Betty Slaboda was a loving matriarch, CHS booster, world traveler

Loving matriarch, CHS booster, world traveler

Betty Slaboda, better known to generations of Claremont High School Marching Band and Show Team members as “Grandma Betty,” died on Tuesday, January 15, 2013. She was 98.

Ms. Slaboda was born on June 21, 1914 in Trenton, New Jersey to Anna and Joseph Kissak, the fourth child in a family of 5 sisters and one brother.

Her parents were ethnic Slovakians who, upon coming to the United States from the Carpathian Mountains near Hungary, changed their surname from its original Kecha to sound more American. Ms. Slaboda’s birth name, “Lizzie,” was also Americanized when her older sisters began calling her Elizabeth. Over the years, she adopted the name Betty.

As a girl growing up on a farm in the outskirts of Trenton, she loved making corn-husk dolls and swimming in a nearby stream. The Kissaks attended the local Byzantine Catholic Church and Ms. Slaboda attended a Catholic elementary school, graduating from 8th grade. It was an unusual achievement in a time when immigrant children were expected to work to help their families, rarely attending school past third grade.

Though surrounded by friends and relatives who spoke only the Slavish language, she grew up very proud to be an American. At the age of 17, Ms. Slaboda, a true “flapper girl” who worked in a factory making silk stockings, met and married 24-year-old Michael Slaboda. Mr. Slaboda also hailed from an immigrant Slovakian family, who lived and owned a business in Trenton. A trumpet player who performed in local Big Bands, Mr. Slaboda had the added distinction of being one of the only guys in town with a convertible.

Before long, they welcomed their first child, Raymond. Ms. Slaboda’s oldest sister Velma, who had moved to California after her marriage, urged the couple to move out west. Leaving friends and relatives behind, they settled in Lincoln Heights, where they had fun raising Ray in the warm southern California sunshine. Their second child, Michele, was born in Los Angeles.

If Ms. Slaboda enjoyed California, she adored Hollywood—the stars with their glamour, Shirley Temple with her curls and Elizabeth Taylor with her furs. Anyone famous became her idol, a propensity she never outgrew. Over the years, Ms. Slaboda collected dolls fashioned after Princess Diana, the Queen of England, Jacqueline Kennedy and the latest royal bride and groom, Kate and William.

Ms. Slaboda lived her life around her children, giving Ray accordion lessons and putting Michele in movie and modeling work, baton twirling and dance of every kind. She spent much of her time sewing and embroidering all of her daughter’s clothes and costumes, from casual wear to formal gowns. During this time, Ms. Slaboda also took classes in oil painting, learning to hand-tint black and white pictures with color tones. She also wrote a song that was recorded, and many of the poems she wrote under the name PITTI PAT were published.

Along with her children’s activities, Ms. Slaboda enjoyed watching her husband build his machine shop business and went to see him play trumpet every Saturday night at the Polka Palace with the Melody Men. She delighted in the dancing, the Polish sausage sandwiches and the annual New Year’s Eve parties where colorful balloons dropped at midnight. No matter how late the festivities lasted, she never missed going to Colorado Boulevard and viewing the Rose Parade to see the beautiful flowers and ring in another year.

After their children were married, the Slabodas took a cruise to Hawaii, where Ms. Slaboda fell completely in love with everything, from the flowers to the Hawaiian dancers. The cruise gave her the thirst to travel, so she and her husband took 2 trips around the world and a few more to Hawaii. Her obsession with dolls began, and she collected a doll from every city and country they visited.

The only thing Ms. Slaboda liked more than traveling was traveling with family. She was able to take granddaughter Roberta cruising on the Q E 2 ship, travel with her grandson John to Alaska and vacation with her son Ray in Australia. She traveled with her daughter Michele to Hawaii numerous times as well as to Spain, Ireland, Scotland, Russia, France, Holland and Thousand Islands, New York. In between trips, Ms. Slaboda would head to Trenton, New Jersey for a visit with her sisters and relatives. All that traveling inspired her to become a photographer and she became known for taking pictures and recording videos—of everything and everyone—everywhere she went.

When Mr. Slaboda died in 1980, Ms. Slaboda moved to Upland. Her daughter, Michele, was a longtime coach for the Claremont High School dance, drill and cheer squads. Being so close to Claremont, it was then that she became the famous “Grandma Betty,” the darling of the CHS Marching Band and Show Team. 

During those years, Grandma Betty never missed any of their events, riding on the bus and sitting with the boosters in the stands. She was sad when her daughter and Dr. Gary Iida, the band director, decided to retire in 1999. No one could have missed those kids and the glamour, glitter and travel excitement more than her, according to family.

Ms. Slaboda’s 8 grandchildren, 20 great-grandchildren and 9 great-great-grandchildren will always remember her as a person who was kind, energetic and generous with her time, affection and finances. Grandma Betty took them to theme parks, zoos and an array of events. Her grandson, Robert, was on his way to a theatrical musical singing career and she attended every play he was in, always taking a front-row seat.

She lived alone and independently for 30 years, going for the goal of living to the age of 100, and never had any major illness or surgeries. Just a few days before she died, Ms. Slaboda’s grandson Kenny talked to her about her age and living to be almost 99. He told her she was so blessed to live such a long life and remarked that she must have seen and done so many things. All she said was, “Oh, honey, it all went so fast.”

“Grandma Betty was one in a million, for sure, and we will treasure the lifetime of memories she made with all of us,” her daughter Michele said.

Ms. Slaboda is survived by her son and daughter-in-law, Ray and Barb Slaboda; by her daughter, Michele Allen; by her grandchildren, Debi Slaboda Fisher, Cyndee Slaboda Wildeboer, Roberta Allen Schuller, John Allen, Kenneth Allen, Robert Allen II and Michele Allen Peterson; by her great-grandchildren, Chris Ramey, Lisa Totten, Shannon Houlemard, Heather Grana, Lindsey Wood, Dylan Slaboda, Cameron Slaboda, Geoffrey Schuller, Melanie Schuller, Bradley Schuller, Riley Schuller, Taylor Allen, Broder Allen, Kenneth Lee Allen, Louis Allen, Lanie Allen, Robert Allen III, Samuel Allen, Grace Peterson and Nicholas Peterson; and by her great-great-grandchildren, Daija Ramey, Ryland Totten, Logan Houlemard, Megan Houlemard, Kaitlyn Houlemard, Peyton Houlemard, Holland Wood, Even Grana and Ella Grana.


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