The SOURCE gave Betsy the honor of Woman of the Year. I first met her because they asked me to make portraits of her to accompany that story. I went with the reporter to get a sense of who she was and, as I listened to her talk, two things became very evident: the first was why she was selected as Woman of the Year and the second was how suited she was for this project as she is an example for each of us. I am fortunate to have now had two opportunities to sit in Betsy's home and chat with her and learn from her wealth of experience and get a sense of her caring, compassionate worldview. You would probably like to chat with her, too. Take a peek at her website to find out how.
Who are you?
(Laughs) I'm Betsy Warriner! I'd say I'm a community activist. Mother of two amazing daughters. Best friends with an amazing dog (laughs). And I live in the best neighborhood in Bend. It feels as if I've really found a home here. I'm really interested in people and I'm basically shy.
Where do you come from?
I was born in Philadelphia. Grew up in the East Coast. The place of my heart is the family farm in northeast Pennsylvania. I've lived in Seattle, Atlanta, Ethiopia for two years, Brazil for a month (laughs), traveled a lot. I've been around a lot of different places. I come from pretty much everywhere (laughs). I come from a very conservative family growing up. My brother is highly conservative and we're about as close as two people can be. Which is kind of wonderful that we're able to bridge that gap. My experience growing up, even though it was privileged and protected in a lot of ways, also I saw a lot and kind of had a strong sense of suffering in the world. So, I think I also come out of that with a feeling of - horror isn't the right word -hatred of just how tough things are for most people in the world and a sense that that's not right. I'm committed to doing what I can to make that right. So I come out of a very strong place in that. I spent a number of years involved with the Co-counseling Community, which is a worldwide movement of people counseling each other. The community developed a lot of workshops and conferences on eliminating racism and anti-semitism and adultism and other oppressions. I have quite a number of years sort of being steeped in the language of liberation. And then when I was working at Seattle University, that really enhanced that because the priests and the faculty there, many of them were very involved in the Catholic liberation movements. So! I came out of all of that.
What brought you here?
I was living in Portland and one of my daughters was living here and she kept saying, "Mom, you've gotta move to Bend." And so, finally, I did.
What do you like about Bend?
When I first moved here, I felt just wrapped up and welcomed in the community. There was a group of people called the Network of Volunteer Administrators and they welcomed me to join with them. And I was talking with people at COCC and OSU-Cascades about trying to bring the service learning work that I'd been doing in Seattle and Portland - bring it here. Finally decided that the best way to go was to set up a non-profit organization and there always was a feeling of being wrapped up in community. Then, moving to this neighborhood, not a terribly diverse neighborhood (laughs) in terms of economics, but in terms of perspectives in the world it is. So I felt very much part of the community with that. Very early on I started going to the Deschutes Democrats meetings and that also began to feel like family. And then I joined a hiking club. I'd just go to things. I'd look at the Bulletin at the page of what's happening in the community and I'd go to those things (laughs).
What does community mean to you?
Community means an acceptance of all members. There's the community where you live, but it's not a community unless people know each other and accept each other and do things together. A metaphor and an example of community is when the Criterium downtown - they're going through downtown really fast, just whizzing by, very close to each other - and it goes whoooosh! (laughs) and the streets are completely packed with people cheering them on. Just, you know, five deep (laughs). And the First Fridays, which is sort of like a party - an outdoor party. Those things don't include everybody, so that's a problem, but there's that sense of people coming together - freely coming together. So I guess that's what community means to me is that people want to come together and they do it freely. But then community extends to the whole world. So that's a lot of what we're wrestling with now. There's some community members who don't want to play fair. And we have our own pieces in which we're not playing fair. Community at that level is basically caring about each other.
So where does it come from? I think the book I mentioned was the first step - Oscar Wilde's Fairy Tales. And my family was always very - particularly my father - open to people of all walks of life and would always engage with somebody, human to human, no matter what that person's circumstances. I think he was naturally very curious and he passed that on to me. My parents were divorced when my brother and I were very young, and then they each remarried, so we had sort of successions of (laughs) step-parents and step-siblings. But there was one point when my father had a farm in Pennsylvania and when we'd go be with him there, I remember going to a bar with him. I don't know why we were able to go to the bar (laughs). My brother and I would be playing games and we would have a ball doing that and my father would be sitting there at the bar just really engaged with people in this small town in Pennsylvania. You know? I think maybe that's where a lot of it came from. And college, you know, college was really eye-opening and my politics shifted practically overnight from how I grew up to what I was seeing.
Do you have a favorite memory from your time here?
I can think of a couple, but these are just sort of like examples of so many good things. One is seeing a trumpeter swan flying low upriver. Just the power and beauty of that and the magic of seeing that because you usually see them just kind of floating around the water. But a really special time was, I think it was my 75th birthday, my daughters did a party for me. They invited people and they created the food and, in the afternoon, one of my daughters came over and asked for some of the roses that were blooming. So I went over to her house and came in and, first of all, there were pictures all over. They had gotten pictures frames and they had gotten some pictures from me and pictures of my life kind of all over. And then went through the house and out into the garden and, she has a rectangular pond with stones around it, they had set up tables in a big U, and there were roses all around and white table cloths. It was enchanting. My daughter, who lives in San Francisco, Laura, when she was serving food to people, she got up on the rim of the pond, which is about a foot wide, and was walking around, serving people (laughs). It was a beautiful evening and another special birthday. And they asked everybody to say nice things about me, so that's really nice (laughs).
What do you wish for the future?
I'm looking forward to seeing the eclipse. For my personal life, a relationship. With a guy. It's time. Leonard has moved on and it's time for somebody else to come into my life. Or me to come into somebody else's life or both (laughs). And in terms of work, there's a group of us who are creating something called Community Conversations. It's bringing people together to talk about community. The first criterion is that it will be a diverse group of people; in all kinds of meanings of diversity. But all of them will be people who care about community and are involved in some way in the community and have a sense of curiosity and empathy and respect for others. We're very vague about it but it's exciting to think about and plan for. For the community, what I hope for - (Laughs) well, I do hope we don't outgrow our resources. Growth is good and it's good if it's thoughtful and planned and not sprawled. But it brings all kinds of, you know, diversity and wonderful restaurants, and arts, better jobs for people - that kind of thing. So I hope that as we grow in size we also continue to grow in collaboration and finding ways to do things together and create a better community.
I think it's important in looking at our community and our world to maintain rational hope. Not sort of pie in the sky hope, but hope based on the reality of the basic goodness of human beings. People who are doing some of the most horrifying things in the world, their actions can be explained by pain they've experienced in their lives and that if you took one of those violent terrorists and took them back to when they were a baby and there could have been a completely different future for that baby given different circumstances. And that baby could have been one of the people that we most admire in the world. So, I do think that our basic nature is good. And that gives me a lot of hope. Which doesn't mean that I'm not completely dismayed by the state of the world (laughs). We've got a lot of work to do.