Betty Lou Frame: Artist, Teacher, and Inspiration
A Mother's Day Tribute by Heather DiPrato with Photos by Cindy Fatsis Photography
From the time I was a baby, I was surrounded by art. Oil paintings, sketches, canvasses awaiting greatness, and everything imaginable to CREATE; paints, pastels, colored pencils, specialty papers, beads, fabrics, yarns, trims – if it was an art or sewing supply, we had it.
With a talented artist as a mother, and a writer for a dad, I learned the importance and value of creativity early on. My mom, Betty Lou, describes me as a little girl who woke up early every morning and “made a beeline to the art table,” becoming immersed in craft projects, and ignoring mundane tasks like eating, using the restroom, or getting ready for school. For me, that table was a place of wonder. The top was a large, flat, smooth surface ready for any project we could dream up. Underneath, cabinets stored an abundance of art supplies. It was my happy place, and hers, too.
My mom was born to Jim and Freda Entrikin in November of 1944, during the polio pandemic. Her dad was an aeronautical engineer for Boeing, and her mom grew up on a farm in Indiana, moving to PA in the early 1940’s to marry and raise a family. The Entrikins had three daughters, Janet, Betty Lou, and later, Peggy.
In 1945, while traveling by train to Indiana to see family, my mom and her older sister contracted polio, which was a devastating disease that caused paralysis and death in many children before the vaccine was available in the 1950’s. Similar to Covid 19, many people didn’t know they carried polio, which helped it spread more easily. Some recovered quickly, but others endured serious health effects. My Aunt Janet got better within a few weeks, but my mom, just 8 months old at the time, suffered permanent damage to her right arm and leg. She spent nearly a year in the hospital, and much of her life using a wheelchair. To this day, things are more challenging. Adjustments must be made for the simple tasks most of us take for granted, yet she always adapts. Her attitude is purposeful and upbeat.
Back in her childhood home, Betty Lou emerged as a talented artist from a young age. She enjoyed drawing, painting, and sewing. Her parents were strong advocates for inclusion in school and social activities like Girl Scouts. Regardless of the physical differences brought on by polio, they fostered a spirit of independence and encouraged their daughter to pursue her many talents. In her teens, her dad designed a motorized scooter that helped her navigate the massive halls of Neshaminy High School and engineered a brace that allowed her to wear more stylish shoes. The brace wrapped around her hips and right leg providing greater mobility yet brought its own set of challenges.
Even with a loving and inclusive family, the impact of polio was never easy. Betty Lou remembers crawling around her small Penndel home, frustrated that visitors would track dirt in from the outside and it would get on her legs as she navigated the floors. She slept in a crib until she was 8 years old (to keep from falling out of bed) but was embarrassed when a neighbor saw the crib and asked her mom, “where’s the baby?”. At times she was bullied for her differences; teased for a noticeable limp and referred to as peg-leg by mean kids. Still, she held her head as high as her petite 4’ 10” frame allowed.
As she got older, she recalls, “People would look at me curiously and say, ‘what is WRONG with you!?’” Her mother, Freda, annoyed by this rude behavior, once whispered in her daughter’s ear, ‘Betty Lou, I will give you a dollar if you ask them, ‘what is wrong with YOU?!’” Sadly, Freda died when I was just 16 months old after a battle with breast cancer. From the stories I hear, she and I were a lot alike.
In the late 1960’s, Betty Lou married my dad, Frank McDonald, who she met while working at a summer camp. The story (as he told it) was that he was trying to flirt but became so distracted by my mom’s beauty that he sat down on her painter’s palette, and neither his ego nor his white jeans ever fully recovered! A screenwriter at heart, he probably romanticized those details since my mom doesn’t share his recollection! In their early years, the couple worked together in Frank’s ad agency. Betty Lou’s creativity seemed to make each campaign more successful. A talented vocalist, he even hired her to sing the “jingle” for Herr’s Potato Chips, “Good things come from the country!” and cast her with my brother, an infant at the time, in the commercial. Herr’s must have been a great account - we were loyal to the brand throughout my childhood, and I felt like I heard that story every time a bag of chips was opened!
