Betty Diehl was born November 29, 1936, and passed February 1, 2024, with music and the laughter of great-grandchildren in her ears, while holding a family member’s hand. She led a full life, meeting challenges with determination, opportunities with gratitude, and under it all, a joyful spirit.

Of Finnish heritage, Betty was raised with, and embraced, the concept of Finnish ‘sisu’ – stoic determination, tenacity of purpose, grit, bravery, resilience, and hardiness. She knew just one phrase in Finnish – “Christmas has come and gone” – but she repeated it with relish.

She was born to Nellie Spanger and Everett Husu in Sacramento, CA. She and her sister, Ina Mae Husu Rathert, were raised on a peach ranch in Citrus Heights by her father and stepmother, Adeline Husu (Aunt Ad); while sharing time with her mother and stepfather, Ralph Spanger, in Roseville. She was young during World War II and remembered the times well, especially Aunt Ad sewing her saddle shoes together in the evening before the next school day, and her accident with rat poison that ruined their ration of sugar for a month. She delighted in memories of good times – packing peach boxes, swimming in the neighbor’s rock swimming pool and with her cousins in the irrigation ditches in Red Bluff, navigating the stairs that creaked at the ranch house, playing endless games with her older sister, and the smells of peach trees in the heat and Aunt Ad’s baking.

She sang her first solo at 5 years old at Advent Lutheran Church, learning young what Martin Luther said some 500 years ago: “Beautiful music is one of the most magnificent and delightful gifts God has given us.”

In high school, Betty acted in plays and musicals, and sang with school groups and at her commencement. After graduation, she attended junior college learning secretarial skills that led to a job in Sacramento at the Department of Food and Agriculture, commuting by bus from Citrus Heights. She left the job of meat safety behind, but saw shorthand as a skill for life, especially to thwart her nosy children.

She met William Diehl when he served as vicar at Advent Lutheran, near the final stage of becoming a Lutheran minister. They were married on Christmas Day, 1956, where she wore a wedding dress made by her Aunt Ad.

They lived briefly in St. Louis and Vacaville, and she began learning the ropes of being a pastor’s wife. They received a call to be pastor at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church in Ferndale, where they served until his death in 1983. She often recalled the view as they motored their Volkswagen bug over Fernbridge for the first time, thinking, “This will be a good place to live,” and she continued to think that over the next 65 years, never failing to relish that view.

What a pastor’s wife she was. Bill noted in his resume to St. Mark’s that his wife was capable of leading group singing, and lead it she did. She sought out music that Sunday School and Vacation Bible School kids would find both fun and meaningful (and she made the singing fun and meaningful, too); she directed a church choir and a junior choir; she sang for a billion weddings and funerals. She learned to accept being judged with good humor from the very first, when she was reproached for wearing petal pushers (that’s slacks for you younger folks) instead of a dress, and she always did what she believed was right. She welcomed everyone into her home, from tea with the most venerable older folks to innumerable grilled cheese sandwiches with the young navy guys after church.

Her faith was an integral part of her life and who she was. While open to new ideas and changing social norms she did her best to not judge others, finding in Bible studies a guideline for living as Christ did, especially, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. (This is the first and greatest commandment.) And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself.” Grace and mercy, a welcoming spirit, and actions that show a God of love as lived by Christ, were what she loved about her church community. She recommended singing one’s heart out for the joy of it all.

In preparation for Easter one year, she got the choirs of St. Mark’s and Our Savior’s together for a concert. It was so well received, and people had so much fun, they did it again for Christmas, and then more people wanted to join in the singing, and the Ferndale Community Choir was born. After the death of her husband – when her whole life changed from that of a pastor’s wife with church housing to that of a young(ish) woman with four kids and a one-day-a-week job – music, and especially the choir, was a constant source of inspiration and joy. It was during this time that the Chameleon Singers also came into existence – singing at the drop of a hat for anything and anyone. Directing the Chameleons at Ferndale Memorial Day commemorations and the Tree Lighting were two of her very favorite things to do.

Betty began working “full time” at Becker Insurance, where she skidded in the door at 10:00 and had a sign on her desk that said Day Sleeper. She loved her job, the Becker family, and the opportunity to see so many people in Ferndale from her “window on the world.”

She was honored to be on the board of the Bertha Russ Lytel Foundation for about 40 years and was immensely proud of the work the Foundation does. Her monthly routines revolved around rehearsals on Thursdays, and the Lytel Foundation on the second Wednesday of the month.

Music was part of her throughout her life. She sang songs to wake her kids, tell them to get in the car, and say good night. She had a song for virtually everything, and when the lyrics didn’t fit, she’d make some up. She sang while washing dishes to the chagrin of her kids, who came in all horrified to say, “People can hear you outside!” When she wasn’t well enough to lead singing in recent years, people came to her – with Christmas caroling, euphonium and trombone concerts in her front yard, ukuleles (and a tiny banjo!) in the living room, hymns on her piano, songs sung over the phone, flute, and any number of voices.

Betty directed the Ferndale Community Choir for 50 years, performing sacred music with over 600 people over that time commuting to Ferndale from as far as Petrolia, Trinidad, and Hydesville. She selected a diverse mix of music that was challenging for singers and musicians, while still accessible and meaningful to listeners. She directed with emotion and joy, imbuing music and hearts with feeling – choral music for the soul.

