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Elizabeth Wetzel

November 7, 1915 ~ March 10, 2018 (age 102)


“I got the good out of it,” Betty Wetzel reflected shortly before her death at age one hundred two at her home in Bigfork last week.

Named Elizabeth Preat, she was born November 7, 1915, in Roundup, Montana to Alfred W. and Rachel “Preat” Johnston Eiselein.  Her father had arrived on the first Chicago, Milwaukee Railroad train into the new town of Roundup in 1908 to establish a weekly newspaper, The Roundup Record.  Her mother was the daughter of ranchers in the nearby Little Snowy Mountains, who had come to the new state of Montana in 1891. It was Betty’s experiences while growing up in the lively town of immigrant coal miners, cattle and sheep-ranchers and dry-land wheat farmers and summers spent at the family ranch that sparked her lifelong love of Montana and interest in the state’s history.


After graduating from Roundup high school in 1933, she earned a degree in journalism from the University of Montana.  Curiosity about the east coast led her to get a job in New York City the next year.  Returning to Roundup to work on the family newspaper, she met Winston. W. Wetzel, principal at the high school when she recruited him to play the hero in a home-talent melodrama entitled, “Gold in the Hills, or The Dead Sister’s Secret.” “He looked better than anything I had seen in New York,” she recalled.  They were married in 1940.


The Wetzels lived throughout Montana for 26 years while Winston was superintendent of schools in Roundup, Glendive, Whitefish and Missoula and their four children, Susan, Kurt, Gretchen, and Rebecca were born.  Her children and their families were to become Betty’s greatest lifelong delight.


In 1966, the Wetzels moved from Missoula to Dacca, East Pakistan (now Bangladesh), where Winston headed up an education project for the University of Chicago and the Ford Foundation.  Betty got a job with the SEATO Cholera Research Laboratory in Dacca.


After extensive travel in southeast Asia, they returned to the U.S. in two years, settling in Stony Point, N.Y. and Natick, MA where Winston continued in school administration until retiring to build a home on Flathead Lake in Montana in 1978.  In Massachusetts, Betty was administrative assistant to the vice president of Wellesley college, and later the first director of public relations for the newly established Oxfam-America, and international development organization.


In retirement Betty became a free-lance writer, and a regular contributor to Montana Magazine. Her book, “Missoula, the Town and the People,” was published and she wrote a history of her mother’s family.


In 1983-84 the Wetzels took a trip around the world following Mark Train’s lecture tour to the British Colonies in 1895—96.  Betty’s book “After You Mark Twain-modern journey around the equator,” was published by Fulcrum press in 1990.


That year the Wetzels celebrated their golden wedding with members of the family hiking to Sperry Chalet in Glacier National Park for an overnight stay and engaging in a round-robin tennis tournament.


An ardent reader and student of politics and government, Betty was devoted to social justice.  She was a democrat.  She was interested in the arts and decorated her home with objects collected from their travels around the world.  One of her joys was playing classical music on the piano for her own enjoyment.  She carried on a worldwide correspondence with friends and members of her family throughout her life.


Winston died in 1997. Survivors include three daughters, Susan Hinman, Dana Point, CA, Gretchen Grafin von Rittberg, Wuppertal, Germany, and Rebecca, Upton MA, and a son, Dr. Kurt W. Wetzel, Hornby Island, British Columbia.  There are six grandchildren and four great grandchildren. All, along with their mates return frequently to Flathead Lake.


At Betty’s request there will be no public service. At a later date friends will gather at Betty’s home to greet her family and celebrate her long life.   Memorials can be made to the Bigfork Public Library. Friends are encouraged to visit our website at to leave notes of condolences for the family. Buffalo Hill Funeral Home and Crematory caring for the family.



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