Obituary: Elizabeth (Betty) Baker DesCombes
Elizabeth (Betty) Baker DesCombes died peacefully on September 28, 2023 after a short illness. She was 92.
Betty was born on September 13, 1931 in Redlands, California, the only child of Harold William and Helen Barry Baker. Her father was a citrus grower and she lived in several different homes surrounded by groves in the Mentone and Crafton areas of Redlands. For the first several years of her education she attended Kingsbury Elementary and would travel the two miles to school on her horse. She would arrive before class and feed and turn out the horse at a nearby friend’s home and then ride home after school. Many of her closest friendships were developed during this time.
She briefly attended Crafton Elementary after her parents moved into the Crafton area. After completing her elementary education she attended Redlands Junior High and Redlands Senior High, which were located across the street from each other. DesCombes took advantage of this arrangement and was able to play saxophone with the Senior High School Orchestra all though her junior and senior high school years.
DesCombes’ junior high school years from 1943 to 1946 were greatly influenced by World War II. In addition to the direct impacts of the war, such as rationing, coupon books, and soldiers abroad, social life changed to one of volunteerism. DesCombes would often join her mother on plane spotting shifts on Sunset Boulevard in Redlands, and would volunteer at the Red Cross, where she would assist with making bandages and clothing items. This early exposure to volunteerism paved the way for a lifetime of giving back to her community.
DesCombes’ senior high school years, from 1946 to 1949, saw a return to teenage normalcy with summer trips to the beach and dancing to the big bands of the time at the Rendezvous Ballroom on the Balboa Peninsula, easily reached from Redlands via Los Angeles’ sprawling Red Car network. DesCombes also was active in the Girl Scouts and spent part of the summer as a camp counselor.
Winters in Redlands, then primarily a citrus town, always included the risk of fruit frost warnings. When a frost warning occurred, everyone sprang into action to protect the trees. This was almost always an all-night task, and included even the youngest family members. DesCombes was taught at an early age to drive a tractor, and it was her job to drive the tractor and pull the smudge oil tank down through the rows of trees while her father and grove staff filled the smudge pots.
After graduating from Redlands High in 1949, DesCombes headed off to Boulder, Colorado to begin classes at the University of Colorado. She wrote, “Rush week at CU was held the week before freshman orientation. Mother and a friend, Ruth Eleanor, drove me [to Boulder] for rush; I had never seen the campus, nor did I know anyone who attended the school.” Commenting on rush, DesCombes remarked “I thought it all wonderful and had a splendid time. It wasn’t until the next year that I went through Rush from the other side did I realize how brutal it could be. I decided to pledge Delta Gamma and never regretted my choice.” Her Senior year at CU DesCombes was elected Delta Gamma president.
At the time, University of Colorado’s student body consisted of not only recent high school graduates, but GIs earning their college education courtesy of the GI Bill. DesCombes commented that the GIs “studied hard, and they could party hard as well.” DesCombes graduated from the CU’s College of Arts and Sciences in 1953 and as part of her education received a state of Colorado senior high school teaching certificate.
DesCombes returned to the Redlands area after graduation and took a job teaching at Jurupa Junior High School in Riverside. Her Colorado teaching certificate was accepted in California, but only as a junior high school credential. DesCombes shared an apartment in downtown Riverside with another teacher and purchased a light green 1951 Ford Custom Convertible to travel between school and home. This was the first of several convertibles that she would own over her lifetime, including a Volkswagen Rabbit and a stick shift Ford Mustang 5.0L.
After a rough first year of teaching and sensing a lack of social outlet, DesCombes declined a contract renewal for the following academic year and packed up her convertible and headed to Denver. Arriving in June 1954, she initially lived with a sorority sister and found work at an oil exploration firm where she said she had “a very flunky job of being the receptionist. It was terrible pay — $120 a month!” She turned down a job at the Bank of Denver, a prestigious institution where she would have been its first female teller, as it only paid $100 a month.
