|Betty Chauvin Hochenedel McKinne, formerly of Louisburg, North Carolina, died in Sonoma, California on June 28, 2010, two months short of her 90th birthday. She was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, on August 31, 1920 to Jane Elizabeth Chauvin Hochenedel, an artist, designer and art teacher, and Benjamin Franklin Hochenedel Jr., a sugar chemist. Her father died in 1924. In 1928 her mother married William Elliott Jones, a noted sugarcane industry figure who was associated with Southdown Plantation in Houma, Louisiana. The family moved to Houma, where Betty spent the remainder of her childhood years.
Along with sisters Jane and Mabel, Betty was educated at Lorton Preparatory School in Houma. She and her sisters all studied art at Sophie Newcomb College (now part of Tulane University) in New Orleans, where their mother had also received her art degree. Betty graduated in 1941 with a major in ceramics, one of the strongest disciplines of Newcomb Art School, whose Arts and Crafts-era pottery is renowned. She received the Outstanding Senior Woman award and, along with her sisters, was a member of Kappa Kappa Gamma Fraternity at Newcomb. Betty taught art and art history at Saint Mary’s Junior College in Raleigh for two years. Through mutual friends in Raleigh she met her future husband, Collin McKinne, an engineering student at North Carolina State University. They were married in 1944 in Shrewsbury, New Jersey. After World War II, they settled in Louisburg, Collin’s hometown. Together they raised two daughters who later followed in Betty’s footsteps, Jane becoming an art historian and Elizabeth becoming an artist. Both now work and reside in Northern California.
Betty and Collin were dedicated lifelong members of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Louisburg. Betty’s passions were gardening, art, and historic preservation. She was well read and open to new ideas. She read Silent Spring, by Rachel Carson and became an early devotee of organic gardening. In the 1970s, with one daughter ready for graduate study and one daughter still in college, Betty studied landscape design and horticulture at N.C. State University. She established her own cottage industry, Betty’s Half Acre Nursery, cultivating boxwood cuttings and dogwood seedlings and offering landscape consultation services. Her own house and garden were welcoming places and many sought her out for advice and cuttings. She was always happiest in her garden.
Betty held drawing and painting classes for friends and inspired many. They often went out to sketch the old houses of rural Franklin County. Her work records many a lost scene. She had a finely trained draftsman’s hand and a special gift for pastels, her favorite medium. Her line was spare and sure and her drawings always conveyed a sense of place.
Perhaps her greatest contribution to the community was to stimulate and organize interest in saving one of the most important antebellum buildings in Louisburg, The Person Place. An early preservationist, her dedication, persistent vision and community organizing skills rallied support for the Person Place Preservation Society. She served as its first president from 1979 to 1982. Betty was also known for her own artistic architectural preservation project, a fascinating studio space in her backyard made of salvaged parts of old houses gathered from buildings in the area which were slated to be torn down. She prided herself in the fact that there was no “new wood” in the entire building. The project spanned decades and her collaborations with younger enthusiasts both kept her young and undoubtedly provided an education for her helpers. Her little house was dubbed by one young admirer, “Mrs. McKinne’s Art House.”
Betty was beloved in Louisburg for her incisive wisdom, warmth, generosity, hospitality and kindness, as well as for her original witty turns of phrase that a friend termed “Bettyisms.” Though known for her humor and self-effacing modesty, she had a formidable intellect and a spiritual depth that defied her facade. She was always an inspiration and a mystery.
Collin died in 1995, of cancer. Betty continued to live, very independently, in their Louisburg home until 2005, when encroaching blindness and Parkinsonism forced a move nearer her daughters in California. In Sonoma she dwelled in an assisted living facility until her recent, final illness. Betty retained her wit, wisdom, dignity and beauty to the end. She was beloved by people of all ages.
She is survived by one sister, Mabel Hochenedel Allen of Louisburg, two daughters and sons-in-law: Jane McKinne-Mayer and Bill Mayer of Berkeley, California, and Elizabeth McKinne and David Graves of Napa, California, as well as numerous nieces, nephews and cousins ranging over four generations. Memorial gifts may be made to St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, P.O. Box 247, Louisburg, N.C., 27549 and the Person Place Preservation Society, P.O. Box 135, Louisburg, N.C. 27549. Plans for a memorial celebration of her life and the interment of ashes in Oakwood Cemetery, Louisburg, will be announced at a later date.