Surviving a childhood that rivals a movie script, Betty Kopfhammer grew into a person of spirit and drive whose later years were filled with love and compassion. She expressed her gratitude for the hospital that helped her and the nonprofits that help woman and children in difficult situations
Betty was born Betty Jean Fisher in Oklahoma in 1936. When Betty was six, her mother abandoned her and her brothers while she went away with a man for three weeks. When her mother returned home, she was jailed for neglect, and Betty was sent by the authorities to a boarding school for girls.
After her mother was released from prison she married a man who sexually and violently abused Betty. Her mother ignored Betty’s suffering and would not confront her new husband, so nine-year-old Betty ran away to Louisiana, to find her father. She made her way by hitching rides and spending nights sleeping in ditches, hiding from the police. When she turned up at her the restaurant where her father cooked, he fed her well and allowed her to spend one night with him before calling the police who drove her back to Oklahoma.
As a child she worked her first paying job, picking cotton with bleeding, ungloved hands, for 10 cents a pound. Betty ran away to her father five times always to be returned after a good meal and a night together until he was put in prison for murdering a man with his chef’s knife.
When Betty was 12, she stole a Model T and began a journey to visit her father in prison. The old car stalled at a stop and as she really didn’t know how to drive, she was unable to restart it. A policeman pulled up alongside and showed her how to work the clutch, and she continued her journey. She made it to the prison but wasn’t allowed to see her father because her name was not on the approved visitor list. Betty believes her dad did not include her on the list because he could not imagine how she would ever find a way to travel to the prison.
“I didn’t have a childhood, so I give to organizations that help kids have a chance at one.”
Marriage to an Air Force man passing through town on his way to California was 15-year-old Betty’s ticket away from her stepfather’s abuse. Motherhood at 17 found her single, living in San Francisco and raising a son. She found a job as an exotic dancer at a Burlesque club on Market Street. Her stage name was Solita. She shared a bill with Gypsy Rose Lee and Tempest Storm, learned her craft, and kept her pasties firmly in place. For a brief time, she was a Playboy Bunny cocktail waitress.
Eventually, she met Gene Kopfhammer, her third husband and “the love of her life.”
Gene and Betty enjoyed their lives together. Gene worked as a petrochemical engineer in the oil industry. Together they traveled the world, living in Holland and Saudi Arabia for his career. Teasing, joking, and loving Betty as she cared for him until his last day, Gene died of cancer in 1995.
In 2012 Betty suffered four heart attacks and was grateful for the care she received at the Carson Tahoe Hospital. She left a generous bequest through the Community Foundation for the training of staff and scholarships.
Betty appreciated that she was in a position to help people. Working with Jennifer Rust, her Edward Jones financial advisor and the Community Foundation, Betty created her Legacy fund. The Gene and Betty Kopfhammer Legacy Fund supports the Carson Tahoe Hospital, American Heart Association, American Cancer Society and organizations that work to end domestic violence and help children and the poor in Carson City.