Among Boise’s iconic sights, Betty — the motorized lady who toils atop a platform at the Cucina di Paolo restaurant on Vista Avenue — is one of the most beloved. After Betty’s motor broke in December, her owners, Paul and Mary Jean Wegner, who are also owners of Cucina di Paolo, organized a fundraising effort to fix her.
Members of the community, including neighbors and businesses, donated $2,000 to pay for new parts and transportation. A local sign company, Idaho Electric, donated its services. The company’s crane lifted Betty back to her rightful perch on Friday morning. The project cost about $850, said Paul Wegner. The leftover money will go to the Idaho Foodbank, he said.
Retired pilot and metal craftsman Bruce Whittig gave his time and expertise to the project and handled the repairs. Whittig has a longstanding friendship with Betty. He grew up in the neighborhood, on Shoshone Street, and used to ride his bike past her all the time. At some point in Betty’s history, her motor broke. She went on an extended coffee break until 2006, when Whittig volunteered to rebuild her. He felt strongly about taking the lead in her newest upgrade — one that should keep her on the job for many more years, he said.
As a native Boisean, Whittig takes Betty’s popularity for granted.
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“Anybody who flies in and out of Boise normally goes down Vista Avenue. Thousands and thousands of Boiseans look at her,” Whittig said.
Cucina di Paolo is in a former Maytag laundry building, which explains the presence of Betty and her wash tub at an Italian restaurant.
Betty: Calendar girl?
Mary Jean Wegner has plans for Betty the washerwoman. Wegner has gathered a crew of volunteers informally known as the washerwoman’s “cheerleaders.” Wegner and crew will orchestrate a seasonal monthly costume change for Betty and photograph her in all her glory throughout the year.
In January, 2017, they will publish a calendar with Betty as the star. All the proceeds from calendar sales will go to the Idaho Foodbank, said Wegner. The calendar will include a history page about Betty and the neighborhood as well as reminiscences from neighbors.
The group is looking for more volunteers to help with the project, including graphic designers, printers, and “anyone with brilliant ideas,” said Wegner, about how to spread the wonder that is Betty.
Cash donations or gift cards from fabric stores to help make Betty’s costumes are welcome. The group also seeks memories and stories about Betty to include in the calendar.