Betty Jean (BJ) Michelsen was a founding member of The National Congress of Neighborhood Women. She died on December 16, 2017. She was a dear friend and a powerful force for justice. Below is her obituary.
Lebanon, N.H. — Betty Jean (BJ) Michelsen died on Saturday, Dec. 16, 2017 – peacefully and easily in the Green Street home that she loved with the care and support of family; good friends – both old and new; neighbors; members of her close-knit support group the “Hot Tub Chicks”; fellow UV United Unitarian Universalist Church members; and a team of compassionate, professional caregivers who traveled along in BJ’s journey. BJ was diagnosed with lung cancer two and a half years ago. She was a trooper and an eternal optimist as she challenged the illness.
Born in Madison, Wisc. on April 3, 1941, to Inge (Hovland) and Barney Michelsen, BJ was named by her older sister Helen, who decided that having a baby sister was better than getting the pony she had longed for because: “Sisters are forever.” They moved to Oak Park, Illinois. BJ’s father died when she was seven; and her mother supported the girls as a nurse. The family returned to Stoughton, Wisc. and into the arms of her large extended Norwegian farm family. Betty’s naturally outgoing, perennially happy personality, thrived and grew. She learned Norwegian, was baptized as a Lutheran, and excelled in her academic studies. All her life BJ was frequently seen with a book in her hand. She was an avid reader of historical novels, and a guru of crossword puzzles. She was president of the Philomathia Society her senior year in high school. That same year, her mother died of a heart condition. BJ’s plans to continue her education at the U. of Wisconsin faltered; but friends encouraged her insisting that she go. From there she moved to NYC with her roommate and lifelong friend, Jan. There she became a founding member of the N.Y. Radical Feminists, and a political organizer. She went on the road as a speaker for the group, traveling around the country, even to Hanover, where she spoke to the first incoming class of women at Dartmouth College. Her efforts and commitment contributed to the development of the Brooklyn Chapter of the National Congress of Neighborhood Women.
BJ loved her work as an administrative assistant at Dartmouth. She developed many life-long relationships and took great pride in her work. She retired in 2005. In her earliest days in the Upper Valley, she met Normajane Wittner, DMD, her life partner for the next 30 years, and one of the first women dentists in N.H. Their magical relationship brought great joy to one another and to those who were touched by their openness, and exuberance. Their combination of sincere optimism, honest friendship and remarkable presence nourished many people, in many different ways. With an amazing and diverse group of friends in the Upper Valley, they forged a culture and a community of solidarity, trust and fun. Normajane and BJ, shared in the creation and marketing of Crack Care, a salve which has healed many skin ailments. Their product continues today. They volunteered for years in the offices at DHMC. They were active members of the UV United Unitarian Church for many years, and at one point, the two of them were the whole of the welcoming committee for new members, a job they enjoyed immensely. In her retirement, BJ joined a water aerobics class at the CCBA. “The Hot Tub Chicks” is a friendship group that grew beyond the class and “became a support group for every woman… BJ and Normie “felt the love.”
BJ is survived by her sister Helen Hurley and her son and his family of Oregon; Normajane’s daughter Judi Rogers and husband Tom, their children Molly Ebitson (Michael), Brandon Rogers (Lauren), her step-son Stefan Wittner, DMD (Maggie) and their children Terry Tenzing, Roger Wittner, Dan Wittner (Katchen), and Stefanie Wittner, along with 12 great grandchildren; and Normajane’s dear cousin Joanne Arnold.
We offer thanks to so many: especially to Carmen, the aide who stayed with her continuously and lovingly for her last few days; to Nancy the Bayada nurse who came for several hours everyday to tweak medications and offer emotional support; to Barbara Sweet, who helped us transition BJ home and managed the compassionate home care team of Jaimie and the other aides, who were invaluable to the continuity of care. Thanks too to her earlier care team in DHMC Oncology: Dr. Dragnev, Melissa, Chelsea, Jess, Tina and all the many others, who BJ knew and loved as very special people in her life. Invaluable and loved too were the loyal, caring neighbors; Rev. Patience Stoddard and the entire UU church community; the old friends – especially dear Kit; her landlord Bob; and the team of Judi, Lorna and Doreen, who helped her steer her course during her final months. So many people added to the richness of BJ’s life that it is impossible to list them all. It took the village. “Blessed be!”
A memorial celebration for BJ will be held on Saturday, Jan. 20 at 1 p.m. at the UV United Unitarian Church on Rte. 5 South in Norwich, Vt. All are invited to bring memories and stories to share.
Donations in her memory may be given to the church. Mailing address: UUUV, PO Box 1110, Norwich, Vermont 05055. Memories and messages of condolences can be posted on-line at www.rickerfuneralhome.com.