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Life Story Funeral Homes®
The exclusive providers of the Life Story Experience

Elizabeth Gerstner

July 8, 2016
Kalamazoo, MI




Gerstner MD, Elizabeth 4/15/1930 - 7/8/2016 Kalamazoo Dr. Elizabeth 'Betty' Osborne Gerstner was a Michigan native, having been born in Flint in 1930 where her father, a mechanical engineer, worked in the automotive industry and her mother taught school. With the advent of the Great Depression and its deleterious effect on industry, the family migrated to Texas. Both mother and father found employment as teachers in Dallas, where they lived until World War II, before moving back to Detroit and eventually settling in the Chicago area.

"Both of my parents were very musically oriented, although they taught other subjects in school," Betty has said, "My father conducted the Dallas Teachers' Orchestra, and they often rehearsed in our living room. I began playing the flute when I was 12, and had already learned the piano--and eventually taught myself the accordion."

Betty served two terms as the president of the Kalamazoo Chamber Music Society in the 1980's. "I was exposed to classical music at an early age. I always wanted an accordion as a child, but classical music and that instrument are not a very good fit. There were also financial considerations in those days, because teachers in Dallas were not at the top of the salary range. So I didn't get my accordion until the first Christmas after Dick and I were married."

Betty chose medicine over music because "frankly my younger sister Karen was better at it than I was, so she got to use the piano more. I also wasn't sure I would have the patience to do the same thing over and over again, which you must do in order to become proficient on an instrument."

Instead, Betty focused on becoming a doctor, a career decision she reached at the age of 15. After high school, her first step was an undergraduate degree from Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota. The second step was to attend medical school at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. It was here that she met fellow med student and her future husband Richard Gerstner. They met over a cadaver, and while it may not have been love at first sight it was not the most romantic of settings were married a year later, when both were 2nd year med students.

Soon after they were married, they were told by a world expert on fertility that Betty would probably never have children. That expert urged her to drop out of medical school and try to conceive. Dropping out was out of the question because it was her ambition to become a doctor.

"However, because of this information from the fertility expert," Betty's husband Dick recalled in a long-ago interview with Michigan's Encore magazine, chuckling at the memory, "we stopped using any kind of contraception during our internships. We had four children in six years."

"I felt very strongly that I couldn't work full time and raise children." Therefore, Betty practiced her profession in Kalamazoo beginning in 1962 primarily as a contract physician for the city in several capacities, including conducting well-baby clinics for Bronson Hospital, serving as Medical Director of the County Health Department, directing local family-planning clinics, doing consultation work in the field of mental health, and working as a school physician as well. "I can remember when I was in med school, "Betty said in an interview from the early 2000's, "there were only six women in our class of 200, and one of them was from China and returned to her homeland. The number of women in medicine has increased dramatically. The ratio is now 50:50 at some medical schools."

She didn't remember instances of being discriminated against because of her gender, nor being a victim of chauvinism. "But I also wasn't looking for it, and might not have recognized it. If you wanted to argue about it, you could always find an argument. But if you were more interested in learning what was being taught and in why you were there in the first place, you didn't necessarily run into problems. At least I didn't."

To her children, Dr. Gerstner was the mother who could do just about anything, on time and under budget. She sewed her own dress for a medical school dance and later modified it into her wedding dress. She could go to work in the morning, cook dinner in the afternoon, and stitch up your injured chin, (hockey, of course), on her kitchen table later that night. She reupholstered the couch and refinished the furniture.

Betty had a keen artistic sense which she expressed in her photography and award-winning gardening. She had always taken snapshots, but became serious about photography in the early 1970's. She would escape to the darkroom for hours and emerge with beautiful black & white or full-color prints of anything from a flower outside the window to scenes from her many world travels.

Betty and Dick were partners in adventure as well as in medicine. When she tried to surprise him with a bicycle for his 40th birthday--she thought he could use the exercise--Dick surprised her by bringing home a motorcycle for himself. Betty decided she liked the idea and got one of her own. They loved touring on those bikes, and did so frequently over the next 20 years. The Gerstners also traveled extensively as a family, including an epic 6-week-long Volkswagen minibus tour throughout Europe--2 adults with 4 kids & 2 five pound buckets of Shed's peanut butter in tow. The whole family loved sports as well, enjoying snowmobiling and skiing in the winter and sailing and waterskiing in the summer.

Betty was preceded in death by Dick in October of 2015. They had been married for 62 years. Dr. Richard Gerstner was a lifelong resident of Kalamazoo and delivered an estimated 8,500 babies over the course of his career, which spanned 45 years. Dr. Richard Gerstner was the son of Dr. Louis Gerstner, a longtime Kalamazoo doctor who founded the laboratory at Bronson Methodist Hospital. She was also preceded in death by her parents, Ruth Farnham Osborne and Sheridan Osborne.

Elizabeth Osborne Gerstner, MD, 86, passed away peacefully on Friday, July 8th, 2016. According to her wishes, Dr. Gerstner has been cremated and there will not be a public memorial service. She is survived by her sister Karen (Huot), her four children -- David (Beth), Lynn, Eric (Rose), and Karl (Laura Wrazel); eight grandchildren -- Brett (Arya), Mike (Kristin), Nic, Ryan, Jacob, Annie, Kyle, and Katie, one great-granddaughter Kate and many nieces and nephews. In lieu of flowers, Betty would have loved to encourage people to help support the arts at & help support Alzheimer's research at