By the early 1970’s, Betty Lou was a mom of two, and took a job as the Art Teacher for Lower Bucks Christian Academy. She was dedicated and worked tirelessly, often late into the night. I had a blast, roller skating through the library while she finished the yearbook with her students, and following the janitor from room to room, annoying him with my awful piano playing. For her students, the lessons were so engaging, many remember them to this day. Betty Lou remains close with several of the “kids” she met during her decade of teaching, and Facebook allows them to stay connected and reminisce.
After my parents separated in 1982, mom left her full-time teaching position to join the “gig economy” as a freelancer. She designed the “set” for the legendary 1980’s Philly series Dancin’ on Air, became a make-up artist for TV and film, including a stint at NBC-10 News, and provided special effects make-up for shows like Rescue 911. Although they had divorced, my mom and dad had an amicable relationship and continued to work on projects until he moved to Los Angeles in the 1990s. As the years went on, my dad often asked about my mom, and clearly enjoyed ruminating on their many adventures. Even in his last year of life with Alzheimer’s, he spoke fondly of her.
In the 1980’s in her newfound role as a single parent, Betty Lou continued her artistic endeavors. When I was about 12, I awoke Easter morning to an incredible basket. Too old for toys, it was filled with Leggs pantyhose and make-up for a tween. Her surprises were always well-considered and beautifully presented. One autumn day, she went for a drive in the country, pulled off to the side of the road, climbed up through her sunroof, and painted a vista from atop her beloved green Cadillac Seville! She was fearless and bold, and I’ve always admired her confidence and sense of adventure.
Betty Lou remarried in 1987. She and my stepdad, Paul, had a wonderful life together, enjoying time in Cape May each summer. They collaborated on projects for Vacation Bible School, created murals for corporate and church events, and produced The American Spirit Shirt, which combined her art along with the couple’s shared passion for God and our country. Later, they joined forces to publish a book of Paul’s poetry called Seasons of Hope which featured her illustrations. My mom became a full-time caregiver for Paul during his battle with a rare form of cancer. He died in 2014.
Those who know Betty Lou understand that her physical challenges never held her back from anything she set her mind to. Her radiant smile, quick wit, and endless determination fueled her to achieve things in life many would never dare dream.
And having her as my mom offers a roadmap for navigating the challenges of parenting our son, Jimmy, who is nonverbal and autistic. Mom has always said, “believe in him, don’t set limitations based on what anyone says he CAN’T do, imagine that he CAN!” Our daughter, Willow, takes after her Grammy in many ways, including advocating for her big brother and her spunky “get it done” attitude.
Today, my mom is retired but still teaches art privately at her studio in Middletown Township, and occasionally accepts commissioned work. As a painter who appreciates the way natural light changes the look of landscapes and architecture, she is excited to participate in AOY’s Plein Air Event this month, taking place in Yardley Borough and across Bucks County. Her wonderful friend Bill (who she lovingly refers to as William) inspires and encourages her artistic endeavors, and the two have enjoyed exploring Yardley Borough, finding great places to eat as they scout the best locations to paint in the open air.
As a child watching my mom, it was hard to understand why my two hands couldn’t accomplish a fraction of what she could create so fluently with just one. “It takes time and practice, keep at it,” she’d tell me. Try as I may, I did not inherit her talent. But I have creative outlets, and producing this magazine is one! My mom continues to inspire me every day, and I deeply missed spending time with her over the past year. With vaccines in place, the month of May offers hope of quality time out in the Plein Air, recapturing our mother-daughter connection right here in Yardley.
Happy Mother’s Day! Wishing every mom reading this the kind of celebration you deserve after this crazy year. Would you like to nominate someone for a story? E-mail email@example.com.