Betty Mauk (1918 - 2012)

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(NEWS ARTICLE) Betty Mauk, an untiring and persistent champion of an unobstructed downtown Toledo riverfront accessible to all and a Francophile nonpareil who with her creperie brought a touch of Paris to Promenade Park - which was largely her creation - died Tuesday in Kingston Residence of Sylvania. She was 93.

Mrs. Mauk, formerly of Sulphur Springs Road in Ottawa Hills, lived in the nursing facility the last 5½ years. The cause of death was not known, but "she'd been slowed down for quite a time," her daughter Becky Powell said.

Mrs. Mauk in the early 1970s didn't know many government or business leaders, yet she contacted the Toledo urban renewal agency with an idea for a riverfront park. Promenade Park opened in 1972 as a small parcel at the foot of Madison Avenue.

"It was really some old railroad ties and plants we planted," said J. Michael Porter, then commissioner of parks who later was city manager.

She had a wider view, and through dogged effort and persuasive and persistent phone calls to decision-makers and community leaders, including Paul Block Jr., the late co-publisher of The Blade, the park became a community attraction. She spent much time during that period hectoring and cajoling public officials into taking her calls and making her dream a reality.

"Having been inspired by the beautiful riverfront parks in France, my concept for Toledo consisted of trees, flowers, foot paths, ponies, boat rides, theatrical activities, music, and crepes - all with the unobstructed view of the river," Mrs. Mauk wrote in 1986 to The Blade Readers' Forum. "In the beginning we did it all at the foot of Madison for a cost of $17,000."

There was another element.

"She was just as persistent as you could ever want to be," said Mr. Porter, who has called her "the mother of Promenade Park."

"She had a vision, and she wasn't about to give up until it became more than that," he said.

She had access to the full sweep of Toledo, including old money, politicians, and city administration.

'A little feisty'

She was indefatigable, agreed former Mayor Doug DeGood.

"She was a little feisty from time to time, but you have to be that way when you are trying to tackle something of that substance and magnitude," Mr. DeGood said.

A particular draw in the early years was La Creperie, a stand where she made and sold the light pancakes popular in France. The stand actually was a trailer that the city had used as a bandstand. Then she imported a French kiosk - or "colonne Moriss" in France - round, 12 feet high, to hold notices of cultural events.

"It was one thing after another. Not only did she want the park to be developed, but she wanted programs in the park," Mr. Porter said.

"She brought all sorts of groups to entertain. She was delightful. That's why she was so good. You couldn't get mad at her. She would charm you to death.

"Most of the time, you did things for her because you wanted to, not because you felt you had to," Mr. Porter said. "She was so special."

The 'kitchen activist'

For much of her married life, Mrs. Mauk was a housewife, but she broke out of that role in a bold way. A 1989 Toledo Magazine profile was headlined "Betty Mauk: The kitchen activist."

Mrs. Mauk and her husband, William, bought a boat, Arawanna II, and in the 1970s offered river rides to passengers from Promenade Park.

The park in time stretched from the Martin Luther King, Jr., Bridge to Monroe Street.

"She loved Toledo and wanted everybody, anybody, of all levels of life, to enjoy the waterfront," her daughter said. "She wanted to have the waterfront be seen from Summit Street, so everybody could enjoy the beauty of the river, visually."

In 1973, Mayor Harry Kessler named her chairman of his committee on waterfront development.

She and Mr. Block used to walk along the river downtown and talk about revitalization, she told The Blade in 1989.

"I think he was the only person that I have known who was as interested" in downtown planning as she was, she said then.

The northwest Ohio chapter of the American Marketing Association gave her a "marketer of the year" award in 1974 in recognition of her efforts to bring life and culture to downtown Toledo.

In 1975, the Toledo chapter of Women in Communications Inc. gave her a Headliner Award as a person whose achievements received extensive news coverage.

Changes to waterfront

But the waterfront did not remain obstruction-free: The construction of One SeaGate in the early 1980s as the headquarters building for Owens-Illinois Inc., was followed by the former Toledo Trust headquarters. Then came a riverfront hotel and the ill-fated Portside Festival Marketplace.

Mrs. Mauk formed Toledoans for an Open Waterfront - TOW - and admitted frustration as construction marched ahead.

