Citizen of the year a ‘spark’ in the community

GRETCHEN MENSINK LOVEJOY/SPRING VALLEY TRIBUNE Joanie Betsinger sits in the audience with her granddaughters, Nia, left, and Amani, and husband, Russ, while the crowd listens as others tell why she should be recognized as the Kiwanis Citizen of the Year, even if she doesn't think so.

GRETCHEN MENSINK LOVEJOY/SPRING VALLEY TRIBUNE Spring Valley Kiwanis Club President Rita Bezdicek thanks Betsinger for her service to the community.

GRETCHEN MENSINK LOVEJOY/SPRING VALLEY TRIBUNE Joanie and Russ Betsinger's daughters, Jenny, left, and Christy, along with their granddaughters, Amani, left, and Nia, stand to share observations about their favorite lady during the Spring Valley Kiwanis Club's Citizen of the Year ceremony on Sunday, Oct. 20.

GRETCHEN MENSINK LOVEJOY/SPRING VALLEY TRIBUNE Joanie Musel gave up watching her beloved Vikings on a Sunday afternoon to honor her friend, Joanie Betsinger, during the Kiwanis Citizen of the Year celebration.
Gretchen Mensink Lovejoy

There was so much that others had to say that Joanie Betsinger was nearly speechless. 

Or at least, she had to wait until last for her turn.

The Spring Valley Kiwanis Club hosted a reception this past Sunday afternoon for Betsinger and her family, honoring her for her contributions to the community and the mothers and children of Fillmore County who received her care during her career as a Fillmore County public health nurse. Betsinger was chosen as the club’s 2019 Kiwanis Citizen of the Year, and she was described as “a teacher and a talker,” someone who would be willing to stop for a chat for just about anything and just about anywhere, as well as being someone who would listen and learn about just about anything in order to give her best care to people. 

Joanie and Russ Betsinger’s older daughter, Christy, was one of the first to speak, telling about how her mother had been there for the family as they’d grown up, gotten married, had children, gotten unmarried or suffered losses, and that she’s still available to listen and help whenever they need to work out their troubles. 

Kiwanis President Rita Bezdicek called Joanie “a spark in our faith community” – willing to serve during Mass or take communion to senior citizens who cannot get to church on their own. 

“She shares her voice reading at the senior living, and she’s also an active part of our faith community,” Bezdicek said. “We are blessed that she shares her talent with her faith community and the community at large.”

Betsinger’s friend, Joanie Musel, stood to speak next, first inquiring whether today she would be “Joanie No. 1 or Joanie No. 2,” then going on to cite, “Anytime you come in contact with her, she makes you feel welcome, whether it’s a new job, new organization or a new town.  She makes you feel welcome.” 

Local resident Judy Rose reminded Betsinger of her leadership as a Girl Scout troop guide.  “She’s a fearless leader of Girl Scouts…she hosted us at her house so many times,” Rose said. “She’s just a wonderful role model.”

Kiwanian Brenda Stier told how Betsinger used to give immunizations at the Spring Valley fire hall – that she’d hold children in a bear hug, give them their shots and then turn them over to their parents in the aftermath of being stuck with a needle. 

“She said, ‘I’ll let you be the hero’.  And all the well-baby visits she made.  I think about how she’d go around and weigh every baby, visit with their moms to see how she’s doing mentally – whether she’s overwhelmed, and she’d see things around the home that maybe new parents wouldn’t,” Stier said.

Others noted how Betsinger has loyalty and is present in other people’s lives. 

Her mother, Deloris Kramer-Skalisky, was proud to state, “Joanie has helped with all the children.  She was always very good at keeping them doing the right things.  When they got in trouble, she told Mom right away.”

Following the accolades, Bezdicek presented Betsinger with her Kiwanis Citizen of the Year plaque. Then Betsinger finally got her turn to talk – after making a quick stop at the lectern to adjust the microphone just before receiving her plaque.

“Now I can talk?” she quipped.  “When Rita B. called me – we do a lot of things together at church – and she told me that I had just been nominated as Kiwanis Citizen of the Year, I said, ‘Rita, do you know who you’re talking to?  I look out at my family and friends, and there are so many people here in the community who could be nominated.” 

She used the opportunity to thank everyone for coming, as well as to extend her appreciation to her mother for her conviction that all children should go to church if they lived under the family roof.

“My faith is a large part of who I am, and I thank my mother for that,” she said. “The only way we didn’t go to church, no matter how old we were if we were living at home, was if we had a written message from God.  So you didn’t take sick days on Sundays.  The one sick day I had on a Sunday, my mom came up to my room and checked around for books, because I can’t imagine lying in bed without a book. 

“I’ve tried to raise my children that way – to have a deep faith – because that’s what gets me through.  I’m just amazed and very, very grateful.  This is just a wonderful honor and I thank you all for coming.” 

The Kiwanis Club will use any gifts given in Betsinger’s honor to build its high school scholarship fund, as the organization’s mission is to serve children in one’s own community and around the world.