Mary Elizabeth Howes was born on April 20, 1907 on the family homestead southwest of Millet, Alberta. Her parents, Micajah and Flora Howes, had immigrated to western Canada in 1900 from Holyoke, Massachusetts, with their five older children. By 1907, Horace was 25 years old, Thomas was 19, Mildred was 16, Nathan was 13, and Roger was 9. Flora herself was 47 by then. When Thomas brought Mrs. Bucher, a local midwife, to help his mother with the birth, they were met at the door by his father announcing: “It’s a girl! It’s a girl!”
Beth, as she was usually called, grew up enjoying the outdoors and the farm animals. Her chores included carrying in the wood for the stove and helping with haying when she got older. She attended the Hillside school through grade nine. Her girlhood is described in a book called Beth of Willow Farm, written in 1992 by her daughter, Evangeline Thiessen.
Beth’s journey out into the world began when she took her grades ten and eleven in Millet, working for her board and room at the Leonard Grays’ and Mrs. Doane’s. For grade twelve she went to Wetaskiwin, working for her room and board at the Chalmers’. During the 1926-27 school year Beth attended the Camrose Normal School and earned a teaching certificate. She then taught school for five years: two years (1927-29) at Porto Bello, a district ten miles west of Millet, and three years (1929-32) at Roseland, east of Wetaskiwin.
Influenced by her brother Roger, Beth became deeply religious by age seventeen. She turned toward Christian ministry, attending services and spending time with young people from churches in Wetaskiwin and Camrose. She also enjoyed Baptist summer camps at McLaurin Beach on Gull Lake. While teaching at the Porto Bello School, Beth boarded at the Stuehmers’ home and helped Mrs. Stuehmer with a Lutheran Sunday school. When she taught at Roseland, she held Sunday school in the schoolhouse. From 1932-1935, Beth trained for Christian ministry at Prairie Bible Institute in Three Hills.
During those years at Bible school, Beth went back to the Hillside district in the summertime to help her sister Mildred look after their elderly mother. Their father, Micajah, had passed away suddenly in 1925, and as the years went by, their mother developed dementia. She died in December 1935.
The next summer, Beth left to go up to the Peace River country to do mission work with the interdenominational Canadian Sunday School Mission. Beth served there in 1936 and 1937. A young man by the name of Walter McNaughton was directing the mission work, and he asked Beth to come in the fall of 1936 to help teach in Sexsmith at the Peace River Bible Institute. Beth continued teaching at PRBI, working with community youth, and helping with secretarial work. Everyone seemed surprised when, in the spring of 1939, she and Walter became engaged. A little over a month later they were married—on June 7, 1939. They had four children, all born in Sexsmith: Malcolm in 1940, Evangeline in 1943, Ruth in 1945, and David in 1946.
Over the next several years, the McNaughtons lived in a number of different places: Vernon, B.C., Three Hills, Sexsmith again, Edmonton, Fort McMurray, back to Edmonton, then to Millet, and finally to Grande Prairie.
It was enjoyable for Beth to be able to retire in Millet, her home community. Beth was active in the Women’s Institute and she and Walter were part of the Millet Historical Society. They helped to establish the Evangelical Free Church in Millet, where Beth taught Sunday school. She led women’s Bible studies and supported many missionaries. She was an avid writer, keeping in touch with her children and sending letters to extended family and a host of friends. She and Walter had at one time a mailing list of about 500 people!
With Beth’s enjoyment of the outdoors, it was no surprise that she enjoyed gardening. She did lots of canning when the children were growing up, and later when they got a deep freeze she would also preserve some of the fresh food that way. She was creative, knitting garments for the family, sewing pyjamas, and making Valentines and memory games for the grandchildren. When it came time for the Millet community fairs, she enjoyed entering her produce and craft items, and she won many ribbons. She also had the frugality of a true pioneer, mending her husband’s and children’s socks, and using leftovers in her simple but nutritious meals.
Beth and Walter finished out their retirement in Grande Prairie, close to where they had been married and had served for many years. They celebrated their 65th anniversary in June of 2004. Then, on April 11, 2005, nine days short of her 98th birthday, Beth passed away after a short illness. Walter died nine months later on January 11, 2006, less than three months before his 96th birthday.
Beth’s legacy was one of faithfulness, encouragement, even-temperedness, prayer, generosity, hospitality, industry, and enjoyment of life.