As a revered Lake City hostess, Betsy Small Cheney had the ability to whip up a mean Bloody Mary or superbly dry martini, followed by succulent hors d’oeuvres and mouth-watering main course, all served up with apparent ease and accompanied by a warm smile and southern drawl.
Interspersed in the entertaining mix were hugs, a swirl of cats and canines fondly known as her “hairy children,” and a brilliant smile which made each and every guest at Betsy’s table feel as though you were the sole center of her attention.
Attention to each and every guest — whether they were long-time family friend, new acquaintance or a drop-in at her restaurant — was an essential element of Betsy’s entertaining style.
An invitation to Betsy’s table was considered by each and every one of us as something of a coup and never, ever to be declined.
True to her easy sense of style and within hours of her death from cancer late last month, Betsy was at the center of family, friends and dogs at her Water Tower Hill home overlooking Lake City. True to form, Betsy gestured toward a hanging garment, a sparkling and stylish midnight blue sequined evening gown which she referred to as her “burial dress.”
And, with a soft voice — still very much with a drawl — she dispensed hostess gifts, Kelly Green baseball caps emblazoned with the numerals “256”.
On inquiry, friends were told that as a three-year- old child in Texas, the biggest, most fantastically infinitesimal number which she could possible conceive was 256. Asked how much she loved a particular relative, Betsy flashed that trademark smile and stretched out her arms in an expansive gesture.
“I love you 256!,” she declared.
As a final gesture of her love for family and friends, “256” hats were gifted by Lake City’s legendry hostess.
Diagnosed with cancer in July, 2015, Betsy chose to remain at her Lake City home, tenderly cared for by her daughter, Elizabeth Stuntz. Friends and immediate family, including her younger brother, Dr. Andrew B. Small, and his family, were at her bedside when she died at 7:53 p.m. on Saturday, March 24, 2018.
Present at her death were her brother, Andy, and his wife, Donna, and daughter, Meg; her daughter, Elizabeth, and her children, Molly and Drew, and son and daughter-in-law, Bill and Crissy Cheney, and their son and daughter-in-law, Will and Jen Cheney.
According to family, a Water Tower Hill memorial service for family and friends will be held over Labor Day Weekend, 2018, during which a portion of her ashes will be scattered on the hillside overlooking the town which she loved. The memorial celebration will be followed by a picnic at Carson.
Further details will be announced later.
A memorial service is also planned for Betsy during Texas/OU Weekend in Dallas in October this year.
Memorial contributions are suggested to Lake City Community School.
Nancy Elizabeth Small, daughter of surgeon Dr. Andrew Buchanan Small and his wife, Nancy Elizabeth (Wright) Small, was born in Dallas, Texas, October 31, 1939. The family included a brother, Andrew B. Small, who was three years younger.
Betsy, as she was fondly known since childhood, graduated from suburban Dallas’ Highland Park High School in 1957 and enrolled at prestigious William & Mary University.
She married a Dallas bank executive, Oakley Cheney, March 31, 1959. Asked for her memories of the 1960s, Betsy would laugh and refer to the fact she spent the entire decade “having children.”
Betsy’s eldest son, Bill Cheney, was born in 1960, followed by middle child Spencer Cheney, who was born in 1964, and the youngest, Elizabeth, who arrived in 1968.
Betsy’s skill in the culinary arts and ease at entertaining were derived in large degree from her role as the wife of a bank executive. After marriage, and while Oakley Cheney was still enlisted with the U.S. Marine Corps, the couple lived at Quantico, near Triangle, Virginia, where Bill was born.
Cheney’s administrative work with First National Bank of Dallas was largely based in Dallas, although for two years he and Betsy lived in London’s Kensington district headquartered at Thurlow Square across from the Victoria & Albert Museum.
Betsy’s life in London engendered a life-long love of England and travel in general.
Back in Dallas, and prior to the couple’s divorce in the late 1970s, the Cheneys and Bill Breedlove, also a Dallas bank executive, and his family shared family vacations at Vickers Ranch south of Lake City.
The couples also rented cabins at Dan and Louise Lynn’s Texan Resort prior to acquiring summer homes in the area. The Breedloves built a cabin overlooking the Lake Fork Valley at San Juan Ranch. The Cheneys bought their Water Tower Hill home overlooking Lake City from Bud Valentine in 1976.
