Octogenarian Betty Reaves recently packed up her 34-foot RV and headed south for the winter, driving from Ridgecrest, N.C. – her spring and summer home – to her home without wheels in Statesboro.
Reaves is a longtime resident of Statesboro, and longtime member of First Baptist Church, worked at Georgia Southern University as secretary to the vice president of Student Affairs for many years. She and husband George raised their three children here, Paul Reaves, now married to Lynn, and twins Alan Reaves and Ann Hill, married to Betsy and Joe, respectively. Her children and families are Statesboro residents, as well.
When George Reaves, a former engineer, and Betty retired in 1998, the two became more involved in a volunteer group they’d helped with on short trips, called, “Campers on Mission,” a division of Georgia Baptist Mission Board.
“Friends of ours had invited us, and we helped out at a Children’s Home in Baxley,” Reaves said. “We took several weekend trips with the group to build churches, help with disaster relief and assist in children’s homes all over the state. We loved it! We were hooked!”
Without job responsibilities in retirement, George and Betty took their camper to Lake Yale Conference Center in Florida for the entire month of February to serve as volunteers. Both loved the work there and later, at Ridgecrest Conference Center in North Carolina, and enjoyed feeling productive and needed.
But then George passed away suddenly in 2006.
“Just two weeks after we celebrated our 50th wedding anniversary,” Reaves said. “I was devastated.”
Like many new widows, Reaves felt lost without her best friend and partner.
“He was the love of my life,” she said. “George was everything to me. He took care of me, taught me how to do things, was a wonderful father and grandfather to our children and grands. I lost a part of me when he died, too. I lost my way, my purpose.”
Reaves couldn’t bring herself to volunteer after losing her husband.
“There were just too many memories, and I didn’t think I could do it alone, without his help. I was totally lost. George Reaves was my soulmate, and I couldn’t imagine life without him.”
Betty admitted, though, that she felt lost at home, too.
“I loved time with my kids and grandkids, but something was missing.”
Looking for the right job
Searching for a job to keep her hands busy, she was met with reluctance from future employers. “I was too old,” she said, then added, “Well, maybe they didn’t use those words, but I certainly knew what they implied.”
A friend in the real estate business offered Betty a job, but, after working for a bit, Betty knew that kind of work wasn’t for her.
Soon, a former supervisor from her volunteer days at Ridgecrest Conference Center in North Carolina called.
“Betty,” her former mentor and friend said. “We need a landscape supervisor. It’s a paid position. You’ll work from April through November, and you’ll supervise the volunteers that come in during the summer to maintain the grounds.”
Elated but apprehensive, Reaves replied, “I’ll have to pray about that.”
Reaves wasn’t sure she could – or wanted – to do that alone. She contemplated driving the camper. George had always been the driver, except the one time when she had to drive back from Florida out of necessity.
“George became very ill. He’d experienced some lung problems in the recent past, so we needed to get back to Georgia, but he was too sick to drive the RV.
“George talked me through hooking up the trailer to the RV and loading the car onto the trailer. He stood in the back of the camper and yelled directions to me through the window.
“Then, from the passenger seat, my husband pointed to one mirror. ‘See that mirror there? Line it up with the center line.’ Then he flipped his thumb towards the opposite mirror. ‘See that mirror? Put it on the outside line and just drive. I’ll guide you.’”
Betty prayed, and her children encouraged her, reminding her that she could do anything she put her mind to.
Future Landscape artist
The future landscape artist extraordinaire accepted the job and has been creating masterpieces for several years now. “We work hard, but we love what we do,” Reaves aid about the team she supervises. “I’m in charge of ‘pretty.’ And if it’s not pretty, we’re not going to do it.”
Betty designs her own planters and makes her own pots. She fills embankments with splashes of color, baby geraniums and nurtures dianthus. Red hot pokers line the parking lot of the conference center and firewheels fill in Leisure Island – one of the many named flower beds.
One of her favorite projects at Ridgecrest was an addition to a prayer garden she designed. “Workers were scheduled to demolish an old building nearby, and I rescued one of the windows and hung it in the flower garden. After all, I believe prayer is the window to God’s heart.”
And another project took place at Lake Yale, where Reaves redesigned the area in front of the chapel, at the request of her supervisor who said he wanted it to “pop.” Reaves added swings, a concrete walking path, shrubs and greenery, flowers, and trees.
“Here I am, over 80-years-old and digging in the dirt,” Reaves said with a smile. “And I love it. I wasn’t sure I could do this alone, without George. But I really wasn’t alone – God as with me the whole time, and gave me a new purpose in life. To create growing masterpieces for God and all those who see them.”