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90-year-old Hills 'treasure' still shining brightly

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With her Catholic faith a constant throughout her life, Betty has also found time to serve the Church in several ways over the years.

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If you talk to some of the younger students at St Catherine’s in Stirling about their favourite people at the school, it is highly likely the name ‘Betty’ will come up in conversation.

For the past eight years, Betty White has been volunteering at the school one morning a week, helping children in the early years with their reading. The kids love having the spritely 90-year-old in their classroom – and the feeling is reciprocated.

“It’s a lovely school and I love the children. I see many of them at Mass and they always say ‘hello Betty’.

“When I had my ‘big birthday’ they had a party for me… and on the last day of school I went in and we had a lovely group hug,” Betty laughed.

After living interstate for many years, Betty and her late husband Rod retired to Aldgate in the late 1990s. When Rod passed away her daughters suggested she volunteer at St Catherine’s and it has proved a “wonderful” way to keep busy while also forming some special relationships with the children.

Betty’s service to the school was acknowledged when she was named a ‘Hills Treasure’ by the Adelaide Hills Council last year. (Hills Treasures are older residents who have been recognised for their contributions to the communities in the Adelaide Hills, Alexandrina or Mount Barker council areas.)

In nominating her for the award, St Catherine’s teacher Melissa van der Linden described Betty as a “kind and caring” volunteer who provided a “grandmotherly role model and presence in the classroom”.

“She has stepped in as a special guest on Grandparent Days when children have had no grandparents able to come. The children adore Betty, her delight in them, her care for them, her enthusiasm, her kindness, her patience and her genuine interest in them and their wellbeing,” Melissa said.

“The staff love having Betty around, she is always helpful and a calm influence in the classroom. Our school delights in having a kind and reliable volunteer such as Betty.”

Still driving and regularly playing petanque at Uraidla, Betty also manages to find time to knit items for those in need.

“You have to be doing something like that, otherwise you would go potty,” Betty said of her hobby.

Over the years she has produced hundreds – if not thousands – of knitted squares which are then sewn together by fellow Catholic Women’s League (CWL) member Leonie Holmes to create rugs for nursing homes and hospitals. In addition, Betty knits small beanies for premature babies, and beanies and scarves which are sent to the Pygmies living in the colder parts of Africa.

The nonagenarian is also well known for the posies she makes with fresh flowers from her garden and are often seen at St Matthew’s Church, Bridgewater.

The Whites joined Teams early in their marriage and she was a special Eucharistic minister for some time. She is still involved in children’s liturgy at St Matthew’s and is a member of the Stirling branch of the CWL.

“It’s an amazing parish at Bridgewater…we often say we are so lucky to be in such a parish because the people are really fantastic, genuine and kind and go out of their way to help others,” she said.

Like St Catherine’s students, the parishioners at St Matthew’s also love Betty. When she celebrated her 90th birthday last April, parish priest Fr Fred Farrugia took the opportunity before Sunday Mass to wish her a happy birthday.

With the congregation looking on, Fr Fred stressed how wonderful it was to be able to share such a special birthday “with a lady who has a heart of gold and is warm, kind and loving to everyone she meets”.

“We are so glad that we have had this time to share precious memories and laughter together,” he said, before everyone gave Betty a rousing round of applause.

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