In January 2017, the choir was invited to sing Handel’s Messiah with singers from around the world at Carnegie Hall that November. Distinguished Concerts International NY found videos of choir performances on YouTube, and the invitation was issued without an audition. Betty studied past performances so she would know how the concert would sound with a symphony behind the singers, got to know the director’s style and inflections, and put together the most prepared choir there that year. The people of Ferndale and Humboldt County showed extraordinary support by raising a significant amount of the money needed to fund the trip, and 53 singers had the opportunity to sing at one of the most celebrated concert venues in the United States.

Betty loved getting together with the Choir Gals – Bev Carlson, Loretta Alexandre, Kristy Winkelhaus, and daughter Susan – after rehearsals for a snack and a sip. She sang with a number of local groups, from Bill Fales’ Bluegrass Band to the Redwoods Chorale; from West Broadway Company (where her rendition of Flamin’ Agnes brought the audience to their feet) to the Humboldt Light Opera Company. She and a group of friends caroled at hospitals and rest homes on Christmas Day in the evening for more than 25 years; and with Bev Carlson, daughter Susan, and a flexible few others, went Halloween caroling on a regular route ending up at a party at the Bansen’s.

There are so many things to say about Betty – she was fun and she was funny, she was whole-hearted; a fiercely loyal friend, resilient in challenges, a careful driver, an insatiable box-saver (but this is a good box!), an ice cream lover, a late-in-life Perry Mason enthusiast. She loved travel and adventure, spontaneous detours, hours-long croquet games in the backyard after a picnic, watching waves at Centerville, gardening, playing softball and basketball, walking with her friends, and playing cards. She was delighted that she had a line in the Outbreak film – and even more delighted when a friend living in Kyoto, Japan recognized her on a movie poster ad, as well as the time a young man who was visiting Ferndale found out where she lived and knocked on her door asking for an autograph. She was an artist, in watercolors and colored pencils, and spent many happy artistic and laughing hours with her scofflaw friends, Sharon and Ruth. She loved her family. She loved her home in Ferndale and thought she was the luckiest person ever to be able to live in such a town.

Betty was sturdy in mind, spirit, and body, until her first illness in 2020. She regained her health after facing polymyalgia rheumatica, and managed heart problems. She beat breast cancer after nearly a year of chemotherapy, which she told a consulting doctor at UCSF was “quite enjoyable” – because they brought her a warm blanket and hot chocolate. When brain cancer was discovered, she faced it and radiation treatments with ‘sisu’ and a sense of humor about the weird things her brain would do. She retained grace, laughter, and dignity to the end. She was never alone; she was deeply touched by the people who cared for her, and her family and friends are grateful for the time we had to spend with her, to let her know how much she is loved.

Betty’s kids have many people to thank – the wonderful friends who came to stay with Mom when we couldn’t be there, those who brought music and laughter (and endless toffee, for which reason we are all now on a diet). Her doctors and the nurses at St. Joseph Medical Oncology and Radiology were wonderful and always helpful. Dr. Mary Mahoney is treasured as a source of solid information, strength, and encouragement. The ladies at the Breast and GYN Health Project made the introduction to living with cancer and all its variables easier and hopeful and provided ongoing personal support. And we thank the beyond-wonderful people with Hospice of Humboldt, especially Steve, who walked us through how Hospice works, and helped us ensure Mom’s death was peaceful and dignified.

Betty leaves behind her four children with grandchildren and great-grandchildren: Susan with grandchild Shane, great-grandchild Cierra with partner Mike and great-great-grandchild Vivian, and great-grandchild Bailey with husband Josh; Karl and daughter-in-law Christy; Bill with grandchild Chad and great-grandchild Wyatt, and grandchild Sara with great-grandchildren Ayla and Moose; and Michael, with grandchild Amber and husband Anthony, and great-grandchildren Ashem, Noelle, and Mae; grandchild Ashliegh with her partner Bryan #2, and grandchild Emily with her partner Bryan #1.

She leaves behind treasured members of the Husu clan, cousins Pat and Dorothy, nieces Jeanne and husband Luis, Hannah with husband Travis and baby-on-the-way, and dear extended cousins well-remembered from Finn Family Fun Reunions. She also leaves behind her cherished brother- and sister-in-law Richard and Peggy Diehl, and the remarkable Diehl nieces and nephews across the country.

She was preceded in death by her much-loved parents, her husband and partner in ministry William Diehl, her beloved sister Ina, her son-in-law Ralph, and a number of treasured cousins and in-laws.

Betty saw music – making it or listening to it – as an essential part of life, bringing people together as nothing else can. A scholarship fund for the benefit of current and aspiring musicians is being created at Humboldt Area Foundation to assist with formal education costs, lessons and training, and the purchase of instruments. Until the fund is set up, donations earmarked for the fund may be made to the Ferndale Community Choir, a 501(c)(3) organization, at P. O. Box 67, Ferndale CA 95536.

Betty will be laid to rest beside her husband in Ferndale at a private gathering in March. A memorial service at Our Savior’s Lutheran Church in Ferndale will be held on Saturday, July 27, at 11 a.m., followed by a celebration of her life (with ice cream) at the Ferndale Community Center. Betty would remind you to mark this date on your calendar, in pen. And to be aware that singing may occur.


The obituary above was submitted on behalf of Betty Diehl’s loved ones. The Lost Coast Outpost runs obituaries of Humboldt County residents at no charge. See guidelines here.