Monday, December 11, 2017
4:00 PM to 7:00 PM EST
Life Story Funeral Homes - Betzler
6080 Stadium Drive
Kalamazoo, MI 49009
Food and drinks will be served.
At the family's request memorial contributions are to be made to those listed below. Please forward payment directly to the memorial of your choice.
In lieu of flowers or memorial contributions
the family asks that you honor Betsy's memory by supporting the arts organization of your choice by attending a performance, making a contribution, or volunteering your services.
Below is the contact information for a florist recommended by the funeral home.
Life Story / Obituary
Betsy Bogner Wong, a significant presence in the arts community of southwest Michigan, passed away on Saturday, December 2, 2017. After waging a fierce, courageous battle against her cancer for almost two years, she could fight no longer and died peacefully at home, surrounded by her loving family.
Born in Jackson, Michigan on April 29, 1955, Betsy was raised in Spring Lake, Michigan. Her interest in music was cultivated at an early age, listening to her mother – a public school music teacher - playing the piano at home. She took up the flute and performed many school music festivals from grades 4 to 12, always accompanied by her mother on piano and her father in the audience. The family took advantage of growing up near Lake Michigan and enjoyed many trips to the beach and the campgrounds. Their family vacations were always educationally-based, with trips to Washington DC, Philadelphia, Boston, and Gettysburg. She remained especially close to her parents throughout her life. And they adored their daughter, with her mom always buying extras of her favorite groceries, and her father secretly slipping her money well into her adult life.
After spending her high school years as a full-fledged band geek, Betsy started college at the University of Michigan, studying American History. She eventually transferred to Michigan State University to resume her musical training, and went on to receive a bachelor’s degree in flute performance at MSU. Living in a student housing cooperative with many students in the Veterinary Medicine program strengthened her already strong love of animals, as these students often brought goats, snakes, and other assorted critters to stay at the co-op. From that point forward, feline companionship was a necessity for her. After graduation, she married her first husband, David Demorest, and they moved to the Boston area. There, Betsy had her son Sam – one of the real joys in her life. In addition to being a devoted, supportive parent, Betsy always wanted to be a “fun” mom. They had a very special relationship, based on love and a similar sardonic sense of humor. She remained his biggest supporter throughout his entire schooling, and was very happy that he stayed in town for his bachelor’s and master’s degrees, attending Western Michigan University. Betsy was even more delighted when Sam turned down out-of-state job offers to take a position in Kalamazoo. She also adored her daughter-in-law Emily, and loved her as if she were her own daughter. They share a passion for community engagement, and Betsy enjoyed collaborating with Emily on several initiatives in Kalamazoo. It was also special for Betsy to help plan Sam and Emily’s wedding – a somewhat non-traditional ceremony, but one that ending up being exactly as the family wanted.
Betsy met the love of her life during her first semester at the University of Michigan, where Brad was in his first semester as a clarinet major. It would be a stretch to call it a relationship, as he doesn’t remember knowing her then – but she confessed to watching him from afar. And with her transferring to Michigan State University to study flute, there was no opportunity for anything more to develop at that time. But they were destined to be together, in an amazing relationship that combined their love for each other with their love for the arts. It started in 1992, when Betsy was Personnel Manager and Principal Flutist with the Southwest Michigan Symphony in St. Joseph, Michigan. She hired Brad to play a concert with the orchestra – and although that was supposed to be one concert, they played together in the orchestra until 2016. This was a wonderful time in her life, filled with storybook romance. During that first concert, she admits to having tears streaming down her face as Brad played a clarinet solo in Rachmaninov. For a Valentine’s Day concert featuring the music from “Titanic” (in which Betsy played the famous “My Heart Will Go On” solo on pennywhistle), Brad presented her with a replica of the Heart of the Ocean necklace – making her the envy of all the teenage girls at the concert!
In 1999, while on a birthday trip to Hawaii, Brad proposed and they were married on a beach in Maui. Expanding on their life together in the arts, they also played recitals together as the duo “High Winds”. Committed to enriching the chamber music repertoire for flute and clarinet through the commissioning of new works by leading composers, Betsy and Brad were charter board members of a consortium founded in 2000 by a group of professional flutists and clarinetists who teach at universities and perform across the United States. To date, commissions include major works by Libby Larsen, Derek Bermel, Valerie Coleman and Pierre Jalbert. They also had the opportunity to work together teaching at the WMU Seminar – High School Music Camp, which Betsy often said was her favorite two weeks of the year. In addition, she held various administrative positions with Fontana Chamber Arts and the new music ensemble Opus 21 - organizations that Brad performed with, allowing them further opportunity to share some memorable experiences.
