JOLIET – “He lived a complete life.”
That’s what Annie Mae Betts of Joliet said about her husband, Andrew Betts. Andrew’s life was all about Jesus, Annie Mae said, which she believes is about as complete as one can get.
“And he loved his church,” Annie Mae added.
That was Mount Zion Baptist Church in Joliet, which Andrew helped build. Bonnie Winfrey of Joliet said she met Andrew when she used to attend Mount Zion and she called him “a quiet spirit.”
“He never boasted about the things he did. He was just an awesome man of God,” Bonnie said. “He built a legacy of love and a spirit of ‘I can.’ People can look at his life and pattern it after him and know they can go after the things they feel is impossible.”
One of those impossible things Andrew did was helping build Mount Zion after the general contractor had a heart attack, Annie Mae said.
Up until that point, Andrew’s construction experience was limited to the additions he’d built to their family home on Pico Street in Joliet – additions that were needed over time because he and Annie Mae had nine children.
Andrew would always pray before undertaking any task, Annie Mae said. And he prayed to God about building Mount Zion.
“He had to trust God,” Annie Mae said. “And God made a way for it.”
Annie Mae was 17 when she met Andrew. She lived in Mississippi, and Andrew came to Mississippi to visit friends. Annie Mae said Andrew had every quality she wanted in a man, especially kindness and love of God and church.
“We went to church together,” Annie Mae said.
Right from the start, Andrew’s singing voice impressed her. Annie Mae said Andrew sang in church choirs, sang in quartets and sang solos. He had two signature songs, one for her and one for God.
To Annie Mae, Andrew sang Nat King Cole. “I love you for sentimental reasons; I hope you do believe me; I’ll give you my heart.”
To God, Andrew sang the spiritual, “When the gates swing open, I will walk in.”
“He always called me, ‘Baby,’ ” Annie Mae said, “unless he was mad at me. Then he called me ‘Shorty.’ But mostly he called me, ‘Baby.’ ”
They married and moved to Joliet, where Andrew did whatever was needed to provide for his family. For a time, that meant working two jobs: the day shift at Caterpillar and the afternoon shift at Joliet Arsenal, Annie Mae said.
Many days, Andrew had only enough time between shifts to run home and grab a second lunch, Annie Mae said. Despite the long hours, Andrew was an involved father, and Annie Mae said she could not have asked for anyone better.
“He was a disciplined father,” Annie Mae said. “He saw to it that the kids went to church and that they went to school. He taught them the right way, and he never had to get any of them out of jail, which was a good thing. They weren’t perfect, but they were pretty good children.”
When Caterpillar laid off Andrew, he worked construction for a time and then went to Electric Motor Service in LaGrange, where Andrew worked for 25 years before he retired, Annie Mae said.
Yet Andrew still found time to serve as a deacon and trustee at Mount Zion, Annie Mae said. Both roles received the same diligent attention he gave the others.
“There was nothing he wouldn’t do for Mount Zion to save them a dollar,” Annie Mae said. “If a door needed hanging, he’d hang it so he would not have to hire anyone to do it. He did it with his own hands.”
For recreation, Andrew liked bowling and watching Bulls games. Although Andrew attended a few games over the years, he mostly watched them at home because Andrew was a homebody, Annie Mae said.
“We were just country people from the south who came to the north to make this our home,” Annie Mae said.
After Andrew retired, he and Annie Mae moved to Mississippi. There, Andrew built a home for the two of them on the farm where Annie Mae grew up. Amenities included four bedrooms, three bathrooms and a gazebo.
“It was just a big, nice home on the farm,” Annie Mae said.
But they didn’t stay forever. Annie Mae had a stroke, and Andrew was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. They returned to Joliet to be near their children. Andrew was 88 when he died Dec. 10.
Toward the end of his life, Andrew lived at Salem Village Nursing Home & Rehabilitation Center in Joliet. But he continued to call Annie Mae “Baby,” and he continued to sing his two signature songs to her.
“There was never a time he didn’t know who I was,” Annie Mae said. “He always knew.”
• To feature someone in “An Extraordinary Life,” contact Denise M. Baran-Unland at 815-280-4122 or firstname.lastname@example.org.