What would Grays Harbor be without Bette Worth?
This was the question posed by Grays Harbor College Foundation board member Shelli Hopsecger in her nomination letter for The Daily World’s 2019 Citizen of the Year.
Now, some might be flippant and reply that life on the Harbor would be Worth-less. Or, perhaps, a lot less pink, since she leads the committed squad of volunteers responsible for the hanging flower baskets downtown. But the fact is, her community service over the course of four decades has been far more enduring than the flowers that brighten Aberdeen’s roadways every summer.
Since moving here in 1980, Worth has helped establish, support and build several programs that continue to enrich the region and its residents, young and old.
“Bette’s call-your-friends, roll-up-your-sleeves, put-on-a-costume, let’s-make-this-happen attitude is contagious,” said Hopsecger. “I’ve never once heard her say, ‘You know what they should do?’ Instead she says, ‘You know what we need to do?’”
Aberdeen attorney Gary Morean, a close family friend, agrees wholeheartedly: “You would be hard pressed to come up with a name of someone who has dedicated more time and energy to making our community a better place to live over the past 40 years.”
Worth is widely respected as a hands-on worker and a fearless fundraiser. She is also known for her lack of pretension and she’s quick to give credit to those who’ve helped carry the load.
“You can’t be by yourself; you need your cheerleaders,” she said. “And I’ve certainly had a lot of cheerleaders — especially my very dear friends Jane Goldberg and Bobbi McCracken.”
Worth moved to Aberdeen when she was pregnant with her first child because her husband, Bruce, accepted a position here as a physician. She said she liked it from the beginning.
“This is a very, very generous community,” she said. “We are an (economically) depressed community, but we have a lot of spirit here.”
She worked for a short time as a registered nurse; but when their son — and, two years later, their daughter — came along, she chose to become a full-time mother instead.
And so it began.
“My kids were the reason I got involved in the community,” she said. “I was involved as a Sunday school instructor for both of my kids. I was involved with Boy Scouts because they needed a Boy Scout leader. I was the head of Camp Fire because they needed a Camp Fire leader. I was involved with the Harbor Youth Soccer Club for a number of years because they needed someone on the board.”
To this day, the Bishop Center concession stand raises funds toward an annual soccer scholarship that was established in Worth’s name.
She also served on the PTOs of every school Tanner and Erin (now 38 and 36, respectively) attended through the years: McDermoth, Miller and Aberdeen High.
Through those years, Worth also worked “off and on” providing hospice care, which she found deeply rewarding.
One day in the early 1990s, Grays Harbor College President Jewell Manspeaker approached her about the World Class Scholar program, which provides GHC scholarships to students who commit to (and meet) specific academic, leadership and service goals during middle and high school.
“It had gotten started in Hoquiam, but nothing was going on in Aberdeen,” said Worth. “So my dear friend Jane Goldberg and I got that program off the ground in Aberdeen. We went to all the different schools, promoting it and getting it established in 13 schools in Aberdeen and Pacific County.”
Later, around the time Erin graduated high school, Manspeaker hired Worth as GHC’s coordinator for the World Class Scholar program.
During her tenure there, Worth met Morean, who persuaded her to join the boards of the local United Way and, later, the GHC Foundation.
“When Wes Peterson was the executive director (of the GHC Foundation), there was an event called the Getaway,” said Worth. “We saw that as a means to possibly raise money so that the World Class Scholars could be an endowed program.”
Her first Mystery Getaway raised $20,000 for that cause, she said. The 10th and last one she organized with Jane Goldberg and Lynne Glore, her fellow “Musketeers” at the foundation, hit the $1 million mark — a particularly proud moment for her. (She wore a Statue of Liberty costume to make the announcement.)
“Lynne and I and Jane, we were such a wonderful team on anything that we did — which usually involved costumes and themes,” Worth recalled with a smile. “I think that’s how we got through a lot of things, because of our craziness.”
She’s still involved in the program, but stepped back after 10 years to take on something new.
