Elizabeth “Betty” Catlin Whitehouse, of Sayville, will be remembered at a funeral mass Thursday at St. Ann’s Church — the same place she met her late husband more than 70 years ago.
Whitehouse, a community mainstay in the hamlet where she served five years on the school board, died Sunday at a nursing home in Oakdale while battling health issues associated with old age, her family said.
She was 93.
Sayville was a summer destination as a child for Whitehouse, who was raised in Brooklyn where she was born June 15, 1922. Her future husband, John Henry Whitehouse, grew up with his siblings in the Cottages at St. Ann’s, an orphanage on the church grounds, their son, John “Jack” Whitehouse, 69, of Sayville, said.
“She was from a very well-to-do family. He didn’t have a penny to his name,” Jack Whitehouse said. “But she and my dad, the two of them, they worked together and they were very supportive of one another.”
The two met at St. Ann’s Church one of those summers — she was 15, he a year older. They married seven years later, right before John Henry was deployed during World War II to the western Pacific as a Navy pilot aboard the USS Lunga Point, their son said.
Betty, who graduated high school from Berkeley Institute in Park Slope, received her bachelor’s degree in physical education from New York University and — while raising five children — got a master’s degree in science education from Adelphi University, her son said.
“She was just an amazing lady,” her son said. “She was ahead of her time and very into STEM [science, technology, engineering and mathematics]. She was a female with an interest in astronomy and science. She warmed everyone up to the idea that women can do just about anything.”
The couple lived briefly in Pensacola, Florida, before moving to San Diego, Brooklyn and Wantagh before settling in a house on Fairway East in Sayville in 1953. They remained there — except for a two-year period when they lived in Rochester — and Betty in 1957 forayed into a career teaching science at the old junior high school on Greene Avenue.
Twelve years later she lobbied for Planetarium Title III funds to build a planetarium at that school, where she then drafted astronomy curriculum around the use of the planetarium for children in kindergarten to grade 12, as well as for adults.
After 25 years, Whitehouse retired from teaching in a classroom, but continued her passions through her role as a Sayville school board member from 1990 to 1995, followed by a stint writing a series of astronomy books for children.
“She was a very determined person,” her son said. “She put her sights on something and she’d go after it, and she wouldn’t quit until she achieved it. That’s a good lesson for everyone.”
Besides her role on the Sayville school board, Whitehouse volunteered at the Sayville Food Pantry, was president of the Sayville Garden Club, and was a longtime member and past president of the Sayville Rotary Club, where she led the effort to convert Rotary Park into The Common Ground. Active in Islip Town, Whitehouse worked with former Islip Town Supervisor Frank Jones to help save the Shoreham Beach property and turn it into an Islip Town park.
She was also an active and lifelong member of St. Ann’s Church in Sayville, served on the Friends of Sayville Library, and was an original participant in the local Wet Pants Sailing Association, an 81-year-old organization.
Her husband died in 2003, their son said.
In addition to her eldest son, Whitehouse is survived by daughters Helen Bannon of State College, Pennsylvania, and Elizabeth Manley of Easton, Pennsylvania; sons James, of Bayport, and George of Boca Raton, Florida; 12 grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.
After a funeral at St. Ann’s Church, burial will at St. Ann’s Cemetery in Sayville.
John and Elaine live in Sayville, Helen and Peter live in State College, Pa., Elizabeth and Bill Manley live in Easton, Md., George and Alyssa live in Boca Raton, Fla., James and Carrie live in Bayport.