For Prime Times
AT NEARLY 95 years young, Wheeling resident Betty Karras credits family, lifelong friendships and her giving attitude for her continued good health.
While many of her contemporaries are putting on the brakes, this globe-hopping grandmother is just beginning to ease off the accelerator. She's made several trips to visit family members in their native Greece in the past decade, and until this year she did much of the baking for St. John the Divine Greek Orthodox Church's annual food festival.
One of Betty's most memorable experiences while traveling came in 2001 when she visited family in Greece. She flew out of the country on Sept. 10 a day before the 9/11 terrorist attacks that killed thousands of Americans. She said she only planned to spend about three weeks over there, but ended up staying for nearly two months because of the effect the attacks had on world air traffic.
Betty still lives on her own, drives and does her own grocery shopping. And she wouldn't have it any other way.
"I don't like to be regimented and go to these nursing homes," said Betty, who will mark her 95th birthday on Aug. 10. "I'm very happy here in my own little house."
Betty was born in Martins Ferry in 1914, the daughter of two Greek immigrants. She's lived in the Ohio Valley for most of her life and can remember a time when a loaf of bread cost a nickel. In 1933, she graduated from Wheeling High School as a member of what she said was the largest class ever to come out of that school. That class was known as the "Depression Class," because they were freshmen when the stock market crashed in 1929, touching off the Great Depression.
Betty said she wanted to go to college, but the harsh economic realities of that time made it impossible.
"We didn't have the money," she said. "Everything my dad had went down the drain."
She noted her father started a small painting business during that period to make ends meet, an operation which grew into a fairly large business, she said. And that business was responsible for her meeting the love of her life.
She married her husband Michael in 1940 after a month-long "whirlwind courtship" that began while Michael was working for her father's painting business. Michael was on furlough from the Greek merchant marines, but after he met Betty, he never looked back. He passed away in 1999, and daughter-in-law Debbie Karras said it took plenty of convincing before Betty would ask for help in caring for him.
"She's just an amazing woman," Debbie said.
Betty has two sons, Nick and John, who run the Karras Painting Co., which her husband started 70 years ago. She said their wives, Debbie and Alia, are "better than daughters to her."
She added she loves spending time with grandchildren Nicole, Christopher and Kimberly, and step-grandchildren Derek and Shawn.
"I practically raised them," she said. "They all grew up in this house. That's why I hate to give it up."
Betty said this is the first year she won't be baking for St. John the Divine's food festival, but she'll still attend the event. Some of her most popular culinary creations were baklava and spinach pie. She said she always was active in church affairs, and was instrumental in starting the church choir, which she directed for many years.
"I've done my share, all these years," she said. "But I like doing for people. I'd rather give than receive."
Betty also said she's grateful for the lifelong friendships she's had. She said all six of her bridesmaids were from Wheeling, and she still keeps in contact with the ones who are still living. She said the key to long-term friendships like those are knowing when advice is welcome and when it isn't a skill that's not always easy to master.
BETTY KARRAS of Wheeling, seated, is pictured with her daughters-in-law Debbie, left, and Alia, right at her home. Karras recently turned 95, yet still remains active.