This is a guest blog, written by my sister Melinda Jenkins for Betty’s memorial service.
My Aunt Betty passed away peacefully in her home on April 3. We are all here because she was so special to us. She has touched the lives of each of us in some way. In fact, she touched the lives of many, thousands over the years, as a music teacher, choral leader, and organist. For me, Betty gave me the gift of knowledge. Let me explain.
I am the youngest of 3. My older brother has always been smart. Betty exposed him to the arts, as she did us all. They were drawn together not only by the arts, but by current events, NPR and politics.
My sister has always been smart too. Also exposed to the arts, as well as drawn to Betty by her love of music and education. Both of them are school teachers who have such passion for education. She and Betty could talk endlessly about education theory, methods, and process.
I am smart too. I was also exposed to the arts by Aunt Betty. But my connection differs from theirs, in one distinct way. I remember being shy in 2nd and 3rd grade. I did not want to be called on in class. My mother, after having to go through the education process, grew concerned at my tentativeness when it came to reading. You see, my mom is also smart, still is an avid reader and she knows books = knowledge. She took me to the public library. She had me join a book club that mailed a new book each month. I would get so excited to check the mail. Curious George, Runaway Ralph and Socks were a few of my favorites. It was perfect, as long as she would read to me, but not so great when I would read to her.
Early in my 3rd grade year, she talked with my teachers about her concerns. They reassured her that I could read, but was choosing not to due to my shy streak. Then at the end of 3rd grade suddenly, the teachers were concerned and called my mom in to tell her that I could not read. My Mom reached out to her sister Betty for help. I still remember a conversation that I had with my Mom, Dad and Betty. Should I be held back and repeat 3rd grade? I was adamantly opposed. I wanted to stay with my friends and classmates.
Betty looked me in the eye and said, “Well, if you will work very hard everyday this summer with me, we will get you caught up.”
I thought to myself… ‘I trust her. She will help me.’
And so, that summer Betty would pick me up each day. We would go to her Condo (where she has lived all these years). We would sit at her dining room table (still the same one) and she would work with me for hours, keeping me engaged, focused, and learning. In just 3 months (yes summer was 3 months long at that time) she took a 3rd grader, who struggled to read at all and help me become a 4th grader who was reading on grade level.
So my bond to Betty is the gift of reading, because books = knowledge. I continued to read on grade level throughout my high school and college years. I never developed a passion for language arts, to this day poetry or classic novels still give me trouble. I did learn to appreciate them, but I developed a passion for reading the sciences… all of them biology, cellular biology, anatomy and physiology, pathophysiology, chemistry, biochemistry and pharmacology. I like to call it… technical reading. My love for technical reading and knowledge drove me into the medical field, where I have worked for many years as a nurse practitioner.
Fast forward now to Feb 26th, 2018
When we were alerted by her sweet neighbors that Betty was not well, I met my parents at her condo. A quick assessment found that Betty was seriously ill.
I looked her in the eyes and said “Betty we must go to the hospital. Something is wrong and we need to go now.”
She looked me straight in the eyes and said “I trust you.”
So, at 8 o’clock at night we headed to the emergency room. The weeks that followed were full of ups and downs. There were glimmers of improvement, flashes of hope, followed by tremendous setbacks.
At one point, while at subacute rehab, a nurse said, “Oh Ms. Betty just loves to watch TV all afternoon”.
Now, all of you here know that Betty does not watch TV except an occasional PBS special or DVD documentaries. This confirmed to me that she was not improving and not in the best place. She was not herself. We worked tirelessly over the next 2 weeks, Betty and I, for one goal…..to get her home to see her cherry tree. You see, our family has always known where Betty wanted to spend her last days on this earth. It was in her home, where she has lived independently for so many years, looking out at her cherry tree.
So we have come full circle……She and I trusted each other in our time of greatest need.