By Dale Buchanan
Recently Gayle and I rang Bette’s doorbell. She ushered us into the living room, seated us, and served cold drinks. She was in fine spirits and was a gracious hostess. We had agreed not to stay too long, but we were there over two hours and there was never a dull moment. I found this 90-year-old woman to be exceedingly charming and a fascinating conversationalist. Her life experiences exceed and go beyond the average memoir. Her adventures guarantee a wealth of stories and personal encounters. We are blessed to have this matron occupying our pews. Her wealth of knowledge and experience stands us in good stead.
Bette was born in Texas, the oldest of five children. She was raised in extreme poverty. There were no bicycles, roller skates, little red wagons, or neighbor kids to play with. What she did have was a library from which she lugged home an armful of books every week. She spent every spare moment in a secluded spot reading.
When pressed about her parents, Bette’s love was apparent. Her dad taught her that if she was hired to earn a day’s wages, she owed a day’s work. In quiet words she explained how her mama came into the field and helped her chop cotton to buy school clothes.
The family moved to California and settled in Corcoran when Bette was about eight. In her mind, California and Texas were the same. They lived on an isolated farm and she had to ride a bus to and from school every day. When her dad got a job as the groundskeeper at the high school, they moved into town. At this juncture things got better. She did not find a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, but her bubbly personality and optimistic attitude helped her cope with continuing poverty that was never more than a few steps away.
High school found her the solo drummer in the band, the kettle drummer in the orchestra, a member of the Pep Club, and the alto part in a trio that performed all over the Central Valley. In her junior and senior years, Bette worked after school in a doctor’s office earning 25 cents an hour and eventually a raise to 30 cents an hour.
She was seventeen years old when she graduated from high school. Bette went to work for the railroad and was transferred to Stockton. When she came back to Fresno living at the YWCA she managed to spend one year at Fresno Junior College where she was crowned football queen. Her sense of humor was obvious when she suspected that she might have won that crown because her boyfriend was student body president. Because she could not support herself, she had to go back to work, but she was always determined to continue her education. Along the way came marriage to Larry, two children, clerical jobs, and a nightly dream of college and having to drop out.
This woman’s grit came into play when she went back to college fifteen years later. She went to Fresno State and got a B. A. in education and began teaching first grade at Rowell Elementary School. After three years she had also earned a Master’s degree and was hired as a resource teacher. Next came a degree and a job in Administration. Reading specialist and other degrees came in her love of learning.
After twenty-one years, Bette and Larry’s marriage ended in divorce. Their breakup signaled the conclusion of an epic part of Bette’s journey through academia. This interesting woman then met and married the man she lovingly refers to simply as Joe. Joe had worked as a school superintendent and through his contacts they embarked on the most exciting chapters of a truly remarkable career. The U.S. International University, San Diego, contracted with Joe and Bette to teach in England one summer. From that idyllic summer for almost twenty years Bette describes the charmingly simple adventures that she and Joe shared as they travelled the world teaching teachers how to teach.
The first great adventure was to one of the tiny Marshall Islands about 28 miles long and 2-3 miles wide. This tiny speck in the Pacific Ocean was just 4 feet above sea level and the coral reef protected the island from flooding at high tide. Fresh water was at a premium and was available only for three hours twice a week. The people were lovely.
Looking back at all the trips, this first one seemed to impress Bette the most. They came home from this adventure to another adventure. Bette was selected as a contestant on The Wheel of Fortune. She won and she and her daughter flew off on a ten-day free vacation to Paris.
Next on the agenda was Western Samoa. It was here in this backwoods world with cultural challenges that Bette realized how much she loved to solve problems and truly loved the art of teaching. While here they bought a Samoan poly-pass and for $800 were able to take 8-day trips to Australia, New Zealand, and Tonga.
The last trip Joe and Bette took was to the island of Palau somewhere between Guam and the Philippines. Joe was diagnosed with a tumor and ordered home. Bette’s Joe passed in 1993 after twenty-one years of sharing the joy of helping, teaching, and loving everyone.
The last chapter of Bette’s amazing career was yet to be written. She returned to Fresno and worked for National University for the next fifteen years supervising student teachers, finally retiring at age 80.
P.S. The last person Bette supervised was our own Judy Oftedal.