Betty White Centennial

Though we lost dear Betty White shortly before what would have been her 100th birthday, centennial celebrations throughout the United States carried on in her memory. A talented actress and devoted activist, there was much to honor relating to her life and what she held dear.

I was lucky to attend the Betty White centennial celebrations in her hometown of Oak Park, Illinois, on Saturday, January 15, 2022. Both Oak Park and the state of Illinois finally declared White’s birthday–actually on January 17–Betty White Day.

Though it was a chilly day, fans and media were present in front of the Lake Theatre, with a marquee properly dressed for White. During this outdoor ceremony, Oak Park Village President Vicki Scaman presented an “In Memoriam” proclamation. Local historian Frank Lipo of the Oak Park-River Forest Museum discussed White’s Oak Park connections and relevant addresses–stressing that White wrote in a letter that she was always proud to point out that she was born in Oak Park, not Chicago. We also learned that the first-ever Golden Girls Convention will be held at Chicago’s Navy Pier from April 22-24. In closing, Golden Girls theme song vocalist Cindy Fee–who happens to live in Oak Park–performed “Thank You for Being a Friend.”

When the ceremony concluded, visitors were treated to cake slices provided by the Turano Baking Company. “Be like Betty” photo opportunities abounded, with a massive display from 99 Haus Balloons.

In honor of White’s dedication to animals, the Animal Care League also offered a pet adoption event directly across from the theater. Additionally, the Wednesday Journal Newspaper gave out a special 24-page pull-out section to celebrate White.

Though the ceremony was brief, many businesses in town kept the White festivities going.

Tre Sorelle Ristorante offered a free Betty White drink with dinner, in addition to 10% of the bill being donated to the Animal Care League.

Sugar Fixe Patisserie offered beautiful “Stay Golden” white chocolate cookies bearing White’s likeness on them.

BeerShop sold a Betty White Ale and gave out dog treats, in addition to accepting donations for the Animal Care League. Jerusalem Cafe offered a Betty White Special lunch combo. Wise Cup offered a 16 oz. Betty White Mocha made with white chocolate and rose. Kalamata Kitchen honored White with baklava cheesecake. Personalization House launched a custom-designed line of White-related merchandise, donating part of the proceeds to White’s favorite charities.

Other stores, such as Pumpkin Moon and Scratch’n Sniff, offered 10% discounts for mentioning White.

In relation to some of White’s favorite things, Lake Street Kitchen + Bar created the Betty White martini, as martinis were among her favorite drinks. Mickey’s Gyros and Ribs offered a hot dog and fries special, as White was a huge fan of hot dogs.

As I enjoyed the festivities, there was a great deal of love in the air for White. Though I flew solo at this event, attendees’ clear appreciation of White made this experience such fun. While my fingers and toes were cold as I waited in lines at various local businesses to enjoy the White goodies they had to offer, chatting with fellow attendees and sharing warm memories of White and her career made this day so special.

About Annette Bochenek

Dr. Annette Bochenek of Chicago, Illinois, is an avid scholar of Hollywood’s Golden Age. She manages the Hometowns to Hollywood blog, in which she writes about her trips exploring the legacies and hometowns of Golden Age stars. Annette also hosts the “Hometowns to Hollywood” film series throughout the Chicago area. She has been featured on Turner Classic Movies and is the president of TCM Backlot’s Chicago chapter. In addition to writing for TCM Backlot, she also writes for Classic Movie Hub, Silent Film Quarterly, Nostalgia Digest, and Chicago Art Deco Society Magazine.
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