Betty J. Ott
Interviewed by Rebecca Ory Hernandez
7 November 2011
Oral History Program
Weber State University
Betty J. Ott
Rebecca Ory Hernandez
7 November 2011
Copyright © 2012 by Weber State University, Stewart Library
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It is recommended that this oral history be cited as follows:
Betty J. Ott, an oral history by Rebecca Ory
Hernandez, 7 November 2011, WSU Stewart
Library Oral History Program, University
Archives, Stewart Library, Weber State
University, Ogden, UT.
Layton and Betty Ott
Layton and Betty Ott
Ott Family Portrait, 1994
Back Row: Corinne Jensen, Debora Blade,
Stephen Ott, Patricia Godfrey, Norma Meyers
Front Row: Vickie Schwurack, Betty Ott,
Layton Ott, Lorie Roe
Abstract: The following is an oral history interview with Betty J. Ott. Betty (b.1932)
and her husband, the late Layton P. Ott (1930-2004), who generously named the
Weber State University’s Ott Planetarium. The oral history focuses on Layton's
work in science and his love of astronomy and physics. The interview was
conducted on November 7, 2011 by Rebecca Ory Hernandez in order to gather
Betty and Layton’s experiences with Weber State University, including
philanthropy. The Ott’s important gift to Weber State University assures that the
Ott Planetarium continues to do quality production and also allows resources to
continue the outreach programs and field trips that the Ott Planetarium staff is so
great at implementing. Over 22,000 children go through the Ott Planetarium
annually. The Ott Planetarium has received NASA awards as well as local and
regional recognition due to their generous support.
ROH: Today is November 10, 2011. We are in the home of Mrs. Betty Ott in St.
George, Utah. Present are Rebecca Ory Hernandez from Weber State and Betty.
We’re going to talk a little about Betty’s history and her husband’s history. We’ll
also talk about their connection to Weber State University. Let’s start with your
BO: I was born Betty Byrd on November 25, 1932, in Phillips County, Arkansas. My
mother was Mary Magdalene Brantly. My dad was Marvin Martin Byrd. I was the
third of their eight children. We lived on a big farm. My dad raised lots of cotton
and lots of corn. I attended school in West Helena, Arkansas. I graduated top in
my class in 1950. Then I moved to Little Rock, Arkansas, where I was a
secretary for a company that sold feed to cattle. It was called Thibault Milling
I met my husband while he was an LDS missionary. I met him and his
companion one day and my folks did not want me to have anything to do with the
LDS Church. I was getting a lot of problems, so I moved to Little Rock so I could
do what I wanted to do. There was an attorney who was a member of the Church
there. He took me to meet the people at the Thibault Milling Company and they
hired me to work for them as a secretary. I was there for about a year and a half.
Layton was in Arkansas to start with and he got transferred to Oklahoma, where
he spent the rest of his time.
ROH: Where was Layton from?
BO: He was from a little town called Tropic, Utah. It’s by Bryce Canyon. His dad
raised cattle and his mother taught elementary school. His mother had lived in
Ogden, but when she graduated, she went to Weber when it was Weber
Academy. It only took two years, at that time, to become a teacher; then the
State sent her down to a little place in Garfield County to teach. That was the Ott-family
area down there and that’s how she met Layton’s dad. Layton was born in
West Point; they lived there for a time. He had a brother and a sister. I thought
Layton was really wonderful, so I corresponded with him while he was in
Oklahoma. He wrote me a letter and said, “Would you marry me after my
mission?” And we did. When we got married, we lived in Provo for a while. He
was going to BYU and we didn’t have jobs. We moved to Salt Lake and he went
to the University of Utah.
ROH: What year did you get married?
BO: In 1952.
ROH: Where did you marry?
BO: In the Logan Temple. I had a job working for a finance company while he was
doing every kind of odd job he could in order to keep us afloat. He went to the U
for a year, and then he got drafted into the Army. He was trained in Fort Ord,
California, but when he finished training, he got sent to Petersburg, Virginia. He
taught classes for the military there.
ROH: Where were you at that time?
BO: I was with him—not during the Basic Training, but after that I got to go with him.
In November 1953, we had our first daughter, Deborah.
ROH: Where was she born?
