Phyllis Joan Betz Rhein
Born in 1931 – Died in 2019
Phyllis Joan Betz Rhein died at Brookdale Senior Living facility in South Kingston RI on the 3rd of July. She was the beloved wife of John Hancock Willing Rhein III. The Rhein’s were married at the Cathedral of the Incarnation in Garden City NY in 1953.
Born on November 11, 1931 in her family’s home in Garden City, she was the youngest of four children of Otto John Betz, Sr. and Victoria I. Doyle. Her siblings: O. John Betz, Jr. born in 1917 died in 2015; another brother, William died at the age of two years and her sister, Elizabeth Betz Yaremo, born in 1925, is also deceased. Though separated by 12 years, the Betz’s were a closely-knit family.
Shortly after her marriage, her husband, John joined the Army, and while in the service the Rhein’s lived in San Antonio TX, Aberdeen MD, and Elizabethtown KY. After John’s honorable discharge they settled in Garden City where she gave birth to three children; Susan in 1956 (now Mrs. Donald E. Dubowski of Saunderstown R.I.); Deborah, born in 1959 who died in 2013 (married for the second time to John Stevenson in Triangle VA) and John H.W. Rhein IV (born in 1962 and married to Petra Kettler-Rhein in 1995) living in Scottsdale AZ. Susan and Don Dubowski traveled to Poland to adopt Phyllis’ only grandchild, Nick, now 31, who has been a treasured member of the family and is living and working on Long Island.
In 1967 John was given the position of Mid-Western Manager of FORBES Magazine, and the Rhein’s moved lock stock and barrel to Chicago IL. Phyllis and the “kids” were in tears and were only cajoled by John’s pledge he would resign and seek employment back “home” if he wasn’t promoted back to their much-loved Long Island in 5 years. FORBES waited only 2 years when the whole family was moved back to Garden City. They thrived at their “Hill House” for the next 50 years.
In 2019, the family having disbursed, Phyllis and John decided to write the last chapter in their lives in Saunderstown Rhode Island (home to John’s grandmother, Elizabeth Kane Rhein). They didn’t know God had other plans for them, and Phyllis would have to close the book so soon.
Phyllis spent her whole academic life at the Cathedral School of St. Mary in Garden City. She graduated in 1950 and was appropriately given the “Courtesy and Fine Feeling” award (a lifelong hallmark). While there she formed strong relationships, a good number of whom remained close for decades. She was active in prominent roles as president of the Alumnae Association, and committee member of a number of alumnae functions. She was on the boards of the St. Mary’s Development Fund ( now The Stewart Fund in Memory of St. Mary’s and St. Paul’s) and chairperson of the Marion Reid Marsh Memorial Scholarship Fund.
From St. Mary’s she went to William Smith College in Geneva NY (now Hobart & William Smith) class of 1954. She married before receiving her BA, and John makes no apology for awarding her with a MRS. instead. He was very proud too when his fraternity, Phi Sigma Kappa named Phyllis the “1953 Moonlight Girl” at its annual ceremony.
Over her many years of church and community service, Phyllis was an active volunteer. She was a Sunday School teacher, an Altar Guild member, head of the Nassau Hospital’s Women’s Auxiliary (now Winthrop University Hospital in Mineola NY), a hospital Yuletide Ball chairperson and was on its board of directors.
Phyllis loved to hook rugs. She studied under the late Helen Conolly (one of Pearl McGowan’s revered disciples) and her passion lead to her election as president of LIGRA (Long Island Guild of Rug-hooking Artists) for a term. Among her treasures is a huge version of “The Tree of Life” which for years was placed in the center hall of the Rhein’s former home on Long Island.
She loved anything that grew. For years she was a member of the Matinecock Garden Club, and was justifiably euphoric when she won the Sweepstakes for “Best Arrangement” in one of the Club’s flower shows. Another high point in her flower fancied life was her visit to London’s Chelsea Flower Show where, as an “early bird,” she was given permission to look things over before Queen Elizabeth came to see the exhibit.
With this involvement cornucopia bulging you might think there would be little time for more activities, but you would be wrong. She seriously pursued stenciling and joined HSEAD (Historical Society of Early American Decorative Arts), a demanding commitment that filled the Rhein home with artistically designed trays and boxes. Along with these, there was still time to paint lots off beautiful theorems and lampshades, and John insists on mentioning, Phyllis was a culinary artist who kept the kitchen humming almost continuously.
Phyllis had an insatiable appetite for nature, hiking in the great outdoors and schmoozing with kindred souls. In 2001 the Rhein’s joined a walking group, the Winter Wheezers. The combination of exercise and wonderful comradery added substantially to Phyllis’ outlets and pleasures.
No one could top Phyllis’ love for animals and birds. Looking for food and other accouterments to attract and sustain furry and feathered creatures, she often frequented the pet sections of sundry vendors. It was only natural that Schatzy the long-haired Daschund (her last dog, now 17 years old ) came to visit her hospice bed-room. Her love, a powerful healer, smothered the dread of the inevitable outcome.
Phyllis leaves this world a far better place than the one she entered. Her generosity and principled composition enriched all who knew her. Her smile could warm the coldest hearts, and her positive attitude assured us tomorrow would bring sunshine. She was a cherished daughter, wife, mother, grandmother, citizen, Christian, volunteer, and artist, and her banker brother who had a succinct way of summing things up would say, “Give her 10 points.” This lady was for real, and she will be sorely missed.