Betty Debnam Hunt
Oct. 23, 1929 – Nov. 1, 2020
Betty Glass Debnam Hunt, the teacher turned journalist who created and edited the nationally syndicated educational newspaper for kids – The Mini Page – died Sunday, Nov. 1, in Raleigh after a brief illness.
Betty was born on Oct. 23, 1929 in Norfolk, Va. Her parents were Stella Glass Debnam and Waldemar Eros Debnam. She and her family moved to Raleigh in the early 1940's, and it was at that time they joined Hayes Barton United Methodist Church. Betty attended Hayes Barton Grammar School and Needham Broughton High School. She graduated from Saint Mary's High School and Saint Mary's Junior College in Raleigh, from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with a degree in political science, and from Duke University with a master's degree in education.
She was an advertising copywriter for Thalhimers in Richmond, Va., and taught second grade in Chesterfield County, Va. She returned to Raleigh to serve as alumnae secretary for Saint Mary's High School and Junior College. She then taught first and second grade in Wake County for 10 years and it was at that time that her special interest in teaching reading began to merge with her family's history in journalism.
Her grandfather, J.E. Debnam, founded The Standard-Laconic, a weekly newspaper in Snow Hill. Her grandmother, Birdie Speight Debnam, took over and ran the paper for 28 years after the death of her husband. In Betty's early years, while visiting in Snow Hill, she would go out with her grandmother as she gathered stories, sold ads and renewed subscriptions for the paper. Betty was immensely proud when her grandmother, Birdie, was elected to the North Carolina Journalism Hall of Fame in 2003. Her grandmother taught her about the importance of meeting deadlines.
Her father, W. E. Debnam, was a well-known newspaper reporter, editor and radio and television reporter. From her father, she learned the importance of reporters respecting sources. Her mother, Stella Debnam, became a wonderful Mini Page supporter.
While teaching in Wake County, Betty had the idea of combining education and journalism into a newspaper for kids and approached The News & Observer about publishing it. She always gave special thanks to the late Dave Jones, associate publisher of the newspaper who as advertising manager gave her the chance to launch The Mini Page. The first edition was published in The News & Observer on Aug. 31, 1969.
For many of the Mini Page early years, Betty worked as the sole member of the staff as the editor, reporter, artist, salesman, and bill collector.
In 1978, Betty married Col. Richard M. Hunt, a former Marine aviator who worked in Washington, D.C. in government affairs. Betty moved The Mini Page office to Washington where she and Richard enjoyed life in the nation's capital and traveling to many interesting countries while "on assignment" for The Mini Page.
As The Mini Page grew in popularity, others joined the staff. Betty remained grateful for the work they did to make the Mini Page a success, including Martha Youngblood, Ainslie Jones Uhl, Tali Denton, Lyn Kirby, Julie Gross, Lucy Lien, the late Wendy Daly, and the late Ann Chamberlain.
Betty always felt that Universal Press Syndicate excelled at selling The Mini Page to newspapers across the country. She remained thankful to her editor of over 20 years, Alan McDermott, for his guidance and assistance. At one time, more than 500 newspapers published The Mini Page.
Betty served as editor of The Mini Page for 37 years. She sold The Mini Page to Universal Press Syndicate in 2007. The complete collection of over 2,000 issues of The Mini Page is online as part of the Southern Historical Collection at The Wilson Library at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Betty strongly believed that The Mini Page gave newspapers a chance to step into the field of elementary education and that elementary education could start at any age. She once said, "I want to be remembered as an educator. One who brought powerful content to children."
The achievements of Betty and The Mini Page in using journalism to deliver education to children garnered a long list of awards.
The Mini Page received awards from the Newspaper Association of America, The American Library Association, The American Chemical Society, The Freedom Foundation, the U.S. Department of the Interior, The Association of Educational Publishers, The Newspaper of America Foundation, The Educational Publishers Association, The Education Department of East Carolina University, The James T. Grady-James H. Stack Award for Interpreting Chemistry for the Public, The Public Service Award from the International Reading Association, the N.C. Department of Natural and Cultural Resources, and the Celebrate Literacy Award from the N.C. Reading Association.
For her accomplishments in journalism, Betty was inducted into The Newspapers in Education Hall of Fame, the N.C. Journalism Hall of Fame, and the Raleigh Hall of Fame; received Distinguished Alumnae Awards from Saint Mary's School and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; and was a recipient of the North Carolina Award, the state's highest civilian honor.
Betty's personal interests included painting, reading and visiting her cottage at Atlantic Beach. She loved to entertain and never missed checking out a new restaurant.
Betty was preceded in death by her husband; her parents; her twin brother, Dr. William S. Debnam, and his wife Judy; nephew, Billy Debnam; step-daughter, Joan Brook Nolan of California and husband Jack; and great-nephew, William Denton.
She is survived by her three nieces and their families, including Tali Denton (Van) of Raleigh; Lyn Kirby (David) of Raleigh; and Julie Gross (Chris) of Austin, Texas; her step-granddaughter, Jeannette Foltz (Gene) of Norco, California and their children; her sister-in-law, Joan Hunt of Plymouth, Ind.; and her godson, Hart Huffines (Margot) of Raleigh.
Betty wanted to give a special thank you to the people who helped her through the years, including Annie Mae Parker of Greenville, Marie Denning of Raleigh, Helen Graham of Raleigh, Bunny Russell of Atlantic Beach, Buck and Shirley Coleman of Washington, D.C., and Mary Coleman of Woodbridge, Va. The family would like to thank the wonderful team of caregivers from HomeWerks that took such loving care of Betty during her last days.
A private memorial service will be held at Hayes Barton United Methodist Church. The service will live streamed on Tuesday, November 10th, beginning at 1:00 pm at www.hbumc.org/live
In lieu of flowers, memorials may be made to the Wee Care Children Enrichment Program, HBUMC, 2209 Fairview Rd., Raleigh, N.C. 27608.
Arrangements are by Brown-Wynne Funeral Home, Saint Mary's St., Raleigh, N.C.
Published by The News and Observer on Nov. 4, 2020.