BO: When he first got drafted into the Army, I stayed here in St. George because I
didn’t have another place to go. So I had Deborah here in St. George. When he
finished with his military service, we came back to Salt Lake and he finished his
Bachelor’s degree. He graduated top in his group and he was offered two
scholarships. He took the one in Los Angeles. We moved there and he got his
Master’s degree from UCLA. We had a son while he was in the military and our
second daughter was born at the UCLA Medical Center. Then we moved back to
Utah and he went to the University of Utah for his doctoral work. He got hired at
the University [of Utah] and taught in the Business Department for about
seventeen years. He loved it and he loved the young people. He actually got an
award from the University of Utah students, who voted him as one of the best
professors in that department.
ROH: Was his Master’s in business?
BO: Yes, it was an MBA. After he’d been at the U for about seventeen years, he said,
“I need to do something different.” It was about this time that he met President
Miller, who was Weber’s president. Weber wanted to get a planetarium, but
financially it wasn’t there. Layton helped them by donating a lot of things—he
donated land so they could sell it, he also donated a coin collection…I don’t
remember everything. But he helped them so they could get the planetarium.
ROH: What is the connection between his work in business and the planetarium?
BO: He had a telescope and he loved to take the children out at night and show them.
When Weber wanted to get a planetarium, it hit Layton just right.
ROH: He was passionate about stars and astronomy.
BO: He was, really.
ROH: Do you know if he always had that hobby? Even as a young person?
BO: I’m not sure. The only thing I remember was that when he was in Boy Scouts,
they could get a merit badge for astronomy. Maybe that’s where it started.
ROH: How involved were you in that process of donating and helping Weber get a
BO: I was tending children all that time. It was a neat thing for me because I was
supportive of him and what he did and when it was dedicated, I got invited to
come. That was good.
ROH: It must have been a happy day when we had the planetarium grand opening.
BO: It was beautiful. Then, after Layton passed away—it was in 2005 or 2006—we
gave the money to Weber to get a new telescope and new chairs and things.
ROH: When did Layton pass away?
BO: It was in 2004.
ROH: Did he stay connected to Weber all those years after meeting President Miller?
BO: He did. He had a passion for helping Weber get what they needed. We spent a
lot of time there. We got acquainted with most of the presidents of the college.
He was really happy when it was made a university, too. Actually, President
Naduald was the president of Weber and now he’s the president of Dixie. He’s a
very nice person.
ROH: How have you stayed involved with the planetarium since Layton’s been gone?
BO: Every year, Dr. Ostile and Lisa would come down to visit me and I continually
give money to take care of things. We’ve done that every year. I don’t know how
it happened, but I know Layton had a desire to really help people and the
planetarium. I think it was two years ago that we agreed to donate a certain
amount to Weber for ten years. My son is involved in that.
ROH: I wanted to ask if all of your children have been involved.
BO: Mainly my son. One of the professors there had taken a leave of absence and
my son graduated with a Master's degree from BYU, so they called him and
asked him if he’d be willing to substitute. It was an accounting class. For some
reason, we have just always stayed close to Weber. It meant a lot for Lisa and
Dr. Ostlie to take the time to come down to visit.
ROH: Have you been able to go to any of the shows in the planetarium?
BO: Yes. All of my family came into town and they had a special showing when they
got all the new equipment in. The kids loved it. Dr. Ostlie and the proctors were
so kind. They said, “Anytime there’s kids trying to get merit badges or something,
bring them here and we’ll do a show for them.” They are very kind. My son was a
bishop in Kaysville and they would take kids up to see a show. The boys would
get a merit badge for it. Weber has been very kind to me and to our family. I can’t
think of any other way to say it.
ROH: That’s perfect. Has this project that you’ve helped with caused you to have a
greater interest in astronomy?
BO: I love it, but I don’t have a telescope or anything. I love to sit out at night in the
summer and see the stars and the moon and think, “We’ve got a beautiful world.”
Layton would take the kids outside with a telescope and find the Big Dipper and
things like that and he’d tell the kids all about it.
ROH: Have your children become more inquisitive about astronomy because of this?
BO: I would say so, but not in a large way. Lots of grandsons have enjoyed going to
Weber to see the shows. It was nice for the kids.
ROH: Is there anything you’d like us to know about Layton?
BO: Oh my goodness, it would take all day to tell you all the wonderful things about
Layton. When he gave up teaching at the University of Utah, he had two partners
in Salt Lake that asked him if the three of them could start a developing
businesses together—shopping centers in the Salt Lake area and those sorts of
things. Their big project was the Layton Hills Mall. He did a lot of developing. One
of his partners was sent to Armenia to build a cement plant—they had an
enormous earthquake there that destroyed a lot. After about six years of being
over there, he got burned and came home and passed away at the University of
Utah’s Medical Center. But these three really were the best partnership you could
ever ask for. They were just completely in accord. Layton was the one that made
sure the financial part of it was okay. David Horn was the builder. Then Paul and
Bob Mendenhall were the two that got the companies into the mall. They were
together probably ten or so years.
