Remembering Betty: Former Times editor is remembered for her journalism skills, strong faith and passionate love for children
Betty Stanley's unexpected death last week caused deep sadness among a very diverse group of people – some who didn't know each other.
Betty and her husband, John, moved to the Ozarks many years ago from Texas, eventually settling on a few tucked-away acres near Warren Bridge on Bryant Creek. John worked in Mountain Grove for a while, and Betty worked for the hospital in West Plains, Then, in 1990, she became editor of the Ozark County Times, using skills she had honed as a county news-beat reporter and women's editor at the Lukfin Daily News back in Texas.
She led the Times' news coverage until 1993, when she left to work elsewhere. She came back in 1999 and resumed her leadership role until she retired in 2008.
Meanwhile, she also became active in the Needmore Church of God on Highway 181 south of Dora. The daughter of a pastor, Betty soon stepped into the role of pastor at Needmore, serving in that capacity for more than 20 years and leading the church through years of both growth and struggle.
The life she lived created three families of admirers – her newspaper family, her church family and, of course, her blood-related family. The latter includes John, her husband of nearly 58 years, their son Robert and his wife Gina, along with Robert and Gina’s daughter Vicki, her husband Zach Singer and their infant daughter Clara, Betty's great-granddaughter.
A mother-in-law and best friend
Gina Stanley, Betty's daughter-in-law, had trouble last week finding the words to describe how much Betty had come to mean to her.
"She was a very conservative woman," Gina said. "I couldn't even hold hands with Robert when we dated in high school – couldn't show any affection because his mother was so conservative."
Gina grew up in Lufkin, where the Stanleys also lived. She found that, despite Betty's conservative boundaries about the teenagers showing public affection, she warmly welcomed Gina into their home. "Betty loved to cook," Gina said. "One of my favorite things was to go to their house for dinner or for a movie and popcorn. I didn't know there was such a thing as homemade popcorn before I met him. Betty had a popcorn kettle with the knob on top that you turn. I loved that."
She thinks Betty probably helped make all the food for the rehearsal dinner before her and Robert's wedding – Texas-style brisket, baked beans, rolls and all the trimmings served in the church fellowship hall.
Gina's new mother-in-law seemed so capable and wise, "I was intimidated by her," she said.
But their relationship quickly changed, and now, 34 years after she married into the Stanley family, Gina says, Betty had become "my best friend and my spiritual mentor. She had an incredibly deep knowledge of the Word of God, and a deep, personal relationship with God."
Gina and Robert now live in Topeka, Kansas, and their daughter Vicki and her husband Zach live with their baby daughter Clara in St. Louis. Still, despite the distance that separated them, Betty doted on her family. "I called her probably a couple of times a week, and I could talk to her about anything and everything," Gina said.
Those phone calls sometimes involved deep spiritual conversations. In fact, Gina said, their last phone discussion was about Gina's concern for some loved ones' eternal life "and what God is doing in the homes of those I love because of the prayers He is answering."
Betty was a prayer warrior, and because of Betty, Gina became a prayer warrior too as her own faith "grew exponentially," she said.
Inspiring her newspaper family
Just as Betty nurtured her own family, she carefully guided the people she worked with at the Ozark County Times.
Debbie Snelson, who was the Times' office manager in the 1990s, said Betty was "always so willing to help you. We would laugh. I would always have run-on sentences that would go on for a whole paragraph," Debbie said. "I didn't write news stories, but I had a cooking column for a while. She encouraged me to do that. . . . She made me feel smart."
She and Betty had wide-ranging conversations. "If I had a biblical question, I could always talk with her about it. Betty always had a Bible on her desk," Debbie said.
The Times staff felt like family to her. Walt Sanders was the Times' publisher then, and Debbie said she thought of "Walt as dad and Betty as mom."
Dawn Payton Collins sold advertising for the Times while Betty was editor. "She was very, very good at her job and very, very particular about it, very professional," Dawn said. But she also added, "We did a lot of laughing."
Dawn agreed with Debbie that the way Betty did her job and interacted with people showed "she was obviously a Christian."
One of the repeating themes of those who worked at the Times with Betty was how she taught and encouraged them to develop their skills.
"Betty gave me my first chance at writing for a newspaper. I'll always be grateful for that," said the Times' current office manager, Regina Wynn Mozingo, who, after her years of working with Betty went on to serve as Times editor from 2008 to 2011.
"Because of her guidance I was able to truly make newspapers my career," Regina said. "She encouraged me to make my writing better and helped me develop my own style. I enjoyed working with Betty, and even though we shared different beliefs I enjoyed our many discussions about the Bible. Betty had a loving heart, a kind spirit and a ready smile."
Current Times owner Norene Prososki worked with Betty for almost 10 years, beginning when Norene was hired in the advertising sales department while Betty was editor. "She helped shape my career in newspapering with her warm and gentle – but firm – leadership. During those years, I always knew I could go to Betty with any question – personal or professional – and get sound advice. She had a wonderful way with words, but more importantly, she had a wonderful way with people from all walks of life."
Current Times reporter Bruce Roberts, who also went on to serve as Times editor after working with Betty several years ago, credited his journalistic skills to Betty's nurturing. "She was the first person to recognize my writing skills when I worked with her in the early 1990s at the Times," he said. "I was working in the print shop and filled in a couple times for our sports editor. She liked my stories and made me a staff writer. She also pushed me to work on my photography skills because she said I 'had an eye' for it. She was a great mentor and just a wonderful person."
