Friends, family say goodbye to Bette Belle Smith, known as 'Mrs. Modesto'

From friends and family, to community and country, to music and making a difference, the many loves of Bette Belle Smith were celebrated at a memorial service Tuesday.

Longtime friends and recent acquaintances packed the Gallo Center for the Arts to pay tribute to the woman known to many as "Mrs. Modesto," who died Nov. 29 at age 88.

From a classical prelude by a string quartet of Modesto Symphony Orchestra musicians to the patriotic "Stars and Stripes Forever" by members of the MoBand, the 90-minute program included everything from moving memories by her children to humorous anecdotes by friends to vocal, instrumental and dance numbers performed by a son and grandchildren.

Whether it was daughter Mary McGranaham sharing recollections of her mother's love of Santa Cruz, son Talbot Smith remembering her sense of humor, former Modesto Mayor Carol Whiteside recounting her involvement in politics or Maj. Darvin Carpenter telling of her support of The Salvation Army, there was a common theme: Bette Belle Smith was an exceptional person as a wife, mother, mentor, friend, fund-raiser and volunteer mobilizer.

Close friend and former City Council member Kenni Friedman summed up a lifetime of giving to the community: "Bette Belle set the bar for service in our community."

In his remarks, Carpenter said that when Salvation Army leaders from other regions call to find out why Modesto is so successful at fund raising, he always tells them they need only three things: "Exemplary programs ... a supportive community ... and a Bette Belle Smith."

He had the crowd laughing by concluding that with Bette Belle having now gone "Home for Christmas," he wondered if "God has put her to work ... or maybe she's put him to work."

In a fitting final tribute to the woman who for years played Santa's spouse at various events, as people left the Gallo Center they received candy canes, each adorned with a ribbon and tag reading, "Mrs. Claus Loves You."

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