Elizabeth "Betty" Stone (1908 - 2008)

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Elizabeth "Betty" Stone died March 17, 2008, in Middleton, R.I., just a few days after her 100th birthday.

She was born on March 9, 1908, in Newport, R.I., to German immigrants Paul Schoentzeler and his wife, Suzanne Firnges Schoentzeler. Betty was the youngest of six children.

Her father was a kindly man who worked at a barbershop and would bicycle from mansion to mansion, cutting hair for wealthy families like the Vanderbilts. Her mother was a stern woman, said to have learned healing arts from gypsies in the Black Forest, who often nursed ailing neighbors with folk remedies.

As a child, Betty especially loved the Christmas parties put on by Newport's German fraternal organizations. She received beautiful porcelain-faced dolls, which sparked her lifelong love of collecting dolls.

When the United States entered World War I, the German community became the target of animosity and discrimination, and the German clubs disbanded. Betty recalled that once in school, her teacher asked all the children to write the words to "The Star Spangled Banner." Betty forgot some of the words. "I suppose that's because you're German," the teacher said. Betty broke into tears. The principal made the teacher apologize.

Betty was artistic but she had practical business sense. Throughout her life, Betty owned and operated small businesses -- a gift shop in Newport, dress boutiques in New Jersey, and an antiques shop in Jamestown, R.I.

She met her husband, Robert "Bob" Stone, at a party in the early 1930s. He walked in while she was singing a popular song, and he asked her to sing it again. He was a tall, charismatic Englishman who had traveled to exotic places like Egypt and India as a personal assistant to the millionaire owner of a margarine company.

After a rocky engagement, they married in East Hampton, N.Y. They lived for seven years in Greenwich Village in New York City, enjoying a bohemian life, parties and many friends. Betty and Bob told how during the Depression, everyone was so poor, they would pile all their belongings into a taxi cab to skip out on the last month's rent.

During World War II, Bob went into the Merchant Marine, and Betty ran a dress shop in New York.
Throughout their lives, Betty saved money while Bob spent it in flamboyant ways. He went bankrupt and once attempted suicide. Betty saved his life, and then found him work, decorating for a wealthy client.

In the 1950s, they lived in Cedar Knolls, N.J., and Bob worked as an interior decorator for wealthy New Yorkers. He decorated the Delmonico Hotel restaurant and bar, and several of its residences, including Ed Sullivan's. One year Bob got the contract to decorate the tall Christmas tree in Rockefeller Center.

Bob and Betty had no children but "adopted" her nephew, Gordon Schontzler and his young family. They were especially supportive when Gordon came down with a mild case of polio. Gordon named his first son after Bob Stone.

Betty was widowed in 1975, but continued to be active, running an antique shop into her 80s. She lived in Jamestown, R.I., and enjoyed the senior center, bingo and her antique dolls.

She spent her final years in the Green Island Center nursing home in Middleton, R.I., where her 100th birthday was celebrated on March 9. It was a bittersweet occasion because of her failing health. She had said for years that she wanted to live to be 100, and she made it.

Her family remembers Betty for her kindness, sense of humor, generosity, strength and independent spirit. She was an inspiration to us.

Her survivors include niece, Pat Crowell of Jamestown; Gordon and Lessie Schontzler of Santa Barbara; JoAnne Schontzler of Carlsbad, Calif.; Gail Schontzler and Keith McCafferty of Bozeman; Robert and Tina Stone of Pasadena, Calif.; James and Shelley Schontzler of Pullman, Wash.; Jackie Schontzler of Lilburn, Ga.; Rusty and Shirley Schontzler of Aiken, S.C.; and many great-grand-nieces and nephews.
Published in Bozeman Daily Chronicle on Mar. 25, 2008
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