“Have purple dancing shoes – will travel.”
That might not sound as dramatic or adventurous as the more familiar “have gun – will travel,” but it does characterize the lives of Sharpsville’s Betty and Harry Myers.
They met when twelve-year-old Betty moved to Sharpsville in 1936. That put her in the seventh grade class with Harry, and they’ve been together ever since. They first danced together while they were in high school, but it was a far cry from the kind of dancing that later on became their passion – the kind that called for purple shoes.
“On the corner of Main and Walnut in Sharpsville there was a dairy,” Harry said, “and they had a small back room called the Blue Room. All the kids would go down there after school and dance to the big band music on the nickelodeon.”
Betty was Sharpsville High School’s first majorette, and Harry played trumpet in the band.
“Everyone said that trumpet players were good kissers,” Betty said. “They were right.”
Harry went into the army not long after graduating from high school in 1942. He went through basic training in Texas, then was sent to the Shenango Replacement Depot for deployment overseas. For most soldiers, that was a lonely place with nothing to do but anticipate an uncertain future, but Harry describes his time there as three glorious weeks.
“My brother rented his apartment to a sergeant who worked there,” Betty said. “He gave us all the ration coupons we wanted for gas, so I’d load a car up with girls, and we’d go up and get the boys and bring them down. We just had to have them back to the gate by 6 o’clock in the morning.”
Harry ended up in an artillery headquarters company that fought its way up through Italy. In northern Italy he was hospitalized for three weeks with malaria. After he returned to his unit, they sailed to southern France, met up with the invasion forces from northern France, and made their way into Germany.
While Harry was overseas, Betty worked in payroll at Westinghouse. Her biggest adventure was going to Pymatuning where they tested torpedoes.
“They had a mock half of a submarine so you could go down and get the feeling of being in a sub. I went there to do time studies for payroll classifications. They gave me a pair of sterling silver earrings and a locket shaped like torpedoes.”
Sometimes Betty went to the USO at Camp Reynolds, but Harry had nothing to worry about.
“They used to take busloads of girls up,” Betty said. “Doc Alexander’s wife was the chaperone. She counted you in, she counted you out. You didn’t even go to the rest room unless she walked with you.”
Harry got back home in October 1945 and started working at Sawhill. He married Betty on February 2, 1946. Their daughter Lynn (now Van Horn) was born in 1947.
After a coal strike shut down Sawhill, he worked several years for Betty’s father at D. S. Clark and Son, a sheet metal and furnace company. When work got scarce, Harry would work wherever he could. He had several short-term jobs until he was called to active duty as a reservist and sent to Korea for 11 months. After he came back in 1953, their son Richard was born. Harry had a couple more relatively short-term jobs until he became a salesman for Transmission Equipment Company in Warren, Ohio. He retired after working there for 20 years.
Meanwhile, Betty worked at Youngstown Building Supply until she retired in 1982.
So, you might be wondering, when and how did purple dancing shoes come into their lives?
“In the late 60s or 70s, we became good friends with this couple from our church,” Harry said. “We got into hoedown square dancing. We would go up every Saturday night to the old Reynolds VFW. We’d get with the gang up there and we’d start with a hoedown.”
They loved it so much that they started looking around for dances at other locations.
“We saw one advertised over in the school building on the square in Hartford, Ohio,” Harry said. “There was a hoedown caller playing music on records. Later on in the program they put on a demonstration of Modern Western Square Dancing.”
Modern Western Square Dancing is far more complex and sophisticated than basic hoedown. Harry and Betty only needed to experience it once to become totally hooked.
“We wanted to start a local club,” Betty said, “but I couldn’t walk that much because I had just had an operation for cancer. We went to the Y, to the AARP, to churches, all over and put up flyers to find people who wanted to take lessons. There was a caller who was just learning to call. He would help us out for nothing. We had 28 or 32 people to start with – three sets, eight in a set, in the basement of Christ Lutheran Church in Sharon.”
“It took nine months to learn the calls,” Harry said. “We had the first graduation in 1983. From that nucleus we were able to build the club which is the Shenango Valley Sashayers.”
After three or four years, they also got interested in Round Dancing. Couples arrange themselves in a large circle and follow the directions of a Cuer. Each dance is choreographed to a piece of music, with all couples simultaneously doing the same movements while going around the circle counterclockwise.
“Every Sunday afternoon we would take two hours of dance lessons at Ravenna Arsenal,” Harry said. “We became good enough that we were able to become licensed round dance instructors. We gave lessons for 18 years.”
For Round Dancing, the dancers get dressed up in fancy outfits.
“We have an orchid and purple outfit that is gorgeous,” Betty said. And with that outfit, both Betty and Harry do in fact wear purple shoes.
Dancing practically took over their lives – in a positive way, of course.
“We gave lessons downstairs at the Christ Lutheran Church in Sharon,” Betty said. “Mondays we had two classes, Tuesdays two classes, Wednesdays we called in New Castle, Thursdays we were home.
“That’s when we would review and plan for the next week’s work,” Harry said. “On Fridays I would cue at Shenango, and we were circulators over in Salem and at Cross Trailers over in Warren.”
That left the weekends – for more dancing.
“We started going to Kalumet Park outside of Clarion for square dance camping weekends,” Harry said. “We finally bought a trailer and set it up there on a camp site and let it set there for seven years.”
“The same group came from Ohio, Altoona, Pittsburgh – all over ” Betty said. “We all got to be good friends. When they would get there before us, they’d open our trailer up. The electricity would be turned on, there would be bread pudding in the refrigerator.”
“We joined a camping dance group called the Rambling Squares,” Harry said. “They would select a particular weekend a month and go as a group to different campgrounds and dance.”
Then there were state dance conventions in Ohio and Pennsylvania, as well as national conventions.
With so much dancing, it’s hard to believe that they found time to do other things. Harry was a hunter and fisherman, and both loved to go boating on Shenango Lake.
Betty started Intermediate, Brownie, and Senior girl scout troops in the First Baptist Church in Sharon. She was very active in girl scouts for 56 years.
And as unbelievable as it might sound, Harry was also a girl scout.
“There was a girl scout camp up in Jamestown called Happy Acres,” Harry said. “They needed men to go up and do some work. I was one of them, so Betty signed me up as a girl scout. So I carried a girl scout membership card for nine years.”
Betty was a member of Eastern Star Chapter 156 for more than 50 years and is a past matron.
She was also an advisor to the Rainbow Girls Assembly #29. During an assembly at Penn State, she had to care for a girl who had appendicitis. She took her to Bellefonte for an emergency appendectomy. For her care-giving, she was elevated to the degree of the Grand Cross of Colors of Rainbow Girls, an honor awarded to fewer than 100 people in Pennsylvania.
At age 82, they are still dancing, even though both have had cancer operations and Harry has had bypass surgery. They are still members of the Pennsylvania Square and Round Dance Federation, and their car sports probably the only official Pennsylvania Square and Round Dance license plate in Mercer County. They are looking forward to teaching new classes in September.
Their son Richard passed away from a heart attack in 2001. They have five grandchildren – Richard’s children (Tracey, Jason, and Kyle), and Lynn’s children (Reagan Macri and Todd). They also have three great grandchildren (Emily and Robbie Van Horn, and Aidan Macri), and another one on the way.
Excerpted from Lives of Quiet Inspiration, Volume 1, by Joe Zentis. Hermitage, PA: Green Street Press, 2007