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Everybody in the Heartland has a Story: Bettye Moroni

Everybody in the Heartland has a Story: Bettye Moroni
Published: May. 24, 2016 at 2:39 PM CDT|Updated: May. 25, 2016 at 2:31 AM CDT
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DESOTO, IL (KFVS) - Live to be 99 years old and you're not only going to see everything, you're going to feel everything.

As a young girl, Bettye Moroni survived a devastating tornado. As a woman, she married the love of her life.

Despair, joy, heartache and love; the ups and downs of the rollercoaster called life.

As she stares at the century mark, Bettye is bracing herself for another hard turn.

Within the confines of a tidy white house on a quiet corner, sits the oldest person in DeSoto, Illinois. It's a moniker that Bettye is proud of, but one that comes at a high cost.

"I have no strength, I can't get up," Bettye laments.

But for Bettye, the biggest price to pay, Father Time, is the one you can't see, but that she sees all too clearly.

Macular degeneration is robbing the 99 year old of her vision. Once an avid reader, cook, gardener and volunteer, Bettye now sits on a couch in her living room for the better part of every day.

"Getting old is shipwreck," she said sarcastically.

Her body may be calling it quits, but Bettye's wit and brain sure aren't.

While her eyes only provide fuzzy images, her mind holds vivid memories. Like those from the Tri-State Tornado of 1925.

The deadly twister started in Missouri and only grew more powerful as it crossed the Mississippi River into Illinois. There were no warnings, but as the skies turned black, teachers called DeSoto students in from the playground.

Bettye's classroom was on the first floor. She remembers the last instructions from her teacher.

"Boys shut the windows, girls take your seats. The next thing I knew, I was in rubble."

Concerned about her brother and older sisters, Bettye climbed out of the rubble that just a minute earlier was a two story schoolhouse.

On the street, she ran into the owner of the town's restaurant, Mr. Tippey.

"I said, 'Mr. Tippey. Did the world come to an end?' He said, 'no, we had a tornado.' I said, 'What's a tornado?'

For Bettye's family, the world did come to an end.

Bettye's sisters died at the school, as did her six-year-old sister who was a home. Her father would die months later from injuries sustained that day.

In all, 69 people in DeSoto were killed, 33 of them children. DeSoto was essentially wiped off the map.

Bettye recalls,

"There wasn't a house left standing," Bettye recalled.

Fast forward to the 1940s and Bettye is married to the love of her life, Jess Moroni. They have a son named Mike. The white house on the corner is filled with love and laughter.

Only able to have one child, Bettye says lovingly, "Mike was the joy of our lives."

In 1955, that joy turned to unspeakable sorrow.

Eight-year-old Mike came home complaining about his legs hurting. Thinking it was growing pains, Bettye took him to a chiropractor.

"He barely touched him," she said. "He looked at me and said, 'This is a very sick little boy.'"

The diagnosis: acute leukemia.

"I read a medical book and it said that acute leukemia was a fatal disease. I closed the book," remembered Bettye.

Days later, they buried their only child in a tiny plot in the DeSoto Cemetery.

"To this day, when I see a little boy, I always take a second look," Bettye said wistfully.

Ann Lockwood has the title of niece, but is more like a daughter to Bettye these days. Ann checks in on Bettye daily, making sure she's ok.

When it's time for Bettye to go to the cemetery to visit Mike, Jess and the rest of her family, it's Ann who gets her there.

"I can't do enough for her. Mostly because she won't let me," laughed Ann.

While it may seem like a prison with Father Time as a cruel warden, Bettye loves the tidy white house on the corner. The house, this town, hold both tragic and beautiful memories that she doesn't need her eyes to see.

"I've had a lot of dark days, the tornado...but I've had a lot of rainbows," Bettye said with a smile.

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