Betty Gentry

Betty Gentry could be incredibly stubborn.

In the 1950s, her husband, Jim, asked her to drive his car periodically to keep the battery alive while he was deployed overseas. She did so dutifully, but when Jim returned to find the battery dead, he was hopping mad. Betty stood her ground and swore right then and there that she wouldn’t drive again—and she never did.

“We had to take her everywhere she wanted to go for the rest of her life,” recalled her son, Kevin Gentry.

Strong-willed, adventurous, confident and caring, Gentry died May 13 due to complications of COVID-19. She was 94.

Gentry came from a long line of independent women. Raised by a single mother in Grand Rapids, Mich., she joined the Navy’s WAVE program straight out of high school. While stationed in Great Lakes, Ill. Gentry cared for maternity patients and for the war’s wounded.

It was there that she met fellow Navy Corpsman Chesley James “Jim” Gentry, whom she married in 1948.

Their relationship was full of “loving, good natured bickering and endless teasing,” her daughter, Bonne Bandolas, said, recalling with fondness a never-ending argument about which spices belong in marinara sauce.

“This was an ongoing difference of opinion that went on for as long as anyone can remember, and no spaghetti sauce was complete without it.”

After the birth of their sons, Kevin and Ross, the couple was transferred to Yokohama, Japan. Gentry took to the move right away.

“She loved everything about living there,” said her son-in-law, Joseph “Banjo” Bandolas. “The food, the tailored clothes, the affordability, she just drank it all in.”

While in Japan, Gentry visited an orphanage with a friend. She spotted Bonne, who was then just an infant, and it was love at first sight. A few years after Bonne’s adoption, the family was deployed again, this time to Chula Vista near San Diego, which remained their home base from then on. They adopted another child, Chris, in 1967.

“She brought her children up to be caring individuals and always extended a hand whenever she could,” her son-in-law said, adding that Gentry instilled in her children a deep love of sports (the Dodgers in particular) and “tortured them with her great love of Hollywood musicals.”

For all of her fun and foibles, Gentry was also a great friend and nurturer. She never forgot a birthday—loved ones could always count on a card with a $5 bill tucked inside—and she made sure the family was never without the comfort of a canine companion. She adored tulips, read the newspaper from cover-to-cover and was ever willing to lend a hand in her community.

“That’s what I remember most about my mom: her warmth, caring, always taking the time to help someone,” Bonne Bandolas said. “I’m so grateful I could be her daughter.”

Gentry is survived by her children, Kevin, Ross, Bonne and Chris, grandchildren James Gentry and Lauren Petticolas and six great-grandchildren.

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