Eighty-four-year-old Betty Pettersson found a passion for talking to and caring about the needs of other people when she was just a girl growing up in Waterville, a town of 2,000 in upstate New York.
Of course, when you’re the 11th of 12 children, there’s no shortage of people around to talk to.
Betty found her calling in life early when she became a Catholic nun, serving at hospitals around the nation, including a five-year stretch at St. Francis’ Hospital in Hawaii in the early days of the tropical paradise’s statehood.
Once she returned to the mainland, she went back to school to get a Masters degree, and decided that this wasn’t the only change she wanted to make in her life.
“At that time, lots of things were changing in the Catholic church, and some of us thought we could serve God just as well out in the world as we could in the convent,” Betty, a 3-1/2 year resident of Aston Gardens At The Courtyards in Sun City Center, Florida, remembers.
“I became a nurse and I worked with people in both hospitals and hospices. I’ve enjoyed caring for older people and talking to them since I was a little girl.”
She spent time in Memphis, Tennessee, and in Cleveland, Ohio, living with members of her family and helping people through some of the worst times of their lives. Along the way, she met an older gentleman who became her first husband, and spent 17 happy years with him.
Her dedication to helping others, particularly in life-and-death situations, allowed her to find love again, and to eventually make her way to Aston Gardens.
“I was volunteering on the emergency squad and my second husband was on the squad as well,” Betty says. “He lost his wife and he asked me to help him put the mass together. A few months after that he asked me to come to dinner with him to say thank you, and the rest as they say, was history, we ended up being married for 16 years.”
The pair moved to Sun City in 1978, and Betty became head nurse of the local hospital four years later in 1982. Thirty-three years later, she still volunteers in that same emergency department.
“I was the first head nurse in the ER, but eventually they switched to 12-hour shifts, and it was just too much time away from my husband,” Betty said. “I volunteer there now and get the same satisfaction from helping people, from making them feel like someone cares about them and is looking out for them.”
By 2012, Betty and Joe had retired and were living in a duplex less than a mile from Aston Gardens At The Courtyards. Joe developed Alzheimer’s disease, and that year the couple made the decision to move down the road to get him the care he both needed and deserved.
“We used to walk around the property for exercise before we moved here, and in warmer weather we’d walk through the building because it was air conditioned,” Betty said. “Right from the beginning I knew we had made the right choice in coming here – the staff, the servers, the administration, they’re all wonderful people. When Joe and I first moved in, sometimes he’d have an outburst in the dining facility, because of his disease, and the staff was always so kind and courteous to him.”
Joe passed away in September, but Betty is very grateful for the time she had with him, and for the community that helps her stay strong, active, and happy on a daily basis.
“I already had friends here from the community, and I’ve made so many more,” she said. “I walk a lot, and I like to visit the people in assisted living that I know from the community. I go down to the theater on trips to Sarasota for concerts, and I love to swim, we have a great pool here.”
Although she’ll be turning 85 in March, Betty is still very much a fan of talking and learning from her elders.
“I have some great role models. There is a 98-year-old lady here who goes to all the exercises classes, and accepts her limitations. I go four days a week.”
In addition to enjoying the things she loved, Betty is also spending time learning a new thing or two at Aston Gardens.
“I had a friend who had Lou Gehrig’s disease who had a ukulele in her home. Before she passed I asked her if she wanted to give it one of her grandchildren, and she said, ‘No, you take it,” Betty says. “So I’m learning to play it. I’m taking lessons in her memory, and I’m going to learn to play the Hawaiian song Mele Kalikimaka just in time for Christmas.”
As true to her Catholic faith as ever, Betty has two sage pieces of advice for everyone she has the chance to talk to that have guided her through life so far.
Keep an attitude of gratitude and never look back, just keep moving forward.