Kalaheo woman remembered for Republican work

Betty Chandler was remembered by island leaders for her efforts to strengthen and extend the influence of Hawai’i’s Republican Party long before Republican Gov. Linda Lingle strode to victory in 2002.

After a brief and valiant struggle, Chandler, a resident of Kalaheo, died on Jan. 19, as a result of pulmonary fibrosis and congestive heart failure.

She had recently lost her husband of 30 years, Matt Chandler, in late November of last year.

Mayor Bryan J. Baptiste said Chandler was more than a strong party member, she was a good friend to him.

“She was an advocate for good government, and her work over the years has made the Republican Party strong,” Baptiste said in an e-mail.

“I believe Betty’s passing will work to further solidify the efforts of the Republican Party.”

Former Republican Mayor Maryanne Kusaka said Chandler’s passing shocked her and other friends, “because she was well, and all of a sudden (she passed on).”

Kusaka remembered Chandler as one who worked tirelessly to support the party, and who strove to make Kaua’i a better place to live for all residents.

“She was committed in all she did, whether it was for organizations or communities she belonged to,” Kusaka said. “We will remember her as a mover and shaker in the community she served.”

Kusaka said Chandler was one to be counted on to carry out any task that was asked of her.

“Whether she was working to get the vote out, or to lead the community effort, you could really always count on her,” Kusaka said.

Auntie Harriet Schimmelfennig of Kaua’i, a 10-year friend of Chandler, said she flew from Kaua’i to Honolulu on Jan. 9 to visit Chandler at Queen’s Hospital and visited her friend every day until Jan. 16 to give comfort.

Chandler was initially treated at Kauai Veterans Memorial Hospital, then sent by medevac aircraft to O’ahu for treatment, and passed away in the hospital there on Jan. 19.

Schimmelfennig said she liked Chandler from the first moment she met her on Kaua’i.

“She was my best friend on Kaua’i, and we did things with each other,” she said. “She was very active with the Republican Women’s Club. She was one of the co-founders with Melinda Nesti, of Princeville.”

Chandler’s life experiences and her knowledge of island politics greatly benefited members of the Kaua’i Republican Party, said Ron Agor, president of the party, a prominent Kaua’i architect and Kaua’i and Ni’ihau representative on the state Board of Land and Natural Resources.

Agor said Chandler’s passing is a “great loss to the party.

“We always depended on her for information about people, certain organizations and their achievements,” Agor said.

In an e-mail to The Garden Island, Beth Tokioka, who heads the Kaua’i County Office of Economic Development and who was a close friend of Chandler, said, “She was a vibrant woman, totally devoted to her husband and to her children, Holli and Margaret Traeumer.

“Betty was just someone who had so much energy. It was such a shock that someone so full of life could be gone,” Tokioka said.

“She will be missed. Lots of people loved her dearly.”

Chandler was born to James and Gladys Atterberry in New Virginia, Iowa, on Feb. 24, 1928. She was the youngest of four sisters. Her father was a veterinarian in Maxwell, Iowa, and served in World War I.

Chandler grew up loving music, and performed professionally from the age of 12, playing the marimba and singing throughout the Midwest. She also performed at Carnegie Hall.

Both she and her parents believed that women should go to college, so she attended Northwestern University just outside of Chicago, Ill., where she graduated magna cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in music education and a minor in history, in 1949.

She later taught music in public schools for many years, voluntarily creating and conducting each annual Christmas program, Tokioka said.

Throughout her life, Chandler believed in and “lived what it meant to be a Republican,” Tokioka said.

In California in 1963, she created a political group entitled “RCA, Responsible Citizens Aroused,” to get people to fight against what she felt was Democratic oppression.

At the age of 42, she met Matt, the love of her life, in Danville, Calif. She and Matt married in June of 1975, and moved to Kaua’i in 1990, where they lived the rest of their days.

Both worked tirelessly to promote the Hawai’i Republican Party, waving flags and helping with fund-raisers constantly, Tokioka said.

It was throughout this process that Chandler decided to run for office with the Republican Women’s Club, and eventually was elected president of the organization.

Chandler will be remembered by family and friends for being strong, moral, honest and courageous, Tokioka said. She was buried alongside Matt and her family in Maxwell, Iowa, Schimmelfennig said.

A memorial celebration for Chandler will be held at 5 p.m. on Monday, at the old St. Raphael’s Catholic Church in Koloa.

In lieu of flowers, donations can be sent to the M axwell Community Center, Box 156, Maxwell, IA 50161.

  • Lester Chang, staff writer, may be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 225) or lchang@ kauaipubco.com.
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