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Betty Orth Honaker was born Betty Merle Sohn on January 5, 1924, in Chicago, Illinois. She had three sisters (one deceased as an infant) and two brothers. Betty’s father worked long hours as a commercial roofer in Chicago. Her mother suffered from severe epilepsy, and the children were placed in an orphanage on a number of occasions when her mother’s condition made it impossible for her to care for the children. It was during these placements that Betty learned that her beautiful voice was a blessing to others, as she shared her love of the Lord in song. The orphanage would take Betty on fundraising trips around the Midwest so she could sing to the crowds. In addition to her beautiful voice, she could speak and sing fluently in German, so the many German Baptist churches she visited were most pleased to hear their favorite hymns sung in their native tongue.
Music was ever at the center in Betty’s life. She was often called upon to sing for events and church services. Many old-timers in Billings may remember Mom’s singing for a 1960’s KOOK TV production, put on by the First Covenant Church every Sunday. Sixty years later, her caregivers, at the end of her life, reported that they loved that Betty was always singing and full of joy. Whenever the family traveled, their car trips were full of singing. Her boys continued on with their mother’s love of music, with Bob (now deceased) making opera his career, singing in many major venues around the country.
At the age of 19, Betty married Carl Orth, also of Chicago, on April 3, 1943. Soon after their marriage, Carl was called up to serve in the Navy during WWII. The family enjoys reading the many loving letters Carl sent to his sweetheart during the war. During his deployment in the Pacific, their first son, Carl Phillip, “Skip,” was born in Chicago. A few short years later Robert “Bob” was born, followed by Dale. Carl and Betty had an enormous desire to serve as missionaries in Africa. But as life often dictates, their plans were put on hold. In the meantime, the family moved to Cal Farley Boys Ranch outside of Amarillo, Texas, where both Betty and Carl served the many troubled and abandoned boys placed there. Here, Leonard was born. While serving there, they were visited by Yellowstone Boys Ranch Founder, Franklin Robbie, and recruited to help start the Yellowstone Boys Ranch outside of Billings. In 1957, the family moved to Billings, where Betty and Carl served many capacities in this newly opened Boys Ranch. Betty was mother to scores of boys, and had to have ironed thousands of shirts on a “mangle” as well as an infinite number of other motherly chores. On May 27, 1963, Carl was suddenly taken by cancer. His death left an enormous void in Betty’s life, the lives of her boys, and the many boys they cared for at the Ranch. Throughout her years of being a single mother, she claimed God’s promise in Psalm 68 that God would be a “father to the fatherless, and a judge of the widows.”
It was during this time that Betty made some of her lifelong Billings friends at the First Covenant Church in Billings. Betty sang for many years in the Billings Symphony Chorale and, of course, in her church. During all these years following Carl’s death, Betty continued to work for the Yellowstone Boys Ranch in the town office. Franklin was so kind to allow Betty work hours that would afford her time with her boys, before and after school and during the summers. She was an amazing mother, bearing the many burdens associated with being a single mom without a complaint. Her sons fondly recall her wonderful cooking — providing delicious hot meals every evening and baking cinnamon and caramel rolls almost every Saturday.
When her last son was soon to graduate from high school and leave home, it became clear to her boys that Mom was destined to spend the remainder of her life having to work well into her old age to make ends meet. But only months later, the Lord brought an incredibly loving man into her life, and they were married on August 20, 1974. Myrll Honaker treated mom as the queen that she truly was. For the first time in many years, Mom did not need to worry about how to make ends meet. Mom and Myrll were married for 22 years, before his passing on January 3,1997. Mom’s daughters-in-law (Sherlon, Jane, Sheila and Julie) each were very close to her. A deep love characterized each of their relationships with her. Myrll’s four children, Bill, Alice, Alana and Betty, were loved by Mom. Alice spent many hours with Mom through countless phone calls. Alice and Alana would frequently travel to Phoenix to go “thrifting” with Mom. Betty also enjoyed her many trips back to Chicago for Orth and Sohn reunions, Christmas concerts and entertainment by Bob and Jane, and all the lovely picnics in their back yard with family.
Betty spent her remaining years in Phoenix, Arizona, where she and Myrll had made their home. Though encouraged by her sons to come back to Billings, Betty would always say that she loved her Grace Bible Church, her choir, her home and friends at Freedom Plaza, and she could not feature herself leaving them. However, for many years, she did retreat to the cool Montana summers to live with her kids whom she loved. She especially enjoyed spending time at the cabin built by her Montana boys. Dale built a rock house near the cabin, and Mom served him as the hod carrier on occasion.
Betty passed into her loving Savior’s arms on August 19, 2023, with her youngest son near her side. In the end, on her 99th birthday, Mom told everyone she was 100. We gave it to her. She was preceded in death by her son Bob. She is survived by seven children/stepchildren, 31 grandchildren and 49 great-grandchildren.
Betty’s most lasting legacies are her delight in her children, their spouses, grandchildren and great-grandchildren’s lives, faithfully praying for all of her offspring, and her practice of never complaining — choosing the joy of the Lord as her strength. No matter how difficult life would get, Mom refused to criticize others or complain about her circumstances. She was an absolutely amazing wife, mother, mother-in-law and grandmother, and she shall be missed enormously. We look forward to our reunion — “The trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible.”
Memorials in her name may be made to the Yellowstone Boys and Girls Ranch.