ROH: How did they know one another?
BO: Through church.
ROH: Was he working in the business world at the same time that he was teaching?
BO: No. When he first quit teaching at the U, he bought a business from a company
in Tooele. It was called Vista International. For several years, that company
made pieces that fit on the back of a truck—now they’re just called campers, I
think. They really expanded that quite a bit.
ROH: Did your family go camping?
BO: The people who were building these campers said to him one day, “We have
built a camper just for you. You need to come and see it.” They’d put carpet and
all these various things in it…it was really pretty. We took the children and went
to Yellowstone—by then, we had six of our children. We stayed one night—we
stayed in the hotel and the kids stayed in the trailer. Layton took it back and told
the guy, “Sell it, I don’t need it.” It was not for him. He did not like to camp. Even
as an Eagle Scout, he didn’t want to go into the wilderness and set up a tent.
ROH: How long did he teach?
BO: About seventeen years. And that camper business was the first thing that he
went into. Doing strip malls and things came later.
ROH: You’ve mentioned a few of your children. Would you tell us who they are and the
years they were born?
BO: Deborah Kay was born November 11, 1953. Steven Layton was born July 11,
1955. Laurie was born June 24, 1957; she’s the one who was born at UCLA.
Then Vicki Lynn was born August 15, 1958. Then we decided, “Wow, we’ve got
to slow this down!” [Laughter] So we waited six years and then had Corinne; she
was born on March 16, 1964. Patricia was born March 14, 1966. She and her
husband Darin are very involved in Weber State.
ROH: Did she go to Weber?
BO: She and her husband graduated from Weber. Trisha got her Bachelor’s and
Darin got his Master’s. Then, our youngest child is Norma Jean; she was born
May 28, 1970. Norma graduated from BYU Hawaii. She met a guy over there
and when she came home for Christmas she said, “I’ve met someone and I want
to get married.” That’s when we decided to move to St. George. We wanted to
get out of the cold weather; plus, Layton’s mother lived there and she was not in
good health, so we were coming down a lot for her sake.
ROH: Had she moved from Tropic to St. George?
BO: Yes, she had actually moved to St. George quite a few years earlier because she
taught first grade at the school here.
ROH: Would talk a little about your son’s involvement in Weber State?
BO: He takes care of all the financial things between us and Weber. Weber knows his
phone number and address. He could tell you so much more than I could. His
dad idolized him and they did everything together. He’s actually the CFO of
Living Scriptures in Ogden. At one point, he quit and they hired another guy, then
the boss called and said, “Steve, we’ve got to have you back.” I think he works
three days a week there. He has golfed with Dr. Ostlie and Lisa. Plus, his
daughter Melanie is going to Weber right now. She wants to get a degree where
she can…you know how when someone writes a book and you get it reviewed by
someone? That’s what she’s going to school for. She wants to be able to do
reviews of things.
ROH: Do you go back to Weber State on occasion?
BO: I get invited, but it’s so far away! [Laughter]
ROH: I know. I was wondering if there are things that you attend sometimes or if you go
to campus to see the planetarium.
BO: I think the last time I saw the planetarium was when they did the remodeling and
dedication and all the family was there. I’m kind of a person who doesn’t do
ROH: Tell me a little about what you do here in St. George.
BO: I really enjoy it here. I’ve been working at the temple as an ordinance worker. I
got released just recently, so now I go over to do my work. It’s a beautiful thing
and the work is beautiful. Around 1999, Layton said, “Let’s take the children and
go traveling with them.” So in 1999, we did a cruise and went to Russia. The next
year, we did a cruise and went to New England and Canada. The year after, we
did a cruise to Alaska. Then he started taking all the grandkids, too. It was a job.
Then, in 2003, he took the children on a Caribbean cruise around Thanksgiving
time and he passed away the following January.
ROH: How did he pass away?
BO: In 1973…he had a cousin who was Chief of Police in Salt Lake. He had been in
the military and he trained people what to do with the enemy or bombs and
things. We went with them for a month and in that period of time, Layton picked
up salmonella. Normally, that’s only dysentery and you get rid of it. But the doctor
assumed that Layton had an ulcer and it got in his ulcer. He was in the hospital
all summer long and it was so bad that we assumed we were going to lose him.
