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Local young lady celebrates 102 years


PITTSBURG, Kan. — Bette June Nelson celebrated her 102nd birthday on Sunday, June 4, surrounded by family and friends. The youngest child of Walter Scott Keensse and Laura Mae Brittain, Bette attended Kirkwood and Pittsburg schools, graduating from Pittsburg Hight School in 1938.

Mae and Scott were married on November 10, 1895, in Webster County, Missouri. In the fall of 1904, the couple, along with their 3 girls, boarded a train at Northview Station and were on their way to Kansas. They settled north of Pittsburg and Scott went to work for the Kansas City Southern Railroad.  They then moved to the Jim Adcock farm, west of Chicopee, where their fourth child was born in 1906. 

They worked for several farms and finally moved to Kirkwood corner, where their last child (Bette June) was born in 1921. With the many coal mines operating in the area and their need for lumber, Scott gave up farming and went into cutting timber for mining props, used to reinforce the passageways and rooms in the shafts.   Kirkwood Number 2 mine was opened in 1891 by A. B. Kirkwood. His brother John built the big brick home which is a landmark for the small community of Kirkwood. 

In the summer of 1931, Mae and Scott moved to Pittsburg. At that time only the two younger children were at home.

By 1940, Bette found herself in Yuma, Arizona. On November 24, 1940, Bette married Ira Lee Nelson, Jr., a direct descendent of Girard-founder Charles Strong. The couple moved around in those years, living in San Diego, Kansas City, and Springfield, Missouri, where Bette worked for Southwestern Bell telephone. Bette returned to Pittsburg after Ira’s passing to be near family.

In 1987 Bette published “Mae Brittain-Keesee from Webster County, Missouri – Her Ancestors and Descendants” to pay tribute to her family. The book traces her ancestors back to the American Revolution.  

Bette is a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR). Many of her ancestors served as patriots in rendering aid to the Continental Army and as soldiers in the field during the Revolution, contributing, in some way, to the liberties which we now enjoy. Her relatives have served in most wars and conflicts in which the United States of America has engaged, including the War of 1812, World War II and the Korean conflict. During the Civil War, Bette had family on both sides.  

Remaining local family members are the Ray Martinous family and the Scotty Bitner family. Ray’s grandmother and Scotty’s mother were sisters to Bette. 

Bette is a member of Our Lady of Lourdes Parish.  She was a member of the Lewis and Clark Chapter of the Telephone Pioneers and the Ozarks Genealogical Society.  She served as Recording Secretary of the Springfield Rachel Donelson Chapter of the National Society Daughters of the American Revolution and is a current member of the local DAR.

Bette remains active and enjoys her weekly outings out to dinner and to the Pro Shop on West Fourth where her friends, Pam Gebhardt, Meg Gebhardt and Tom Lallemand celebrated her birthday this past week with a surprise party.