Betsy’s multi-faceted professional life was a representation of who she was as a person – she was a brilliant flutist, more interested in collaborative performance than being the soloist; she was a nurturing and caring teacher, working with students from preschool age up through college students; and was an ideal arts administrator, handling every detail with consummate skill and making every organization she was part of much stronger, all while remaining behind the scenes.
Being a personnel manager was ideal for her skill set – in addition to knowing the orchestral repertoire, understanding contracts, and being very detail-oriented, she knew by heart the phone numbers of some 60 musicians, and from 1996 to 2001 she served as Personnel Manager of the Kalamazoo Symphony, before returning to that position with the Southwest Michigan Symphony. She also had the excellent interpersonal skills to handle the many delicate situations that would come up, and doing the basic work of “herding cats” as she would often describe it.
In 2001, Betsy began working for Fontana Chamber Arts, the Kalamazoo-based chamber music presenter. Her versatility as an administrator made her an invaluable member of that staff, and she held a number of titles there, including Administrative Director and Grant Writer/Education Coordinator. This work was immensely fulfilling for her – working directly with world-class musicians such as 2015 Grammy-winner and current host of A Prairie Home Companion, mandolinist Chris Thile; Emmanuel Pahud, principal flutist of the Berlin Philharmonic; and the Juilliard String Quartet. In 2007, Betsy became Administrative Director of the new music ensemble Opus 21, of which Brad was a charter member. The group performed regularly in New York (allowing Betsy to slowly come to grips with her fear of flying!), and also included a concert at the Library of Congress in Washington, DC. In this capacity, Betsy also had the privilege of working with such notable composers as Frederic Rzewski and Paquito D'Rivera. During this time, she maintained her performance skills and in addition to her orchestral work with the Southwest Michigan Symphony, Kalamazoo Symphony, Bach Festival Orchestra and Arcato Chamber Ensemble, she has made solo appearances with pianists Christopher O’Riley and Gilbert Kalish in past Gilmore Keyboard Festivals.
Educational outreach and teaching were especially important to Betsy and she took great joy working with students from preschool age through college. As flutist in the Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra woodwind quintet since 1990, she gave educational presentations in approximately twenty-five Kalamazoo-area schools each year for students K-12. Betsy was also a teaching artist in the Aesthetic Education Program of Education for the Arts, a program arm of the Kalamazoo Regional Educational Service Agency and affiliate of the Lincoln Center Institute for Arts in Education. She also served as Adjunct Instructor of Flute and Chamber Music Coach at Kalamazoo College as well as coaching middle school students at the Kalamazoo Chamber Music Workshop. Betsy was also a board member for the Kalamazoo Junior Symphony.
Betsy loved living in Kalamazoo and had many dear friends, whom she adored. As a friend, Betsy will be remembered as someone who would do absolutely anything she could to bring some joy to their life. This would include cooking favorite dishes (Brad’s WMU colleagues benefited from special treats for faculty meetings!), fashion advice, small gifts, or just a heartfelt conversation.
The family will receive visitors on Monday, December 11 from 4:00-7:00 pm to share stories, food and drink. A service will be held on Tuesday, December 12 at 4:00, with a reception following. All events will be at Betzler Life Story Funeral Homes, 6080 Stadium Drive; Kalamazoo; (269) 375-2900. In lieu of flowers or memorial contributions, the family asks that you support the arts organization of your choice by attending a performance, making a contribution, or volunteering your service.
Betsy will be lovingly remembered by her husband Brad, her mother Lou Radtke Bogner, her son Sam (Emily), and her brother Andrew. She was predeceased by her father Gerald (Jerry) Bogner. Betsy will also be forever remembered by Brad’s family, whom she adored, and her many dear friends and colleagues.
Betsy fought a remarkably courageous battle against her cancer, supported by family, friends and a skilled and compassionate medical team. The family wishes to acknowledge and thank her medical team - the Karmanos Cancer Institute, the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center, and Hospice Care of Southwest Michigan.
When Betsy was diagnosed with cancer and people asked what they could do for her, the following was her response. Please remember and honor our dear Betsy by doing as she asked:
"Live your lives. Be generous of spirit, be kind, grateful, forgiving, and compassionate. And don’t forget to laugh.”