MANATEE -- She loves to laugh, giggle, hug, smile and pound that marimba of hers.
And Betty Dial did plenty of all of that Sunday when her family and a hundred of her friends surprised her with a birthday party at Westside Christian Church in her honor.
Miss Betty was 88 years old Friday.
She is famous in Bradenton for her marimba, a type of xylophone but with lower tone that she has been playing for 44 years in Bradenton. She still plays the marimba every Sunday at Westside Christian. In fact, her marimba is an original, too. It is the same marimba her parents purchased for her in 1935. Its wood frame is nicked and scraped, but it still has great tone, she said.
“I wanted a harp, but we couldn’t afford it,” Dial said Sunday after hugs and kisses from admirers in the church’s recreation room. “We have dragged that marimba everywhere.”
Dial learned to play in Barberton, Ohio.
“It’s rewarding,” Dial said of the instrument. “It gets all your frustrations out. The harder you are hitting the marimba the better you feel and the better it sounds. Seriously, I enjoy playing.”
Dial is fuzzy on dates, like how long she has been playing at Westside.
She has adopted a unique outlook when it comes to the past.
“If I don’t remember it, it didn’t happen,” she says with a laugh.
The marimba is a musical instrument in the percussion family, according to Wikipedia. It consists of a set of wooden bars with resonators. The bars are struck with mallets to produce musical tones.
The marimba’s roots are Mayan, the website states.
“It’s easy for me to play and I think, with lessons, anyone could,” Dial said.
During Sunday’s service, Miss Betty showed how the marimba can handle even well known Gospel favorites like, “How Great Thou Art.”
“We all love her playing,” said Joyce Thompson, one of Dial’s three living children, all of whom came to the surprise party for her. Her son, Bill Edwards, was also on hand as well as her daughter, Becky Surgenor.
“I have 11 grandchildren and 13 great-grandchildren and two more are on the way and due in April,” Dial said proudly.
Dial didn’t know anything was up Sunday until she spied Michael Coppick, the church’s former music minister.
“When I saw Michael I thought, ‘Whoa, what is going on?” Dial said.
They came from all over to honor her.
Bob Lichtenberger, who attended high school with Dial at Barberton Central High School in Barberton, Ohio, came by. Lichtenberger, an eligible bachelor, now lives in Bradenton. Miss Betty is single also and is of courting age.
“I think we have a preacher around here somewhere,” someone called out.
Pam Edwards, a great niece, had kind words for Dial.
“Betty is loving and wonderful,” Edwards said. “She collects butterflies. She loves her family, both her natural and church family. She is a beautiful person who can move you when she plays the marimba.”
Under the leadership of Pastor Nathan Cook, the church’s hospitality team went over the top to make it a special occasion for Dial and her family. A huge cake from Publix served more than 100. Kim Edwards, Dial’s granddaughter, came in from Citrus Springs. Edwards’ brother, Troy Edwards, also came. Surgenor’s daughter, Tiffany Greer, brought two-month old T.J., Miss Betty’s 13th great grandchild. T.J. shared the spotlight with his famous great grandma. He didn’t say much, but looked awed to see Dial for the first time. Well, truth be known, he may have yawned once or twice.
A crowd dragged Betty out to the marimba, where she entertained after the service.
“My great-grandmother is awesome,” Kim Edwards said. “She was a school teacher and she was in the first graduating class of the University of West Florida in Pensacola. She still drives and still plays the marimba beautifully.”
There were many, many hugs before they all allowed Miss Betty to head home.
Miss Betty’s daughter, Joyce Thompson, summed it up best.
“My mother moved to Bradenton 50 years ago,” Thompson said. “She is a Bradenton treasure.”
Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-748-0411, ext. 6686.