Hometown Hero Betty Lehman has always held the belief that life isn’t about her. And for Lehman this belief has made all the difference in the way she views life.
“Betty has been a trustworthy volunteer, a faithful church member, a community-minded woman who will go to any length to make a difference,” says Pastor Jim Lindus of Trinity Lutheran Church.
“Betty has a deep love for the South Whidbey community and she has left her mark in ways that will be felt by the next generation. Betty never stops serving; at the Veterans Hospital, the American Legion, Whidbey General Hospital, Puget Sound Blood Bank, South Whidbey Little League, the list goes on and on. Her legacy will be one of humble service to her neighbors.”
Lehman never stops thinking of others.
Since 1960, she has been volunteering quarterly for the Puget Sound Blood Center for Whidbey Island and Seattle.
Betty is the center’s canteen and refreshment coordinator, now meeting at Trinity Church.
“The snacks and refreshments are legendary,” says Jim Tehero, the center’s volunteer coordinator. “This South Whidbey blood drive is one of the most successful due in large part to Betty’s enthusiasm and faithful service.”
For 30 years, Lehman has lived in her and her late husband Wally’s double-wide mobile home. Sitting by a window in her kitchen, she points out the many birds and two deer that are sampling her flowers.
“The deer, birds and bunnies are here every day; what beauty and contentment they share. What else could I want?” she asks, making a sweep with both arms in a half circle of her surroundings.
Her walls display memorabilia of friends and family. At least 50 or so teddy bears are sitting on her furniture, ready to give away to help cheer up children in hospitals and people in nursing homes. “Too many people are alone in this world. I never want anyone to stand alone if I know about it. Sometimes even a teddy bear can remind someone that others have not forgotten them,” she says.
She gave her good furniture away and is just as happy with her hand-me-downs. “Why wait until I am gone to give things away? I don’t want to wait until someone’s funeral, either, to say the nice things I think about them, ‘and what haven’t chaw.’”
Pat Westling, a former South Whidbey teacher writes: “Betty is one of the most sincere and caring woman I have ever known. One year, I mentioned to her I was short on parent help in my classroom. She didn’t have a child in my class, but the next thing I know there she is in my classroom every week for the whole year and she recruited other parents as well.
“After her husband Wally’s death, she continued right on with all of her charity and volunteering. With Betty it’s always someone else first.”
Lehman says it just comes natural to think of others when you know life isn’t about you.
“I know this belief kept me from being miserable many times in my earlier years and allowed me to handle life’s disappointments.”
When she was 5, her mother died suddenly on Mother’s Day. Her father couldn’t care for her and her siblings so the children were scattered everywhere.
Lehman ended up in an orphanage. There she would wait for seven years until she was adopted. During this time she went to the Bible study every day at the orphanage, which deepened her faith. It was a hard life without love, nor any knowledge about her family.
“One happy time, when I was 11 years old, I remember this lady came in to the orphanage and took me out for my very first soda. I can still see that tall stemmed, clear-fluted soda glass and that green, long colored straw.”
When Lehman was 12, a couple with five young children adopted her.
“They took me in for work only, not for love. Not once did the couple show me any kindness,” she recalls. “They weren’t particularly nice to their other children either. I did my best to show the children they were important in God’s eyes and to me as well.”
She remembers one day when she and the children were sent outside all day in the hot sun.
There was no shade and they shared only one bottle of water and half of a peanut-butter sandwich. Lehman took the children into the house to use the restroom and she was given a beating for doing so.
Another time when their young baby began to have convulsions, the couple blamed Lehman and started beating her. Later they found out the baby was born with seizure disorders, but they never apologized to Lehman.
Besides her faith, she has looked for inspiration in others. For instance, her sister-in-law Kay was paralyzed on one side and did not have the full use of her hands.
“Somehow she could put a broom in her one crippled palm and sweep the floor. She could change a baby’s diapers and walked dragging her one paralyzed side. All the while she kept an upbeat attitude.”
Lehman drew from her faith and Kay and concentrated on what she could give to the children. It helped her endure the years of her youth.
“If I had thought life was about me, and I was without God, I really don’t think I could have taken those years.”
When she married Wally Lehman they began a life of service together.
“I volunteer — ‘and what haven’t chaw’ — because I want to.
“Never out of obligation, no,” she quickly adds. “I want to. My faith and wanting to help others gives me peace and contentment in life.”
Brian Grimm, a lifetime island resident, calls Lehman ‘The Queen of Volunteers.”
“My entire life I’ve watched Betty volunteer for everything. What I noticed was not only was this community blessed from Betty’s volunteerism, but that she really liked her service work. I would say she’s the reason I volunteer in my own life.”
Barbara Kelly, who volunteered years back at the Island County Fair, said Lehman would do anything to help.
“She was more than qualified to be a supervisor and she would be willing to do that, but she also would clean bathrooms and do the boring and dirty behind-the-scenes volunteer tasks, too,” Kelly says.
“One sweltering fair day, a carnival man needed to get to the VA hospital in Seattle. Everyone I asked said they couldn’t leave their posts. But Betty found someone who was happy to take her place and took the man right then. She knew she wasn’t indispensable and was willing to do whatever was needed most.
“I’ve often thought about how much easier she takes life’s disappointments than I do and I think it’s because she thinks of others before herself,” Kelly says.