  5. Although I have never met Betty Lou, I felt as though I knew her through all of her writings. Her wonderful short stories of Edmonds and the local areas brought their history into our homes. They taught us about the people who helped create our history. Each time there was one of her stories in My Edmonds News, I printed it out reading them and learning what helped create our city, our home. She will always live in our hearts through her writings. My thoughts and prayers are with Betty Lou’s family. Thank you for sharing her with us.

  6. What a totally impressive person. It’s people like Betty that make life worth living for the rest of us. “I want to be Betty” – best tribute ever, Teresa.

  7. I never met Betty Lou but wish I had, a wonderful inspirational lady her historical articles on life and history of Edmonds so interesting . I always looked forward to reading them and her energy through her long rich life was amazing. My deepest sympathy to her family in their loss

  8. what a very special person Betty was. She contributed so much to our knowledge and enjoyment of this area. She will be missed and greatly remembered.

  9. I am so saddened to hear this. Betty was such an engaging writer and brought Edmonds history to life with amazing details. My condolences to her family and friends.

  10. I wish I had hade the opportunity to know her. I have always enjoyed her companionable and crystalline writing style – always like a dear friend talking to you – her careful research, and all those insights into Edmonds’ history. Betty enriched us all.

    Thank you, and rest in ell-earned peace.

  11. Betty Lou brought life to her articles about local history and these were so educational. She was a gift to our whole community. She and her recollections will be missed. My condolences to her family and friends.

  12. As a person who has been endeavoring to research and write about Edmonds history myself, I had the opportunity to talk with Betty via email on multiple occasions over the past two years. Although we never actually met, it seemed like she was always there to encourage and to help in any way she could. Her spirit and enthusiasm for being both concise and precise were definitely educational and inspirational. I am definitely going to miss her insights.

    Teresa, thanks for writing the article too.

  13. Thank you Teresa for the very nice tribute to our mother. I am Bettys other daughter, Julie. Thanks to all of you for your condolences it means a lot to us. She was a great lady and will be missed deeply. Thanks again.

  14. Dear Betty: It ia ao wonderful to have had you for a sister all of these years. Although our livea have taken different directions we still kept close, and if it was by phone, we always said I love you at the end of our conversation. Thank you for naming me, Sally Ann perfect name for me., thank you for the piggyback rides to Edmonds library where you educated yourself and also helped to educate me. Thank you for so many things. I will miss you and love you forever. Love Sally

  15. I would like to say thank you to Betty Lou for all the help in answering family questions and all things Edmonds I would ask. I really enjoyed our communication. Sharp as a tack and great writer. My deep condolences and respect to all her family.

  16. Such a great article, Theresa. Betty Lou was a great story-teller and journalist. Your last paragraph is so true and sums it up for all of us….

    “Journalism has often be described as providing a first draft of history. All of us at the My Neighborhood News Network who worked with Betty over the years will miss her deeply, and her impact on documenting our area’s history will never be forgotten.”

    God Bless you, Betty Lou for bringing life to our history.

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