In November of that year she attended a young college graduates “no-host” cocktail party where she met Don DesCombes, a 1954 graduate of Dartmouth College who had returned to Denver while waiting for his United States Air Force pilot training assignment. DesCombes wrote, “In approximately five months, we met, became engaged, quit jobs, and drove to Redlands to plan a wedding.” During the engagement period, Don completed his initial pilot training and started flight school. They were married on Friday, July 1, 1955 and enjoyed a two-day honeymoon at the North Shore Tavern in Lake Arrowhead. The couple returned Sunday night to load the car and drive all night to Tucson, Arizona where he was to continue his pilot training at the nearby Marina Air Force Base.
DesCombes worked as a substitute teacher in Tucson as well as San Angelo, Texas, before her husband received his wings and they were assigned to Mitchel Air Force base in Hempstead, Long Island, New York. In 1956 they purchased a home on Chickadee Lane in the Levittown development. DesCombes wrote that they enjoyed living on the East Coast and “sometimes we would drive to the end of the Long Island Railroad and take the train into the city. There we would canvas Broadway and find standing room only tickets.” After completing his service and while interviewing for a job in New York City, the combination of a bad winter storm and the 1957 Long Island railroad strike convinced them that they would rather be in a warmer climate, and they planned a return to California.
After Mr. DesCombes found a job in Los Angeles they purchased a home in South Pasadena, where their first son, Jeffery, was born in 1958, followed by their second son, Gordon, in 1962. In 1963 Mr. DesCombes took a new job in Pomona at Averbeck Company Insurance Brokers and the family moved to Claremont, where they quickly put down roots and became involved in several aspects of the community.
She settled into life in suburban Claremont of the mid-1960s. Her children started at the recently completed Sumner Elementary School. DesCombes enjoyed serving as den mother, along with Marge Jollymour, for the years that her sons participated in Cub Scouts. As the children grew older, activities such as Little League baseball, in the recently created National Little League, as well as the new (to the U.S.) sport of soccer, which came to Claremont in 1967, began to consume the family calendar. Of course, summers were busy with swim school at Claremont Men’s College (now Claremont McKenna College) with the Ducey family, followed by years of summer swim team practices and meets. The end of each summer was celebrated with a week or two on Balboa Island.
DesCombes continued to work part time as a substitute teacher for the Claremont Unified School District. Several times she accepted long-term assignments for teachers who became pregnant. As was the custom at the time, once a teacher’s pregnancy began to show, she had to stop working. One of her sons remembers taking typing classes from his mom at El Roble Intermediate School during one long-term assignment.
She supported many social and volunteer activities in Claremont. She was a member of the Claremont College’s Curtain Raisers and a number of other local charitable organizations. She enjoyed staying active on the tennis court with her partner of many years, Gay Taylor. DesCombes, along with her husband Don, volunteered for the Pomona Jaycees “Kitty Bar” at the LA County Fair and often worked together on Red Cross blood drives by checking in donors and working the post-donation cantina. DesCombes particularly enjoyed volunteering at Pomona Valley Hospital Medical Center, where she was a lifetime member of the hospital auxiliary and served on its foundation board of directors. DesCombes volunteered for the auxiliary from 1981 to 2009, mostly in the surgical recovery room, donating 4,347 hours of her time.
She loved traveling with her husband and would often escape several times a year to attend a business convention or to take some time off. Even while the children were growing up, the couple managed to make an annual trip to their beloved Kona Village with a group of friends. As her sons grew older, the excursions became longer and further afield, including trips through Europe, China, and Russia. DesCombes continued to travel with friends after the passing of her husband in 2005.
DesCombes is survived by her two sons, Jeffery and Gordon (Susan), both of Claremont; grandchildren, Lauren (David) Wooten, of Claremont, Kristen (Anne) Kelly-DesCombes, of Pasadena, Jack DesCombes, of Highland Park, California, and Margaret and Kathryn, both of Colorado; and great-grandchildren Winifred, known as Winnie, and Arlo.
DesCombes was preceded in death by her husband of 49 years, Don DesCombes.
A family internment was held at Oak Park Cemetery.
Contributions in her memory can be made to the Pomona Valley Hospital Medical Center Volunteer Auxiliary at pvhmc.org/giving-support.