May 2006

Mothers’ Day Tribute To Betty Bellanger, Champion Of Children

Betty BellangerPhoto and Story by Margie Anderson

May 14 Is Mothers’ Day

Betty Bellanger died at 74 on March 24 of this year. Maybe you never heard of her.

If not, you probably don’t live in Sunnyslope, Ariz.

Paul and Betty Bellanger moved to Sunnyslope around 1959, and they left it even better than they had found it. Paul and Betty didn’t have a lot of money, but they were among the richest people on earth. Everybody loved them.

In the ‘90s, they started a neighborhood Fight Back group and tackled graffiti and crime in Sunnyslope. Then they found out that some of the kids at a local school were going home to empty houses and even going to bed with empty bellies.

That was outright unacceptable. Paul and Betty started an after-school program.

For over a decade, even after Paul’s death in 1999, Betty has taken care of "her" kids. The children at Desert View Elementary School have a safe place to be after school and even during summer vacation, thanks to Betty.

She got John C. Lincoln Hospital involved, and they make sure the kids get healthful snacks and meals, and even medical and dental care. Betty’s only pay was the love and hugs from her kids.

Betty and Paul won a lot of awards in their time, including the Hon Kachina, Lamp of Learning, and Phoenix 100. The city even named a neighborhood after them: Bellanger Heights in Sunnyslope.

Betty was named an "Ageless Hero" and even received an award from President Bush acknowledging the thousands of hours she has spent painting out graffiti. Still, Betty’s best reward was the happy smiles of her many little charges; she delighted in telling people that she had over a hundred kids.

Betty had plenty of practice making kids happy, because she was the best mom ever. Our house was always the one that all the kids gravitated to, and she always welcomed them all with Kool Aid and cookies.

Paul was an outdoorsman, an Ojibwa Indian who loved to hunt and camp, and Betty would go along for the ride, especially if it involved cooking breakfast in the desert. She never objected to his taking us kids out hunting, even my sister and me.

They would do just about anything for kids. When we would hold Pathway to Fishing events, Mom and Dad would be there manning the registration table and handing out goody bags. Mom even conned me into bringing the fishing equipment to her school a couple of times, and the kids seemed to enjoy hearing about fishing as much as I enjoy talking about it.

This first Mothers’ Day without her is incredibly painful. I wish I had told her more often how much she meant to me and how much I appreciated her.

If your mom is still around, be grateful. This Mothers’ Day, tell her what she means to you.

Take her fishing, or just for a boat ride. Trust me: Spending some time together is the best present you can give to her and to yourself as well.

Betty’s Kids are still being taken care of, and a lot of people have vowed to keep her program and her memory going forever. Donations can be sent to Betty’s Kids, 18631 N. 19 Ave., Number 158-149, Phoenix, AZ, 85027.

Editor’s Note: All of us at AZBW send our sympathy to Margie Anderson and her family.