Water Tower Hill, as the name would suggest, is the location of the Town of Lake City’s water tower and is also the well-known vantage point for fireworks each July 4 and, in more recent years, a New Year’s Eve fireworks display.
For years, Betsy timed a gala evening dinner party on July 4, with guests spilling out onto the home’s outside decks for a rare view, the smell of powder and reverberations of the exploding fireworks, from beneath the dazzling light show.
Betsy moved to Lake City on a full-time basis in 1983 and almost immediately utilized her culinary and entertaining abilities at a restaurant in one of John Parker’s recently renovated historic buildings in downtown Lake City.
She created a classy but informal living room atmosphere with her 1880 Tea Room & Social Parlor which was located in the ground floor room of the Hough Block now remodeled as the Mary Stigall Theater.
The restaurant served up memorable food and social interaction for two years, 1983 and 1984. Among the events which the 1880 Tea Room annually hosted was the Victorian Banquet, a fundraiser for Hinsdale County Museum.
Betsy’s warm and welcoming drawl was familiar at the old Lake Fork Restaurant at Lake Fork Ranch where she briefly worked as hostess. In the mid-1990s, she assisted Paul and Lynn Hudgeons in retail sales when they owned the Sportsman in Wade’s Addition.
She also dabbled in the fashion business with a custom dress business, Nada Fashions, which was headquartered in Lake City in the late 1980s.
The love of Betsy’s life, according to her daughter, Elizabeth, was a Virgin, Utah, ranch owner named Curtis S. Scarritt who raised champion race horses on his ranch. Curtis and Betsy divided their time between Lake City and Utah for six years prior to his death in 1991.
As a write-in candidate, she was elected to the first of two four-year terms as trustee for the Town of Lake City in 1988, and was re-elected in 1992.
Betsy is termed an “amazing cook” by family and friends, her specialties including Lemon Caper Chicken and Pimento Cheese, as well as Etouffee Belmar which is a chocolate dessert with Grand Marnier sauce.
She was especially proud of her near life-long membership in the Dallas Junior League, a women’s philanthropic organization.
Her other interests included shopping, with an especially keen eye for leggings, shoes, and handbags, and was a formidable bridge player. Betsy was part of the local bridge-playing group which met one to two times a week for much of the year, other players including Linda Walker, Kay Ringold, Peggy Bales, Bill and Lorie Stewart, Karen McClatchie, Patsi Cotten, Lisa Gray, and Deb Mock.
An avid traveller, she visited countries throughout the world, daughter Elizabeth noting, “I don’t think there was a country she didn’t visit.”
Favorite trips included a trek to see Buchanan Castle in Scotland in 2002, frequent trips throughout the British Isles, China with son Bill, New Zealand, and Australia. Oddly enough, its wasn’t until late in life, in 2016, on a trip back from a medical appointment in the San Luis Valley, that Betsy witnessed her first shooting star.
In recent years she travelled extensively on trips to spend time with her grandchildren, and family in Texas.
Betsy Cheney’s survivors are her sons, Bill Cheney, and his wife Crissy, who live in Santa Ana, California, and Spencer Cheney, McKinney, Texas, and her daughter, Elizabeth Stuntz, Lake City.
Betsy’s grandchildren are Catherine Blake Cheney and her husband, U.S. Air Force Captain Eric Gobrecht, of Sacramento, California; William Buchanan Cheney and his wife, Jen, in Colorado Springs; Parker Cheney and Preston Cheney, respectively university students at Baylor and Louisiana State University; Andrew Buchanan Stuntz, Bellingham, Washington; U.S. Army Sergeant William Votaw Stuntz and his wife, Anna, of Junction City, and Molly Stuntz, a freshman at Mesa State University in Grand Junction.
Betsy also has one great grandchild, 1-year old Evelyn Stuntz, and a second who is expected in June.
Also surviving are Betsy’s younger brother, Dr. Andy B. Small, and his wife, Donna, and her niece and nephew, Meg Derryberry and her husband, Doug, of McKinney, Texas, and Dr. Andrew Small, Dallas.