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  • Cynthia Henry

Crafting enthusiast Bette Armstrong makes friends, spreads cheer with her creations

Bette Armstrong has angels with her wherever she goes.

The 79-year-old crafts them out of safety pins and beads and hands them out to people all over North Central Texas.

She’s been crafting her whole life, but Bette now teaches beading to fellow residents at Mirabella Assisted Living & Memory Care in Fort Worth. While the angels are popular, she also has kits to create beaded pumpkins, Christmas trees, snowmen, bunnies, you name it.

When Bette and her husband Jim first arrived at Mirabella in November, she immediately noticed the well-lit dayroom, which is full of puzzles and games.

“As soon as I came here and saw this room, I said ‘I know where I’m gonna be,”’ said Bette with a smile.

Bette also enjoyed sewing for decades before she decided it was time to downsize and move into senior living. One sewing project in particular has brought her a great deal of joy. While living in Eastland, home of Old Rip, she created a horny toad puppet. When the county judge saw it, he had a request.

“He said if you can make this, you can make a full-body costume…and I did,” she said.

She has traveled the state in that costume, even making an appearance on the floor of the Texas Legislature and greeting a crowd on stage at Six Flags over Texas. For many years she also worked with elementary students to not only teach them about the horny toad but to use that knowledge to create stories, poetry, and even songs for the annual horny toad celebration in Eastland each February. And, yes, she also makes purple horny toad puppets for TCU fans. A friend’s grandson graduated from TCU with a horny toad puppet on his graduation cap.

Bette is well known for her crafting abilities, so friends often surprise her with supplies. One friend brought her dozens of shells, which she used to create shell people. “There’s no two alike!” she said.

One friend, knowing she uses safety pins to create beaded projects, gave her a 14-inch and a 25-inch pin. She ordered more and created a wooden beaded angel that stands approximately 4 feet high.

Bette’s currently learning a new craft called 3D decoupage. She uses silicone glue and printed patterns to create beautiful cards.

“It’s a challenge to me. I just love it,” she said. But she still makes time to work on her angels every day while relaxing in the couple’s apartment.

“I sit over here with my little kit and work on them everyday,” she said pointing to a comfy chair with a horny toad poster hanging above it.

Handing out angels and teaching the classes has made her many friends at Mirabella. She and husband Jim have only lived at the senior community since November, but everyone we passed in the hall knew her.

And she’s creating a whole new generation of beading enthusiasts. Some residents’ grandchildren have attended her class, and she’s taught her own grandchildren as well.

“Every time I go out to dinner with the grandkids, I take some angel kits for them to make and give out,” she said.

She says it keeps them from looking at their phones.

“That’s the greatest part of this dining room (at Mirabella). When we all go in there, nobody knows anybody, we all sit together, different places, we all talk and have fun. There’s no iPhones. It’s heaven! We’re all seniors. We talk about the old days. We remember all the fun. That’s what it’s about.”

Despite living in assisted living, she still drives. She started handing out angels everywhere she went during COVID.

“It’s just something that we need,” she said. “You’ll see them all over Fort Worth. COVID’s really changed things. Thats why I try to do everything I can to make people smile,” said Bette, who lost both of her children to COVID.

Bette retired from apartment management, so she has high standards when it comes to community living. She was impressed with Mirabella from the moment she entered.

“It’s a beautiful place,” she said standing in the lobby. “If you could’ve seen us yesterday (on Cinco de Mayo), we were packed in here, eating and drinking and having a good time.

“I never knew what assisted living was,” she admitted, “but I had some leg problems and stuff, and I got to where I couldn’t do any cooking.”

Although the couple’s apartment has a small kitchen, she doesn’t use it much.

“Finally in my life, us women deserve the meals to be served everyday — morning noon and night — and I’m loving it!”

Bette’s beading classes are not on the official activity schedule at Mirabella. She teaches when she feels like it. Students have a choice of which project they want to create. Each kit costs $5.

She says anyone can do beading, regardless of their physical limitations. She’s even created an aid that’s helped a man bead using only one arm.

“You’ve gotta stay active,” she said. “I’ve got something going all the time. I just wanna have fun.”

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