Betty Lampe

When most girls turn 14, they start to think about high school. Betty Lampe didn’t really have a choice: she had to drop out of school.

“My mother said, ‘Girls go to work.’ If they go to high school, then they’ll turn 18,” Lampe said. “Pretty soon they’ll get married. They don’t need an education.”

Originally from Aviston, Ill., Betty Catherine Lampe was born Aug. 24, 1912, to Henry and Anna Altgilbers. She went to grade school in Aviston and one year of high school, attending Mass at St. Francis of Assisi.

Throughout that time, she remembers playing with dolls with tin heads — her family couldn’t afford more expensive toys.

“The only thing we got was a red wagon because we could play with it and use it for work,” Lampe said.

Soon, the young Lampe began taking the train or a long bus ride to Belleville to work. When a Jewish family in St. Louis offered her a job as a nanny, Betty accepted and helped raise their two kids at 3645 Utah Place in South City for two years.

At the age of 18, Betty landed a job at Fontbonne University, helping out in the borders’ dining room with two other girls. She also landed a job at Angelica’s, a textile factory, where she hemmed 24 uniforms an hour.

She found time for fun, too. Although, Betty recalls things costing much less than now.

“I’d spend a dime for (street) car fare — well, each way it was 20 cents — and for 25 cents the ladies got in on Saturday afternoon’s at the ballgame,” Lampe said about Ladies Day at Sportsman’s Park.

In October 1937, Betty and Bernie Lampe were married and bought a five-room home on Kingsland Court in South City. She gave birth to one son, Al, who lives in Washington.

Bernie was a dispatcher at the Greyhound terminal. During the Great Depression, Bernie was forced to take a pay cut. He took home $81 a month.

“Who had a lot of money when it was the Depression in the 1930s?”

Fortunately, they did own a car. Bernie drove to work every day in a gray coupe with a red steering wheel and a rumble seat. They also drove to their parish, Resurrection.

After the Depression, the Lampe’s had more money for entertaiment. Betty recalls listening to Guy Lombardo, Key Kaiser and Ish Kabibble on the radio, which played orchestral music every Saturday night.

She also frequented the Opera, which is more commonly known as The Muny. After a quick dinner on Washington Avenue, Betty and her friends bought quarter seats at the box office.

“We would get there early and read the Post Dispatch,” Lampe said.

Later in the evenings, Betty indulged her sweet tooth, swinging by Ted Drewe’s for plain frozen custard.

Back at home during the winter time, Betty and Bernie used to use a coal furnace to heat their house.

“They dumped the coal in the street,” Lampe said. “Then you had to pay somebody and wheelbarrow it up to the side of the house where there was a chute. After that, you put it into what they called a coal bed.”

When her son Al moved to Washington, Betty and Bernie started taking more trips. In one famous excersion, the couple vacationed in Mexico for 12 days with only a car and a AAA tour book.

Betty lived in her South City home until her husband died. She moved to Our Lady of Life Apartments off Watson Road in St. Louis when she was 71. In September 2007, she transferred to South Pointe assisted living on Old Highway 100 so she could live closer to Al.

Last month, Betty turned 100 years old. Even though she has a great memory, Betty couldn’t recall a reason why she’s lived this long.

“I wish I knew! I didn’t do anything special,” Lampe said. “I’m surprised.”

Betty Lampe’s long life may have shocked her, but it’s one that she’s enjoyed to the fullest.