Bette Marie Duke

January 5, 1942 – March 21, 2019

Bette Duke on the beach in 2008

Creative, quirky, passionate and adventurous, Bette Duke of Little River passed away last month on the vernal equinox, March 21, 2019, as if she had planned the day. She was a long-time volunteer at the Kelley House, which allowed her to feed her passion of genealogy, history and artistic design all at the same time. Her work at the Kelley House will long outlive her time there.

Bette was born in Yakima, Washington, to Ernest and Alma Boos. When she was a teenager, her family moved to California. As a young artist, Bette studied art at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California, and graduated with a degree in Graphic Design and Industrial Art at a time when the field was dominated by men.

In 1980, Bette accepted a job in New York as the Art Director for Food and Wine Magazine. Five years later, she began her own graphic design company with a focus on cartography. Her unique and creative maps can be seen in publications as diverse as Archeology Today and Conde Nast and Travel and Leisure.

It was in 2009, one year after Bette moved back to California, and into the Woods in Little River, that Bette walked in the door of the Kelley House and signed up as a volunteer. She immediately began putting things in order. She worked for five years on organizing the “Family Files,” the genealogical histories of people who had lived on the Coast, digitized numerous indexes, and indexed important historical documents such as the Richard Tooker papers and the Caanarr Funeral Records. Taking Kelley House projects home with her, Bette organized the “Nannie Brigade” with volunteers at the Woods to transcribe letters local Mendocino historian, Nannie Escola, wrote to Richard Tooker and vice versa, about the local people, ships, trains and logging – complete with an index! When the idea of creating major exhibitions on Mendocino history came up in 2014, Bette, together with archivist, Carolyn Zeitler, designed and created a number of large exhibitions with the first one being on maps, of course. All of Bette’s training and innate eye for design and color displayed itself in Bette’s wonderful exhibition panels.

Nonetheless, Bette’s one true passion with history lies with her “Dead Californians.” Having discovered a box of papers in her San Francisco basement, once belonging to a San Francisco lawyer, Bette became determined to find out the true story of Belle Lynch and her second husband, Matt. It was in 1865 that Matt Lynch (then of Ukiah) established the Mendocino County Democrat newspaper, which merged in 1870 with the Mendocino Democrat. He went on to start the Independent Weekly Dispatch in 1873. After his death, his wife, Belle, took over operations on the paper.

“While it was a well-conducted independent newspaper under Mr. Mat (sic) Lynch’s management, under that of Mrs. Belle Lynch it became rich, racy, and spicy, and always true to the faith of the Democratic party…The paper had the largest circulation of any paper in the county during Mrs. Lynch’s reign.”

With this quote, it is understandable why Belle became Bette’s heroine. Bette spent years researching her story and was in the process of writing a book about her “Dead Californians” when she died.

Bette’s last project for the Kelley House included the transcription and digitization of Jerome Ford’s diaries, printed on antique looking paper and indexed, of course. She had just completed digitizing the Etta Pullen diaries for the Little River Improvement Club.

Bette was survived by an older brother, Donald George Boos, who died 72 hours after his sister, and her beloved niece, Jeanne Walker. She will be greatly missed.