Photo: Betsy Dexheimer dressed up loud and proud to march in the first-ever Batavia PRIDE parade in June 2019.
Elizabeth Hacker Dexheimer, known affectionately to her friends as Betsy, has spent her lifetime working to better the lives of those less fortunate.
Having turned 85 in June, Betsy has decided it’s time to slow down and she is planning to move to Ohio on Oct. 23 to live with her son Paul.
“She’s been caring for everybody else for 85 years, and now it’s time for somebody to look after her,” Paul said Thursday, after he arrived from Ohio.
Tomorrow, her friends and family are going to meet at 2 p.m. in the parking lot of Arc Community Center on Woodrow Road to assemble for a drive-by farewell parade in Betsy's honor.
Betsy grew up in New York City. When she was in junior high school, her father went to England to teach at Oxford University. She boasts having attended the coronation of Queen Elizabeth, after her father went to Dwight D. Eisenhower, who was then president of Columbia College, and asked him to get his daughter a ticket.
Betsy and her husband, Roy, came to Western New York, where they started teaching Special Education in Irondequoit in 1968. In 1969 he accepted a job as superintendent of Batavia schools, where he served from 1969 to 1982 or 1983, Paul said.
From her early years, Betsy worked to help migrants, low-income families and minorities.
Her friends, many in their 50s, say they “want to be Betsy when we grow up.”
“When she left New York City to become our Betsy, what a great day it was for Genesee County,” her friends wrote when she was introduced at the GLOW Women’s March in January 2019.
Several of her close friends shared their memories of Betsy.
Vinnie Tjhung worked with Betsy at what is now named Genesee Valley BOCES. She called Betsy an “independent, caring spirit who is not afraid to try anything.”
“I tried riding bike with her, and I couldn’t keep up,” Tjhung said. “She was a dynamo. There might be a knock on your door, and there was Betsy saying, ‘Come on out with me.’ ”
Another friend, Dorothy Avery, of Batavia, said up to three years ago, Betsy was still riding 30 miles a day.
She also had a sailboat she sailed on Conesus Lake.
Avery said both Betsy and Esther Leadley are members of GLOW Women Rise, and called them “community gems.”
“They are both fearless about doing things,” Avery said.
“The thing is, Betsy doesn’t think she’s done anything extraordinary,” Tjhung said.
Among Betsy’s activities are working on the Advisory Council for the Office for the Aging’s Livable Community Vision Team; writing an article for their newsletter on lifelong learning; checking out someone’s home, as she is a certified fall prevention assessor; and delivering Meals on Wheels, which she has done for the last 10 years.
She is a member of the first graduating class of the Aging Mastery program; she worked at Richmond Memorial Library with Friends of the Library; and she delivered books to the homebound through the library’s visitors program.
One might open their door and find Betsy there helping the occupant register to vote, or reminding them of an upcoming election. Or she might be out registering voters at Genesee Community College or Planned Parenthood.
Sunday mornings finds Betsy at St. James Episcopal Church, making sure no one is sitting by themselves. Or she could be met in the dining room at their fish fry serving up the bread.
Betsy also served as an escort at Planned Parenthood in Rochester. Evenings might find her volunteering as an usher at a performance at the University of Buffalo or Harvester Theater.
Or, she could be out in the cold standing in front of the Federal Detention Center with a sign protesting the unfair treatment of an immigrant.
Betsy has been a volunteer at Crossroads House hospice longer than anyone can remember. She says she gets more out of it than they do.
For 10 years she took on an extremely difficult job of working with the Rape Crisis Division of Planned Parenthood. No matter the time of day or location, Betsy would be there to offer comfort to women during the worst time of their lives.
Tjhung said they are definitely going to miss Betsy.
“The room lights up when she walks in,” she said.
Betsy’s son said his mother was a feminist before there were feminists. In the 1950s, she was the only waitress where she worked who would serve people of color.
She helped to get low-income housing in Batavia and started a migrant child care center with Paula Radka.
Betsy became friends with Sister Marian Adrian, who was instrumental in founding Genesee-Orleans Ministry of Concern, and they often attended the theater together.
Betsy believes everybody is worthwhile and deserves a chance.
“I’ve met a lot of very worthy people,” Betsy said. “The more you talk to people, the more you find out how interesting they are.”
Paul said his mother has always been supportive of progressive ideas and taught her children to “be who they are.”
Although, Betsy has marched in parades, tomorrow's will be the first time anyone has thrown one in her honor. And, regardless of the weather, nothing will be able to rain on that parade.
The route is:
- South on Woodrow passing Betsy's house;
- West on Route 5
- North on Redfield Parkway;
- East on Richmond Avenue;
- South on North Lyon Street;
- West on Route 5;
- North on Woodrow passing Betsy's House again.
Photos courtesy of Dorothy Avery.
Below: Betsy Dexheimer, right, of Batavia, with Esther Leadley, of Pavilion, when she was Grand Marshall of the GLOW Women Rise march in January 2019. Dexheimer, who turned 85 in June, has been a lifelong advocate for the less fortunate.