Obituary: Betty Jean Whelan, athlete and artist


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Betty Jean Whelan of Portola Valley, who was an accomplished athlete in her youth, died Jan. 21 at the age of 81. She was the wife of Joe Whelan, the developer of Portola Valley Ranch, a 453-acre planned community, which has received numerous prestigious national awards.

Ms. Whelan resided at the Ranch with her husband. She was an expert on California native plants and led nature hikes at the Ranch, as well as at Filoli and in the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District.

Born in Whittier, she attended Parnell Preparatory School for girls and graduated from Montebello High School. She earned a degree in kindergarten/primary education at San Jose State University, where she was a member of Alpha Omicron Pi sorority. She was one of founding members of the San Jose State Aqua Ski Club, one of the first college water ski clubs in the West.

She met her future husband, Joseph Whelan, at San Jose State. They were married at Santa Barbara Mission in 1948. She was a student teacher of kindergarten in the Menlo Park School District before her children were born.

In addition to waterskiing, Ms. Whelan was an expert tennis player. She played at the Menlo Circus Club and traveled the world, competing with the Women's Amateur International Tennis Team. She also was an avid hiker.

An artist, who drew on her love of nature, Ms. Whelan created paintings, wood sculptures, silk-screens, ceramics, weavings, and quilts, say family members. She volunteered at Allied Arts Guild and the Peninsula Volunteers Turnabout Shop.

Ms. Whelan is survived by her husband of 62 years, Joe Whelan; her five children, Karen Sanford, Mike Whelan, Betty-Jo Paroli, John Whelan, and Susan Killian; brother Roc Burrell; 10 grandchildren; and one great-grandchild.

Services have been held. Donations in Ms. Whelan's name may be made to: The Church of the Nativity, Haitian Earthquake Relief, 210 Oak Grove Ave., Menlo Park, CA 94025.

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