When Ira and Dorothy Rutledge's fifth daughter, Betty Jean, was born August 14, 1948, in Beaumont, Texas, they could scarcely imagine the plan God had for their daughter's life, nor could they anticipate the number of lives she would touch, and more importantly souls she would impact.
Betty Harper, affectionately known to her church family as "Sister Betty," or "Honey" to the many children who claimed her as their second grandmother, was a vibrant, active member of Calvary Tabernacle for well more than 30 years. She served God, the church members of Calvary, and Senior Pastor Spears, for right at 30 years, and did so with boundless joy, energy and enthusiasm that come only from God's Holy Spirit. In her 30 years of service to Calvary, she filled roles too numerous to mention: receptionist; executive secretary; business / church administrator; treasurer; drama writer, producer and director.
According to Senior Pastor A.D. Spears, whom she served with unwavering loyalty, "Betty Harper was more than a church employee - she was a servant of God. She did more than fill a position –she fulfilled a calling. As such, no task was too menial for Sister Betty –she served with a rare combination of exceptional ability and genuine humility." As a result, it was not unusual to find her watering the grass in the morning, wearing a fashionable business suit, prior to conducting bank business in the afternoon.
In light of her long hours at the church and her dedication to her church family, one could easily have overlooked the fact that Betty had a family of her own. But just as she knew how to work hard, she knew how to play hard. Betty enjoyed sleepovers, tap dancing and playing dress-up with granddaughter, "Prin- cess Brinkley," four, and building forts, playing army and going on intergalactic conquests with grandson, "Jedi Kennedy," eight. She also was thrilled with every new discovery made by granddaughter, "Baby Marley," one, and loved the fact that Marley was born with Betty's naturally curly hair. Ultimately, Betty experienced the joy that only a "Grammy" can by watching Marley take her first steps, Brinkley lose her first tooth, and Kennedy start school.
Her creative and exuberant involvement with her grandchildren began with Betty's own children, her two daughters, Karla Harper Bounds, 36 and Janet Harper Cook, 32. Although Betty was not known for her skills in baking, as much as she was for her skills in buying, ironically she won the "Crisco Award" in high school, which everyone loved to tease her about. Yet, her children are quick to admit they benefited more from their mom being Betty Harper than her being Betty Crocker. Family and friends could always plan on Karla and Janet having birthday parties that always boasted Betty's flare for the exciting and unexpected, whether it was a "Sweet Sixteen –Under the Sea" party or a "Welcome to Hollywood" party complete with limos and special-effects lighting at Maude Cobb.
Perhaps, Betty drew enthusiasm from her own experiences as a child and the many productions put together with her six sisters and two brothers. Betty was an active participant in many Rutledge family productions as a young child, a tradition that stayed with the family well into their adult years and continues to this day. Even as an adult, Betty was quick to get into costume and act out with great zest various parts in their family Christmas talent shows. As recently as this past Christmas, Betty joined her sisters in singing a family favorite, "Sugar in the Morning."
Betty was particularly proud of Karla and Janet's academic accomplishments, herself having been salutatorian of her senior class. She had been behind their every success, as they both served as student council presidents at Pine Tree High School. In fact, Betty enjoyed helping each of them plan and decorate prom, homecoming and student council events. Betty was particularly proud of Karla going on to graduate from Baylor University and Janet graduating from the University of Colorado. She instilled in them a love for God and truth, reminding them that their potential is unlimited, as it is a gift from God.
Having only daughters in her family, Betty was delighted when the time came to welcome into her family Brad Bounds and Captain Nathan Cook, her two sons-in-law. She saw in them characteristics that were similar to her own, namely a drive to overcome any of life's challenges and a passion for serving others.
However, Betty's No. One supporter had been Billy, her husband of 38 years. With every great project and production Betty ever imagined, Billy was the one who put the hammer to the nails to make her dream come true. Billy's quiet demeanor would belie the fact that he willingly supported Betty in every endeavor she ever initiated around the church, despite his demanding responsibilities at AT&T, from which he retired after 33 years of faithful service.
When Betty received her cancer diagnosis eight years ago, Billy accepted the challenge without hesitation and had steadily fought by her side arming her with weapons of peace, love, determination and constant companionship. With Billy by her side, and bolstered by Betty's own love of life, Betty pressed on years beyond the months she was initially given. Only God could persuade Betty that it was time to end the fight against the disease she conquered so many times before.
On April 14, 2008, surrounded by her closest family and lifelong friends, the Rev. A .D. and Edith Spears and their children, God granted Betty the ultimate victory, as those around her bedside sang, "We Are Standing on Holy Ground," a song soon superseded by the voices of a heavenly choir that welcomed her into the presence of an all-loving Father, Whom we could almost hear say, "Betty, you have fought a good fight, you have finished the course, you have kept the faith. Now, it is time for you to receive both the crown of righteousness, and the rest which I, the Lord, I have promised."
A memorial guestbook may be signed at www.raderfh.com.