Deerfield woman recognized for community service
Betty Hollingsworth of South Deerfield is the Recorder's 2012 Citizen of the Year.
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Memorial Day committee members Betty Hollingsworth and John Cycz, at the Town offices in Deerfield, hold two of the signs made to honor Deerfield veterans who died in battle, and which will soon be placed above some street signs in town.
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DEERFIELD — For 30 years, Franklin County has recognized a Recorder Citizen of the Year.
But never before has the honoree filled in for more than 50 Christmases as Santa Claus herself.
Elizabeth “Betty” Hollingsworth, who was presented the annual award Friday at a Franklin County Chamber of Commerce breakfast at Deerfield Academy, not only answered hundreds of local children’s letters to Santa, she also taught the blind to ski, taught figure skating and researched Deerfield residents killed fighting the nation’s wars.
Hollingsworth, the 84-year-old former Frontier Regional School District business manager, also helps organize reunions for her alma mater, Deerfield High School, and has been a tireless volunteer for the USO, serving military personnel and their families when troops are deployed and again when they return.
“I have a motto that says, ‘Move it or lose it,’” said Hollingsworth recently in her living room, surrounded by cartons filled with her pending projects. “It’s what’s carried me through.”
“Betty is the kindest, most unselfish woman I have ever known,” said neighbor Diane Olanyk. “She is everywhere you need her to be. And she’s been this way her whole life. She has a lot of love in her heart, and she puts that into everything she does.”
“Wherever there is a need, Betty is there helping,” added June Rosenthal, a friend since grammar school. “She is a remarkable person. I don’t know what this town would have done without her.”
“All her life, she has been a compassionate volunteer,” said former Frontier English teacher Leslie Thomas, praising “her intelligent support, integrity and a gift for self sacrifice.” Thomas, who has remained a close friend since meeting Hollingsworth in 1956 when he came to teach at Frontier, said that when she became the school district’s business manager, “She saved us millions of dollars, because ... you were not going to put anything over on her.” To this day, said Thomas, “She’s still dashing around like a mad meteor. And she’s a doll.” Hollingsworth, who has lived in Deerfield since she was 2 years old, was recognized as USO Pioneer Valley Volunteer of the Year for 2012. She is donating half of her $500 Citizen of the Year cash prize to the organization.
“Every year we always receive nominations for people that give generously of their time to help make our communities better,” said Recorder Publisher Dennis Skoglund. “This year’s recipient has been volunteering for over 60 years and is described as “one of the most interesting people to know” — and we agree. We are proud to honor her today for all she has done to help so many people.”
It was while serving the USO as a volunteer hostess during the Korean War that she met her late husband, Thomas, in 1953. He asked her for a dance at a Halloween party and then seven months later at another USO event. They were married in 1956. He died in 2009.
Hollingsworth began answering letters from Santa in 1952 after being approached by someone at the local post office. She continued that holiday project until 2008, when the Postal Service decided to end the tradition.
“It averaged about 50 every year,” said Hollingsworth. “You know, I always got the same child writing; some of them hung on a long time believing in Santa Claus. Sometimes it was as many as five years in a row” — and often from children she knew from school.
Other Recorder citizens honored Friday included are Joan Vander Vliet, Al Dray and Philip Gilmore of Deerfield and Adelia Bardwell of Whately, as well as residents of several other Franklin County towns.