Woster: Betty Widman taught more than just sewing, cooking
She and I also hit it off because of our shared fascination with politics, especially South Dakota politics.
I had my doubts when our daughter came home from campus during her first year of college and said she was seeing a guy named Rich from Mitchell.
She had dated at home in Pierre, sure. But we knew the people in Pierre. Who did we know in Mitchell? Well, it turned out, we knew Betty Widman. She and Paul were the parents of this kid our daughter was dating.
Betty was Betty Healy from Pukwana. Her brother Bob was my big brother’s friend. Her brother Jim and I were classmates. Sure, we knew the family. Good people. Paul turned out to be the same.
I thought of that when we got the news the other day that Betty had died. She was 85 and had had health issues, but her passing came so much more quickly than I could have imagined. She was so lively, so ready for an adventure — especially if it involved family, old roommates from South Dakota State or friends she’d made during her long career teaching home economics and working with 4-H activities.
She loved teaching. That was clear from the stories she told about interactions with students over the years, and man, could Betty tell stories. She had this knack of remembering a kid from 30 years ago, describing the classroom, the drawings and crafts on the walls and tables, the lighting and every stitch ever sewn by any student she’d ever taught.
In Mitchell, she taught home economics (it isn’t called that anymore, but that’s what we called it when we would talk about her classroom days) in the high school and the middle school. Those can be tough ages to teach, especially to teach sewing and cooking and table setting. All of the tributes I’ve seen online from former students tell me she managed to connect with her students and pull them into the subject. I get the impression she managed to convince most of the kids that what she was teaching was worth knowing.
Betty liked the Widman-Woster connections that traced back to western Brule County. She and I also hit it off because of our shared fascination with politics, especially South Dakota politics. She loved it when we’d be together at a family gathering and she could lean over and say, “So, what’s new in the Legislature,’’ or “How do you think the campaigns are going?’’ I’d make a couple of comments, and off we’d go, boring the people around us but having a fine-old time.
Betty had the most incredible eyes. I don’t even know what color they were. I just know they absolutely sparkled when she was excited, talking about a new grandchild or recalling a chance visit with one of “her’’ kids from school days. Those eyes flashed like a lightning strike when she was angry or worried, when a child of hers had problems, for example, or when someone tried to mess with the 4-H program.
I remember a conversation we had during a time when State Fair changes were messing up the long-established 4-H schedule. Oh, my, was she angry. I’d just covered a public meeting on the topic. She wanted to know everything. Who was there? Who spoke? What did they say? Didn’t anyone point out how wrong that was? You’d have thought someone was attacking her baby, and I guess maybe they were.
She used to call now and then after reading one of my columns about growing up on the farm. She just wanted to say her dad did the same thing mine did, or her mom cooked the same way mine did. Off we’d go on a trip down memory lane, realizing each time that we shared more experiences than we’d ever have time to talk about, although that wouldn’t stop her from trying.
I said she thought kids should know how to sew and cook a meal. I don’t know if it’s a big deal that Betty showed a couple of generations how to do those things.
I do know that in the process of teaching, she showed those kids how much she cared. That’s about as important a lesson as a person can learn.