Faces in the Crowd – Betty Lewis

November 8, 2018

by Gene Bodnar

While I was attending the Grand Opening ceremonies of the Railroad Depot on October 12th, I was introduced to Betty Lewis, who had a major role in raising money for the Clare Railroad Restoration, Inc.  We arranged to meet a few days later for this interview.

11-9-18 Faces In the Crowd Betty LewisBetty was born in Fresno, California in 1945, the oldest of eight siblings.  Her father was a Civil Engineer who moved wherever a new dam or bridge was being builds, so Betty said she didn’t live more than a year in one place as a child.  Thus, her elementary and high school education took place in numerous schools all around the country.  She graduated in 1963 from South Lyon High School in southwestern Oakland County.  Her father was assigned as a civil engineer for the construction of the Mackinac Bridge, which is the world’s longest suspension bridge – 5 miles long including approaches.

Not long after graduation, Betty married Larry, her husband of 47 years before his passing 7 years ago.  They had two children, Jeffrey and Jodie.  Jeffrey, who is currently 53, has a degree in Psychology but makes his living building harps.  He is married to a Physical Therapist.  Jodie, who is 50, works as a Mortgage Underwriter and has a degree from Eastern Michigan University.  Betty has one granddaughter from Jodie named Lily, who is currently a Junior at Western University majoring in Communications.  She is also an accomplished equestrian.
After Betty married, she took accounting classes at Washtenaw Community College for two years.  After that, she became a stay-at-home Mom who was already an adept seamstress, so she decided to create wedding gowns on demand and took in custom tailoring – work she enjoyed.

When her children were in middle school, Betty decided to return to work as an Accountant.  For a time she worked for a property management firm, then at St. Joseph’s Hospital, and finally at the University of Michigan.  She admits that she did not like the work, found accounting too boring, so she decided to switch to secretarial work.

About this time, her family moved to Clare, where she began working at Central Michigan University as a Secretary.  Here, she found her “Garden of Eden” as far as work was concerned.  She love dealing with people – the teachers, the students, her peers.  Very much an extrovert, she loves this work so much that she worked for CMU for the next 26 years.  Her current position is Executive Secretary of the Department of Philosophy and Religion, which is a part of the College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences.

I had heard that Betty was heavily involved in volunteer work, so I asked her about this next.  I was surprised by the extent of her involvement in so many different activities.  Let me explain.

In March of 2005, Betty created Dog Tales, Inc., which is a Michigan Domestic non-profit organization.  Innovative and unique in concept, the mission of the organization is to improve the literacy skills of the children in our community through the use of registered therapy dogs as literacy mentors.  Betty is its coordinator and founder of the first program of its kind in Michigan.  The program has proven so effective by the Intermountain Therapy Animal in Salt Lake City, Utah, and has spread to many other states.  The program is called Reading Education Assistance Dogs (READ).

The program finds children who read at a level below their peers.  These children are often intimidated by reading aloud in a classroom setting, which can easily lower self-esteem, causing reading to be a chore.  Such children read to a dog, which is far less intimidating and is helpful and fun at the same time.  The dog, of course, listens with enthusiasm and even wags its tail.

A typical program runs for 4 consecutive weeks with the child reading for 20 minutes at each session.  Each participating child, after completing the program, receives a “pawtographed” book for their reading level.  All members of the group are volunteers, and the purchase of books is from donations or fund-raisers.

In June of 2005, Betty’s husband founded the Clare Depot Preservation, Inc.  The goal of the organization acquire and move the depot to its current location.    In 2010, the depot project began to move forward in earnest, thanks to the partnership between the City of Clare, Mid Michigan Community Action, Clare County Arts Council, Clare Chamber of Commerce, Clare Downtown Development Authority, Michigan Department of Transportation, Great Lakes Central Railroad, and Clare Depot Preservation, Inc. (Larry Lewis’s organization).
After her husband passed away, Betty took over to make sure his dream came true.  October 12th, the grand opening of the depot, must have been an emotional experience for Betty, because initially this began as her late husband’s project.  Betty now saw it come to fruition.

Betty also headed a project to raise money for the purchase 1920s era caboose that was moved onto the depot premises two years ago.  The purchase of the caboose cost $11,000, and another $3,000 was necessary for renovations.  The funds were raised with money from the Mid-Michigan Train Show, which splits the proceeds from the annual event between Dog Tales.

She has also been active in selling bricks that embellish the sidewalks of the railroad depot.  Betty is also an active participant in the Train Show in Mt. Pleasant.  In the past, Betty has been active in the Jaycees, Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, in tutoring children, and in volunteering at schools.

For many years, she has raised money and prepared gift bags for seniors in nursing homes.  The bags consist of small items, such as soaps, shampoos, jigsaw puzzles, and so forth.  The bags also contain beanie babies, about 600 of them!  The nursing homes assemble the items in bags so that a particular resident doesn’t receive something they shouldn’t have due to allergies.  The gift bags are donated to nursing homes in Clare, Farwell, Mt. Pleasant, and St. Louis.

I asked Betty what she liked to do in her spare time.  She responded that she loves any kind of needlework, from needlepoint to crocheting or knitting.  Her mother was a librarian, so she loves to read a wide range of subjects, but her favorite escape literature is mysteries, especially those written by British authors.

Betty loves to travel as well.  She’s vacationed in Hawaii three times.  When her granddaughter graduates from college, she will return to Hawaii for a fourth time.  She’s been to Spain, the Bahamas, Germany, and Austria.  Next summer, she expects to visit London and tour Great Britain and Scotland.  Since her father was born in the Netherlands, she plans on spending some time in that country in the future.  At Christmas, she loves to visit her 14 nieces and nephews and their families in Florida.

Whenever the opportunity arises, Betty loves to go camping in her camper trailer with her daughter and granddaughter at Wilderness State Park in Carp Lake.

Betty Lewis is a lady with a full-time job that she truly loves, and yet she spends a large portion of her free time in volunteer work in many areas.  She is one who has not waited for good things to happen to her, but she has gone out and made good things happen in our community, while at the same time filling the world with hope.  We need to remember that volunteers don’t get paid because they are priceless.

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