In her role as editor, Betty also worked with local law enforcement officers, including Steve Bartlett, who served two terms as Ozark County Sheriff. He called her "a top-notch person."
Bartlett added, "She stuck to the facts in what she reported, and she was someone you could trust. You could give her some information and say, 'We don't want this out yet, but I'm telling you so you understand,' and she never did go backward on it. She had integrity and the respect of law enforcement. . . . And she cared about the people of Ozark County."
Leading Needmore, loving kids
After serving as pastor at Needmore Church of God several years, Betty asked the congregation several weeks ago to start looking for a new pastor because she would be retiring this year. After all, she reminded them, she would turn 80 in August. But she said she would stay until a replacement pastor could be found.
Needmore member Nancy Collins said Betty's announcement was hard to hear – but understandable. Now, looking back, Nancy said, it felt like, during the last six months or so, Betty's preaching took on extra passion as she targeted the Holy Spirit.
Those sermons were "the most powerful she's ever done," Nancy said, adding that, it was as though, before she left, "she wanted us to really get it, to understand."
One of church members' favorite events was annual Pastor Appreciation Day the Sunday before Christmas. While some churches' Pastor Appreciation Days have the congregation showing gratitude to their pastor, at Needmore, Betty made it a special day when she showed her gratitude to the church members. "She would cook breakfast for us," Nancy said. "It was all good, but everyone's favorite was always her pigs in a blanket."
While Betty was a leader of the whole church, her biggest impact was on its children, Nancy said, describing the after-school program Betty set up for school-age kids.
"She worked it out with Dora School to where the kids (they had to have a note to get parents' permission) would get off the bus at the church after school," Nancy said.
Betty and a couple of other volunteers would provide treats and lead games. "It was just a good time for all the kids," said Nancy, who usually helped with the program when she got there about 5 p.m. after work.
Betty would cook mac and cheese, hotdogs or spaghetti for the crowd – usually about 25 kids, Nancy said, adding, "Oh my gosh, sometimes they were a handful! But Betty kept it all under control."
Parents picked up their children about 7 p.m., or Betty or a volunteer would load up kids who needed a ride in the church van and take them home. "She could have told you some stories about driving that van!" Nancy said, laughing.
The program eventually ended, due to a lack of volunteers. But Betty's obsession with helping children continued. When she heard about three girls who were going through an especially rough time, Betty couldn't stand it. The girls had been moved around, but "Betty was determined to find them," Nancy said. "When she did, she went there alone, marched up to the house and stayed outside, telling the mom she wanted to take the girls somewhere safe until the parents could get their lives straightened out. She'd known [the mom] forever, and finally she let Betty take them."
Betty found a temporary home for the older two girls, then ages 12 and 14, with Nancy's daughter Renee Collins (now McFarland). Betty took the youngest one, then 8. The girl stayed with Betty three years.
Hearing of Betty's death, the three girls – now young women – expressed their gratitude for Betty's courageous, love-filled actions. One of them, Jasmine Herd, told the Times, "I will never be able to put into words the love and compassion Betty showed me as a little girl. . . . We would sit on the porch snapping beans, watching the birds and deer. . . . She taught me to love the earth and all of God’s creations. Betty spent all of her time pouring her love and hard work into many things for the glory of God. She loved like Jesus. Betty was the absolute BEST. I will forever be grateful that she opened her home to me and loved me like I was family."
Jasmine's sister Shanea Adams called Betty "a wonderful person. She saw the good in every person and always went out of her way to help others. She made such an impact on her community, specifically those in need and so many of us children."
Betty and the people of Needmore church, "truly changed my life and were an answer to my prayers," Shanea said.
Jasmine and Shanea's sister Dee Brotherton recalled how "kind and compassionate" Betty was and how much "patience she had with all us kids running around on Wednesdays after school."
One time when Dee was riding the church bus Betty was driving somewhere, "a guy was broke down on the side of the road on CC [Highway]. His car was on fire. She stopped and went out to check on him and called for help."
Another time, Dee said, Betty "paid for a whole family to stay in a hotel. She saw them on the side of the road somewhere up towards where church camp was and stopped and helped them."
Betty was quick to help anyone or anything in need. Her passion for rescuing dogs and cats in dire circumstances was almost as strong as her passion for helping kids. Her family recently gave up trying to remember the names of all the animals she had taken into her home through the years. As one friend put it, "Betty couldn't stand to see someone hurting. She collected stray dogs, stray cats – and stray kids."
A continuing concern amid heartache
Betty's failing health came unexpectedly. She and John were at home Thursday, Feb. 9, getting ready to go to the grocery store, when she had an apparent stroke. John called 911, and Betty was rushed to Ozark Healthcare in West Plains then flown to Cox South Hospital in Springfield. She lost consciousness that day and never regained it, passing away early Monday morning, Feb. 13.
Making things even harder for all who know the Stanleys, John suffered a heart attack the same day as Betty's stroke. Doctors said he urgently needed surgery, but John insisted on postponing it until he could help his family navigate the rough days ahead during Betty's death and funeral. He is recovering now and hoping to get strong enough to undergo the surgery sometime in the future.
Meanwhile, Betty's many friends and all her "families" – blood, newspaper, church – mourn her passing and grieve for what Gina describes as the "huge void in our lives" left by this woman who, Jasmine says, "loved like Jesus."