Well, it affected his liver the worst, but it affected all of his vital organs. He had a
number of operations. They did a surgery on him that worked, but you never get
rid of the salmonella virus. When we came here, we found a doctor who works
with livers as his specialty. About two years before Layton passed away, the
doctor said, “Layton, I’ve done all I can do for you. I’ll give you two years.” Layton
lived two more years and a month. Of course, I didn’t know about that. Layton
didn’t tell me. He told my son and my son told me after Layton passed away.
ROH: I guess he didn’t want to worry you.
BO: That’s what Steve said.
ROH: I’m very sorry. You said that Layton did some military duty, did he ever go
BO: No. He was at Fort Lee teaching classes for the military. Then he got sent to a
place in California; for some reason they had not kept the books that had to do
with the NCO Club. There were a lot of things about it that were a mess and they
were trying to close it. I can’t remember the name of the base.
ROH: Which branch of the military?
BO: The Army. His job was to construct a set of books that looked legal. It passed
and so he worked there until about the last of August. They gave him an early
release so he could go back to school. He went back and got his Bachelor’s
ROH: So he wasn’t in the military very long.
BO: About two years.
ROH: Did he have anything to say about that time in the military? Based on the rest of
his life, that’s a really small period of time.
BO: There were several guys from Utah that had all gotten drafted at the same time
and gone to Basic Training together. One of them had a car there and on the way
back, they had a wreck. Layton’s back was broken in the accident. From
February through the end of April he was in the hospital trying to get it fixed. In
May, they sent him to Fort Lee, Virginia. Because he had a bad back, he never
had to do KP or guard duty or anything like that, so that was a good thing. But
anyway, he did so many wonderful things.
ROH: What did the two of you enjoy doing together as far as family traditions?
BO: I think the most we ever did was go to movies together. We were stay-at-home
kind of people. If we did do things, we had all the kids with us. Friday night was
his day with all the kids and me. Every Friday night, they got to go out to dinner
and chose where they wanted to eat. Then we’d come home and play games. He
thought his kids were the only kids in the world, I think. [Laughter] We were both
very active in the Church so we did a lot of things church-wise. But he worked
long hours when he quit teaching, and he felt like any time he had, he had to
spend it with the family. So that was what we did. When we went on vacation,
they all went with us. Except when we went to Asia.
ROH: When did you go to Asia?
BO: In 1973, that was when he picked up salmonella.
ROH: Were you with him?
BO: Yes. The four of us had to be tested, but he was the only one who had gotten it.
ROH: Do you recall where you were based?
BO: We weren’t really based anywhere. In Salt Lake, there was a sort of international
police chief convention [International Association of Chiefs of Police Convention].
The first country we went to was Japan; they wanted him to come in and talk to
their police department and say, “If this happens…this is what you can do.” We
went all over. We were in the Philippines and Singapore and Thailand. That was
quite an experience. When we were in Thailand, they invited us to see some
beautiful dance shows. We enjoyed Thai food. We got entertained as if we were
ROH: Layton was never a policeman though?
BO: Layton wasn’t, but Layton’s cousin, Earl was a policeman. Earl and his wife
asked us if we’d go with them. We had a wonderful time in Japan. We got to see
them diving for pearls and various things.
ROH: That sounds exciting. I’ve never seen pearl diving.
BO: Yes. They have to be in a certain place and a certain depth of water, so we were
taken out to a place where we could see them diving for the pearls.
ROH: Okay. So neither you nor Layton attended Weber State.
BO: Just his mother. She knew President Miller and I think that was what started her
interest. President Miller was from West Point, I believe, and that’s where
Layton’s mother grew up.
ROH: Next week, I have an appointment to talk to the five daughters of President Miller.
BO: Oh, he was such a kind, good man. President Nadauld was, too. When we
moved down here, we were trying to help him to keep some programs going, too.
Layton was really a lover of education and he wanted all of his kids to be well-educated.
I have twenty grandchildren and fourteen great-grandchildren. The
oldest just turned twenty and he’s going to Honduras to serve a mission for the
Church. Trisha’s son is in Norway. My daughter Corinne’s third daughter is in the
Singapore Mission in the Malaysian Islands.
ROH: Three of your grandchildren on missions at the same time?
BO: Yes. Other than that, I’ve got grandkids who have done wonderful things.
ROH: Thank you so much for your time. We appreciate it.
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