Elizabeth Wood Cuen, who was known as “Betty” to family and friends, was a true pioneer of the Tijuana River Valley. Her efforts were highlighted on Sept. 7 at the corner of Monument Road and Hollister Street with a honorary street renaming ceremony. Many attended the ceremony including Supervisor Nora Vargas and Councilmember Vivian Moreno.
Betty, who passed away in October 2019, and her husband Edward Manion Cuen, better known as “Koni,” moved into the “Valley,” in 1964. They loved and respected all its beauty. Betty dedicated herself and her family and gave much of her time and her energy in keeping the Valley in pristine conditions.
Betty was born in 1935 and raised in Palm City, the current location of Walmart and Home Depot on Saturn Boulevard and Palm Avenue, where one could find beautiful fields of tomatoes and wide open spaces.
Betty’s stamina and strength developed at an early age when she was diagnosed with Valley Fever, Coccidioidomycosis, and it was necessary to have the lower lobe of her right lung removed. In 1980, Betty had a reoccurrence of Valley Fever which led to the total removal of her right lung. However, Betty’s disability did not hamper her ability to be an excellent mother, teacher and community minded person, who put service above self.
Betty attended Mar Vista High School and was the first in her family to attend USD, Berkeley and graduate from USD in Education. Some years later, she obtained a Master’s Degree from Pepperdine University, during which time she had the awesome responsibility of raising her family of two children, twins, on their way. Her stamina and fortitude to get her degrees were paramount on her list of things to accomplish. Betty spent 50 years as a beloved teacher and respected Assistant Principal in the San Ysidro School District.
Betty and Koni build their beautiful custom log cabin home in 1964 at 473 Monument Road. Koni was the chief architect of their half acre home which became their dream home, where they raised their family, along with chickens, goats, horses and a variety of other animals, including snakes.
During those early days, Betty and her family were the first to build a home and live in the Tijuana River Valley. Looking west from their front yard, they enjoyed looking all the way down to the beach. The valley had many farms that grew strawberries, tomatoes, lettuce, celery and miles of alfalfa. At the end of Monument Road was the Dairy Mart Dairy where one could purchase fresh milk and delicious ice cream and see cows roaming the pastures. The valley in those early days was all very rustic, green and beautiful.
Betty felt that one of her responsibilities to her neighbors in the valley was to be one of the watchmen of her valley. She spent many days, a good portion of her time, speaking with the newly arrived neighbors, sharing concerns regarding the roads and the erosion of the valley’s habitat.
The early pioneers in the valley included Mr. Whitt, Mr. Rex, Mr. Curtis, Mr. Forthsite, Mr. Humphrey, Mr. Nye, Mr. Martin and the Shelton family, most of whom have now moved out of the valley. Betty felt that as the one stable factor, her responsibility was to maintain the upkeep of the valley. She spent many hours calling San Diego city and county representatives regarding regular flooding of Hollister and the need to cut and trim the brushes away from the roads and pathways, as well as repaving the potholes and the eroding Monument Road and Hollister Street.
During the big flood of 1980, Betty was instrumental in alerting her neighbors regarding the impending disastrous damage that was to occur. As a result, many homeowners, including Betty and Koni, had to be evacuated by boat.
The most recent impending flooding took place a few years ago when Councilmember David Alvarez was the representative of the Tijuana River Valley. Several meetings were held regarding the action plan to evacuate homeowners and horses. Everyone, including Betty, was put on high alert to be ready to evacuate at a moment’s s notice. Fortunately, the impending rains and flooding did not take place and the potential damage to the valley, animals and homes did not occur. Betty, as the self-appointed leader, spread the information to the neighbors who were not able to attend the meetings. Betty’s responsibilities were always paramount, and at the top of her list, was the upkeep of the Tijuana River Valley, along with her concern of the Mexico border sewage problem, flowing into our beautiful beaches.
Betty’s life commitment was family first with her beloved Tijuana Valley a close second. She was always on board to make sure the Tijuana River Valley was not forgotten. Her legacy will be forever with all her neighbors in the Valley and with all the students and parents she mentored. If Betty Cuen’s life had continued, she would be making regular calls the City of San Diego and the county to keep up the maintenance of her Tijuana River Valley since the roads and river need ongoing attention and the trees and bushes need to be trimmed.
She will be long remembered for her care, dedication and commitment to keeping this area rustic, green and beautiful.