A spry woman who danced to Big Band music at her 90th birthday bash, Betty Reed was a powerhouse. A loyal Purdue alumna and lifelong fan of their women’s basketball team, Betty was, among her many accomplishments, one of the first women to enlist with the US Coast Guard SPARS during World War II; an Indiana farm wife and mother of three who helped her husband manage their 600 acres of corn, soybeans, wheat and livestock; and a well-read librarian until she retired at 75.
“She was my first teacher,” says her eldest, Forrest Reed. “Thanks to her, I was high school valedictorian.” Betty loved music, a passion she shared with her children. “Mom played a lot of records and we sang along,” he recalls. She also encouraged his musical talent playing the drums and piano.
Forrest built his career in marketing and broadcasting, with the music industry at its core, and settled in Sacramento, Cal. But he always remained close to his mother. When Alzheimer’s and ensuing weakness led to a series of falls, culminating in Betty’s hospitalization for a broken femur in January 2016, Forrest flew back to Indiana to take the caregiving load off his sister, Susan. For the next six weeks, he visited his mother daily in rehab. “It was the most time I’d spent with her in 35 years,” he says.
Singing Together, Holding Hands
Having learned of Music & Memory from seeing Alive Inside, Forrest set out to make his mother a playlist of her favorite music: Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Glenn Miller, Willie Nelson’s Stardust album, to name a few. Listening together on her iPod via a splitter, they would sing along, holding hands.
“We shared photo albums from the ’40s, ’50s, ’60s, so many family pictures. I’d pull out the World War II book and she’d share all the personal stories,” says Forrest. They watched the NCAA March Madness tournaments together. Betty sang her favorite tune, “I Love You a Bushel and a Peck,” to all her caregivers.
Finally, Forrest had to fly back home to Sacramento. “I said to my sister, ‘Mom is just really tired. Her time is imminent.’” He left on a Saturday. Susan took off work that Monday, April 18, to visit. Betty didn’t feel much like eating, but she wanted to sing, so Susan sang her the Purdue fight song, “Hail Purdue.” It was the last thing that Betty heard. In that moment, she died of a heart attack. She was 93.
Benefit Concert’s Ripple Effect
To honor his mother’s memory and spread the benefits of Music & Memory near his home in Sacramento, Forrest—who has been organizing top-flight benefit concerts since 1993—co-produced a July 2016 jazz concert that raised $18,500.
That money has helped three MUSIC & MEMORY℠ Certified Care Organizations in and around Sacramento to double their existing programs—Revere Court Memory Care, Support for Home and ACC Care Center. In addition, the revenue helped another eight memory care communities to gain certification and provided their start-up equipment: Sunrise Senior Living of Sacramento, Carmichael, Fair Oaks and Rocklin; SRG Senior Living at River’s Edge, Sacramento; Sierra Ridge Memory Care in Auburn, Cal.; Brookdale Elk Grove, Cal.; and The Hearth at Tudor Gardens, Zionsville, Ind.
“Music & Memory was such a gift for me and Betty,” says Forrest. “I want to give back. That concert may have been the largest ever produced for Music & Memory, but it’s not the last.”
Founded in 2010, MUSIC & MEMORY℠ is a non-profit organization that brings personalized music into the lives of people with cognitive or physical conditions through digital music technology, vastly improving quality of life.