When you live in the small city you grew up in, you go to a lot of wakes. It’s not that more people die here, it’s just that more people touch each others lives. Even when we think we are going to just to support one of our friends that lost a loved one, we find memories of our own reflected in the pictures on display in the funeral home. We are all interconnected in a special way. From time to time it feels suffocating, but more often than not, it is comfort in the connection. These roots run deep and it helps us not feel as if we are floating on our own.
Today we said our final good bye to Mr. Richard Betz a teacher beloved throughout the community. I stood in line for an hour with my husband who grew up golfing with Mr. Betz, my mother-in-law who took part in the healing touch ministry Mr. Betz and his wife led at the local hospital, and a high school friend a few years my senior who came on behalf of her classmates that live far away. There were friends who met the Betzs through their yoga instruction and former athletes that can contribute their golf swing, wrestling moves and sportsmanship to Mr. Betz. With wet eyes and crackling voices we told his wife our best memories of him. They were all unique. I was lucky enough to grow up as an extended part of his family. My parents stopped by afterwards and they had stories of their own from family birthday parties, graduations and weddings. Although his lifetime was far too short, it was a life time filled with people, stories, and community.
Mr. Betz’s teaching style was simple. Love your subject, love your students, work hard. His lesson plans didn’t come from the latest and greatest study on education. They came from the nightly news, the New York Times, and the 3 Stooges. He facilitated conversations by sitting at our level and just asking what we thought. I took his AP Government class during the Impeachment of President Clinton. Every morning he came in with a VHS tape from the night before of Cokie Roberts covering the latest phase of the saga. His adoration for Cokie was contagious and we cheered when she came on the screen. What better way to learn about government than to see it in action. Reading the online guest book of his obituary a student shared a similar story of learning government through current news, but he had Mr. Betz during Watergate. The political junky in me (that he helped create) is a bit jealous of that. If they kept voter registration stats, Mr. Betz would be the all time highest recruiter in Montgomery County. He didn’t care what party you registered for but you would register. If you needed help, he had a political personality quiz or two that would help you find your party.
Mr. Betz was notorious for cutting out New York Times articles he thought a student might be interested in. A good friend who is a political science professor today remembers Mr. Betz cutting out articles for him even though their politics could not be more different. Another online writer remembers Mr. Betz making her feel welcome as she adjusted to America and still brought her articles about her home country to the grocery store she worked at after graduation.
When things got too heavy, Mr. Betz called on the 3 Stooges. Most of us were too young to be that familiar with them so we found it hysterical. Besides the laughter Mr. Betz also had a purpose to showing them through the moral of the story or a connection between Larry , Moe, and Curly and some of our current elected officials. When a student was having a hard day, Mr. Betz could tell. He’d write a pass for them to stop by later or stay after class. He was there to listen, there to help. If you just needed some quiet time for yourself, he’d give you that too. Love your subject, love your students, work hard. In a day when teachers and students are drowning in educational jargon, there is a beauty in the simplicity of his teaching.
Mr. and Mrs. Betz were before their time when it came to teaching the “whole person.” They were into yoga before yoga was cool. We were offered free and discounted student rates at the classes they taught at the local Methodist Church. These classes were the perfect escape as we stressed over college acceptances, graduation, and high school life. They began healing touch or Reiki style therapy at the hospital with Sister Rita Jean helping countless people. The Betzs traveled to Arizona a couple of times a year for yoga and healing retreats. It seemed a natural retirement place except for the dedication the Betzs had to their community. What was natural to them was to stay here, continue yoga, healing touch therapy, golf, teaching youth golf clinics and being active members of their families and community. Sure, Mr. Betz still lamented that it was harder to find the New York Times two hours away from NYC than two thousand miles away. But home was where they stayed.
After we gave our condolences to Mrs. Betz she turned to her brother-in-law and said, “Can you believe it? Who would have thought such a big impact?” Of course her brother-in-law believed it, we all believed it. But to Mr. and Mrs. Betz, it was just part of living in a community. Their daily activities were not for attention or accolades, but to be present where they were needed and to give where they could. It was so simple that I didn’t realize the full impact he had until now. I hope he knew how many lives he touched and what a better place this community was because of him. I am glad we were all able to tell his wife and family. Love your subject, love your students, work hard and go out and vote. Rest in peace, Mr. Betz, Namaste.