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Betty Lee Hahn

Jewish Communal Leader
1932 – 2006
by Eddie Pells

[Denver]…Her friends and family called her "Buz"—something different, unique, one-of-a-kind. Not that Betty Lee Hahn, a pillar of the Jewish community in Denver, Colorado and beyond, needed an out-of-the-ordinary name to stand out.

The story that might paint the best picture of Buz was the one-woman revolt she staged while in college at University of Texas. It wasn't uncommon at a place like that, and in a time like the '50s, for a sorority girl to be expected to wear certain kinds of clothes and avoid certain others.

The Delta Phi Epsilon sorority didn't allow its women to wear jeans. Buz liked wearing jeans. Instead of making a big stink about it she did what—well—not quite anyone would have done. She dropped out, moved back home and enrolled at the University of Denver.

The story isn't telling because Buz took some great, moral stand or struck a blow for the Jewish community—she'd do plenty of that later—but rather because of the way she did it.

Unafraid. Unabashed. Unapologetic.

Buz Hahn lived life the way she wanted, standing up for what was right, kneeling down to lend a hand and always, always getting the most out of every experience. When Buz died earlier this year at age 74, there were tears, of course. But there were no regrets for opportunities squandered. Nobody could say she lived anything less than a full and fantastic life.

To Buz, being Jewish didn't simply mean showing up to synagogue a few times a month and going through the motions. Being Jewish meant making an impact, helping your own and the greater world. The mitzvah of tzedakah was as much a part of Buz as her warm, welcoming smile, and she had a mile-long resumé to prove it.

President of the Beth HaMedrosh Hagadol-Beth Joseph synagogue Women's League. president of the Parent-Teachers Association at Hillel Academy (Denver's first day school), president of Hillel's Women's Auxiliary, three-time president of Hadassah. The list goes on.

But Buz wasn't just about boards and meetings. There was a very personal side to the giving. Ask any "stranger" who received an invitation to Buz's dinner table on Shabbat or Yontif. They weren't strangers to her. She didn't think anyone should ever spend the holidays alone. And she did something about it.

Buz loved to travel and there was nothing like sitting across the table from her on Shabbat, listening to her weave the tale of her latest adventure…. To the Ukraine to find the shtetl where her grandparents lived…to Cuba with her daughter, Sherry, on a B'nai Brith humanitarian mission…to Japan, Mexico, Egypt, the South Pacific, South Dakota, North Dakota, New York, New Mexico, Wyoming, or to the beautiful mountains of Colorado at the drop of a hat.

And Israel. That was, not surprisingly, her favorite destination. She made it at least 20 times.

All these trips weren't just for sightseeing.

After a trip to Ethiopia in 1985, Buz became active in the North American Conference on Ethiopian Jewry (NACOEJ) and helped to pave the groundwork for Operation Solomon, an airlift of Ethiopian Jews to Israel.

Afterwards, whenever she learned of a friend who was going to Israel, that friend got to bring something along on the trip—a huge duffel bag filled with clothing and school supplies that Buz collected for the transplanted Ethiopian Jews.

Buz's love of travel led her and a friend to open a Denver travel agency, Camelot Travel. Many of Buz's personal clients were Denver Jews. Instead of pocketing the commissions on the trips she sold, she gave the money to Jewish charities; Hadassah, Hillel Academy, Yeshiva Toras Chaim, or the girls' yeshiva, Bais Yakov.

Buz is survived by her fantastic husband, Dave, her children, Steve and Sherry, and her six grandchildren, Jeremy, Ted, Ben, Sam, Max and Jennie.

Jennie is named after Buz's mother, Jennie Francis Pells, who also was an institution in Denver—the only woman at that time to serve on National Jewish Medical and Research Center's board. Jennie's mother, Sadie Francis, was one of five founders of the Denver Sheltering Home for Jewish Children, which eventually became National Jewish. Sadie and Jennie were great examples for Buz to follow when it came to knowing and embracing her obligation to the Jewish community, to her family, to tzedakah.

On Kol Nidre night of 2002, Buz wasn't feeling well, but it didn't stop her from heading to shul and fulfilling her duty as president of the Women's League, by ascending the bimah to introduce a reading in the service.

Although Buz wasn't feeling any better on Yom Kippur, she refused to leave the synagogue until after the sunset and the conclusion of the Neilah service. Within a week, she was diagnosed with central nervous system lymphoma.

The story didn't end there, though, quite simply because Buz wasn't ready for that.

She had five brain tumors in almost four years, went through chemotherapy and radiation and, for a while, knocked the cancer into remission. That prognosis, in the fall of 2004, was celebrated with a "Chemo-Out" party at the doctor's office, a line of over 70 friends and family snaking out the conference room, and out the reception room into the hallway, simply to give Buz a kiss and say Mazel Tov.

Buz went to Mexico, Cuba, and Boston to celebrate the bar and bat mitzvahs of Max and Jennie, went on dozens of hikes and took two trips to Israel in the four years between the first diagnosis and the time she passed away.

On March 25, 2006, with the cancer in remission, she went out to eat and celebrated her 74th birthday with Dave, Steve and Sherry, the six grandkids and her brothers, Joe and Davey, all at the restaurant. It was a great birthday party.

Three weeks later, doctors found another tumor. Buz died May 17.

But before that, Buz pulled off another nice coup that spoke volumes about the woman who touched lives and made people smile. It was the time she crashed the Denver Allied Jewish Federation's annual men's gathering in Denver. Senator Joe Lieberman was the guest speaker and Buz, a lifelong Democrat, just had to meet him.

The get-together, of course, was for men only. Big surprise: Buz got in and met the senator.

"You could say 'No' to my mother, but it didn't mean anything," Sherry (who now lives in Arlington, MA) said in an interview with the Rocky Mountain News. "She was very funny, very smart, and very wise."

She lived life the way she wanted…and touched a lot of people along the way.

Sherry Hahn, Buz's daughter, assisted the author with this remembrance.

Eddie Pells is an award-winning sports writer and nephew of Buz Hahn.

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Full image
Betty "Buz" Hahn.

How to cite this page

Jewish Women's Archive. "Betty Lee Hahn, 1932 - 2006." (Viewed on July 31, 2014) <http://jwa.org/weremember/hahn-betty>.

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