Our Betty

Mike Franz, a long-time Institute for Global Education Board Member, peace and justice activist, and retired schoolteacher remembers his friend and IGE founder Betty Ford.  

Our Betty

We knew her as just Betty, but you had to introduce her as Betty Ford to others, which invariably led to a puzzled look on someone’s face and the predictable question: “Are you really Betty Ford?”  We would reply “No, she is our Betty Ford.”  Judi Buchman and Katie Villaire and I would love to repeat this story over the years that we worked with her on Peace Education in the schools.

My first contact with Betty was in 1984 when planning the first Week of Peace Education with the Grand Rapids Public Schools.  Educators for Social Responsibility led the way with IGE on board.  Dr. Sigal even got a complementary Resolution from the Mayor and city commission to go with our Board resolution which we still use today, 35 years later.  This was the spring and Betty would soon retire but expressed her gratitude for having permission to teach about peace for the first time in all her years as a practitioner and advocate of global education.  She directed our first program towards encouraging children to make peace posters which we would display.  Every participant was to receive recognition for participating.  This was not a contest, and everybody would win.  And adults could view the ideals of peace through the innocent eyes of children, which can always be creative and instructive.  Every year we would display the children’s art at various places, the public museum, GRCC, Breton Village, City Center et al.  The media loved it, especially if there was a war on like Desert Storm.

It was not long before Betty became the head and chief source of inspiration for three decades of programs.  She initiated a Peace Calendar that was popular in classrooms featuring children’s line art and holidays and dates commemorating other cultures and times of peace.  We put out a newsletter to the schools.  All of this had to be planned on a schedule and Betty was good at creating timelines for our finishing our work and making sure we did this on time.  In her own gentle way she would persuade us to just get it done.  Then she would ask, what else should we be doing to improve the program?  We kept busy under her gentle but firm guidance.

When it came to fundraising, Betty would plan carefully ahead so we would have money to work with, and of course there never was enough.  So she would slip in a hundred or two at the end to make it work.  Her attitude was always, don’t worry, we will find the money.  One particular program called for supplying teachers and school libraries in every subject matter area with booklets on teaching peace.  Soon every discipline in the schools had ample materials to use to teach peace throughout the year, whether it be art, music language arts, social studies, math or science.  To fund this, she and I wrote and delivered a proposal to the Dyer-Ives Foundation which they generously supported even though our Betty was not THE Betty.

That was not enough.  Betty had accumulated so much information on holidays and ethnic festivals from doing the calendar that she just had to write and publish her own book, Educating for Peace:  Curriculum Planning with a Global Perspective. 1997 (for pre-K, K and early elementary).  She had to pay for the printing of the first 800 copies and I went to Lansing with her to pick it up.  Frankly, we could easily have a display at IGE of all the materials she engineered all of those years!  I do not remember the actual day or meeting, but Betty came as she always did only this time she had with her an Operation Earth cloth bag filled with examples of the legacy of her years of work on Peace Education.  With a steady but resolute eye she handed it to me.  I understood her intentions, that this work was not in vain, that it would be carried on, and that I was the logical person to receive it since time was on my side to continue this work, which will probably always be unfinished.

Yes, Betty Ford was our first lady of peace and always will be.  She will not get a Nobel Prize for her efforts or much recognition outside of the community of people she loved and worked with, but I cannot help but cherish her for all she gave to me personally and to so many others, her students, her associates, the teachers she inspired for so many years, her family and friends.