Santa Fe Living Treasures – Elder Stories

Born in Albuquerque in 1905, Betty Berchtold attended the University of Illinois, but then was drawn back to New Mexico. With an insatiable zest for life, she held various positions in her hometown, including working in real estate. She played a formative role in the establishment in 1950 of the Council of Albuquerque Garden Clubs Inc., which went on to make flower shows a prominent part of the State Fair. She also worked ceaselessly to spread the knowledge she had gained about natural foods. But her main quest was to find a spiritual philosophy to which she could commit her life.

Coming from a line of Methodist and Presbyterian ministers, Betty was familiar with Protestantism, and also grew up with many Jewish and Catholic friends. But the more she learned about organized religion, the more she dismissed all forms of piety. She felt a reverence for life, but found structured religion false, and could not accept any “pie in the sky” doctrines, as she phrased it. “The more esoteric the doctrine, the more harm is done,” she said. Then she found the Unitarian church, and the “home” she was seeking.

First in Albuquerque, then in Santa Fe, she helped small congregations blossom. In Santa Fe in the 1970s, the church welcomed hippies with sleeping bags, and had speakers ranging from drug addicts to Native Americans to medical professionals to homeless people. Open to it all, Betty watched her emotional and intellectual life expand enormously. Giving back, she became the church’s “flower lady” and “health-food nut.”

Entering her 90s, Betty received several awards. In 1994 came the Medal of Merit from the Garden Club of America. In 1995 the Santa Fe Salon, a local discussion group honored her, as did the Unitarian/Universalist Women’s Federation. And also in 1995, Betty Berchtold became a Santa Fe Living Treasure.