"I am a very bitter woman," Mrs. Mauk told The Blade in 1983. "I am bitter at myself for not being able to sell to the corporations that there is something in this world that is more important than profits."

A dispute with the health department had closed La Creperie four years earlier.

Later in the 1980s, she unsuccessfully challenged the building of restrooms at the foot of Jefferson Avenue.

When Portside failed, Mrs. Mauk in the early 1990s spearheaded another group called the Downtown Rooters - its mascot was a Vietnamese pot-bellied pig named Alvin - to rouse grassroots support against the conversion of the building to a science center. The group failed to gather enough petition signatures to force a ballot issue.

To her delight, one long-term obstruction was demolished in 2001: the 39-year-old glass-and-steel Federal Building on Summit.

"I've never been happier in my life," Mrs. Mauk said at the time.

On balance, "she was very satisfied with her life and what she achieved for Toledo," her daughter said. "And very thankful that she was able to do what she did."

Mrs. Mauk retained her interest in issues of civic importance. She was aware that in the 1970s, Clear Water Inc., a nonprofit agency, had been a force for cleaning up the Maumee River basin. In 1989, she contacted John D. Willey, a retired assistant publisher of The Blade who'd been Clear Water president, and asked to reactivate the group to tackle water quality problems in Swan Creek. She became its president.

She was born into the high society of Toledo, during the heyday of the fashionable Old West End.

Part of her success was that she traveled in the high society circles of Ottawa Hills and Perrysburg, which included The Blade's late Society Editor Dorothy Rainie, among others.

The first public flowering of her interest in all things French was her founding in 1964 of Alliance Francaise in Toledo, which emphasized the teaching and appreciation of French language and culture.

The French consul general in Detroit in 1973 presented her a silver medal for her efforts on behalf of the French government.

She was 18 when she made her first trip to France, an Atlantic Ocean voyage with her Uncle Jim and Aunt Mary Blair, and returned at least 50 times.

"She felt France was her second home," her daughter said.

Her uncle was the first chairman of Libbey-Owens-Ford Inc.

She was born Dec. 15, 1918, in Toledo, the youngest of eight. Her mother, Josephine Wright Blair, died during her birth. Her father, Albert Blair, Jr., whose father founded a family-run coal business, died five months later in the post-World War I-flu pandemic that swept the globe. Several of the older Blair children went to live with Uncle Jim and Aunt Mary at their home on Scottwood Avenue in the Old West End.

Betty and the younger children lived with their never-married aunts Nackie Wright and Elizabeth Wright on Robinwood Avenue.

When Betty got married, the Wright sisters held the wedding reception in their home.

"What impressed me about her was her strength," her daughter said. "She was a very strong-willed person and a strong person. She loved my father deeply. She was a wonderful wife to him and had a tender heart."

And her husband, William, a life insurance sales leader, supported her pursuits.

Her experience growing up taught her to be strong.

"It would be hard not to have someone to call a mother," her daughter said.

Mrs. Mauk had a privileged upbringing, attending the former Smead School for Girls, which became Maumee Valley Country Day School, and the elite Connecticut boarding school Westover School in Middlebury. She also attended Mount Vernon College in Washington.

She was a member of the Junior League of Toledo.

She was a former docent at the Toledo Museum of Art and took classes there. She had a particular talent for sketching.

She liked jazz and the Toledo Symphony. She was a French cook and tended a French garden.

And she continued to exercise and take ballet at the University of Toledo until she was 80.

"She was a multicultural person," her daughter said.

She and her husband, William, married Oct. 18, 1941. He died March 13, 2007.

Surviving are her sons, William, Jr., and Blair Mauk; daughters, Catherine Mather and Becky Powell; seven grandchildren, and two great-granddaughters. Son William Mauk, Jr., was the former deputy administrator of the Small Business Administration during Jimmy Carter's presidency.

There will be no visitation. Memorial services will be at 11 a.m. July 23 in Trinity Episcopal Church in downtown Toledo, where she was a member.

The family suggests tributes to the Hospice of Northwest Ohio, the Toledo Museum of Art, or the Westover School.

Contact Mark Zaborney at: mzaborney@theblade.com or 419-724-6182.
Published in Toledo Blade on June 27, 2012
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