Her next major project was taking over the Relay for Life team at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church. Two women had started the church team years prior, but one moved away and the other stepped back; so Worth took it on, along with Korri Miller and Annette Pinckney.
Believing they could do better by raising money year-round rather than just around the time of the event each spring, the trio began stringing and selling special beaded Relay bracelets.
“That very first year, we decided we’d buy beads for maybe 50 bracelets, praying we would sell them,” said Worth. “And over the course of the next year, we raised maybe 10 or 15 thousand dollars — just on a $20 bracelet.”
That year, their team came in second for overall Relay fundraising. For the next seven years, Worth said, they came in first — and the final year she was involved, they raised about $71,000.
“But more than the money was the camaraderie that we developed with the church and the people we met along the way,” she said.
At some point during that period, Miller left the team — and Bobbi McCracken, who had recently retired, stepped up and “joined our craziness.” It was a lot of fun, Worth recalled, with friendships built and (of course) many costumes worn along the way.
After seven years of running the Relay team, Worth needed a new challenge; and it came from the Aberdeen Revitalization Movement, which put out a call for volunteers.
“I thought: Doggone it, we can’t sit here and complain about our community unless we make an effort to change it,” she said. So, she and McCracken joined ARM in 2014 and started working on ideas for making the city look better to travelers passing through.
Stacie Barnum, director of Aberdeen Parks and Recreation, had already started putting up hanging baskets of flowers, but there were just a few at the time. Worth and McCracken joined forces with her to raise $18,000 to buy 90 more. Today, there are 150 baskets and 150 aggregate pots along the main roadways through town.
“We have a wonderful group of volunteers called the Bloom Team,” said Worth. “They help us manage the aggregate pots twice a month from May to September.” She added that community donations allow them to pay two employees to water all of the flowers once or twice a day during those months.
Over time, they found that a specific type of pink flower was hardy enough to thrive despite the breeze and fumes generated by constant traffic; and Barnum discovered an amazing fertilizer that made them grow even stronger. Now, Aberdeen becomes a sea of pink every summer.
With that program up and running beautifully, Worth and McCracken started thinking about events that might keep downtown vibrant even during the off-season. What they came up with was Winterfest.
In late fall of 2016, the Bloom Team decorated downtown’s barren pots for the holidays, and the first two-day Winterfest was staged at Zelasko Park with caroling, a tree lighting, children’s activities and a visit from Santa.
Soon afterward, the partners in pink were asked to join a board whose goal was to have Aberdeen designated as a Main Street community. They achieved that goal last year, and now that board operates under ARM’s nonprofit umbrella as the Aberdeen Downtown Association.
One requirement of becoming a Main Street community was establishing one more annual community event, and so they created Summerfest in 2018.
These days, Worth and McCracken are figuratively joined at the hip. They appear at their events in wildly imaginative costumes. Even when McCracken leaves town for three months each year, they call each other all the time to talk business.
“Our husbands think that if we don’t talk every day, there must be something wrong,” laughs Worth.
Worth is still active with her church, where she recently helped raise $200,000 to make long-needed repairs to the 100-year-old structure. She continues to serve on the GHC Foundation board and the World Class Scholars program. And she’s not slowing down anytime soon.
In her most recent endeavor, she’s co-chairing the committee working on establishing the Gateway Center — “a visitor center/business innovative center.” They’ve received some state funding for it, she said, and now are looking at local fundraising options to get the structure built on the former Pour House site downtown.
All in all, her efforts over 39 years (and counting) have added up to innumerable lasting improvements to Aberdeen and its environs.
“I’m both humbled and honored” to be named Citizen of the Year, Worth said. “I know a number of people who have been selected (in past years), and I’m flattered knowing who those people have been.”
And, as is her nature, she shares credit liberally with both her volunteer partners and her family.
“I don’t think I could have done all this without my husband’s support and encouragement,” said Worth — even though “he’d roll his eyes when I’d say ‘OK, I’m going to this meeting or that meeting.’”
Upon hearing that his friend was being honored, Morean said, “It’s about time! Bette has been, and remains, out there doing everything and anything to make Grays Harbor a better place to live, work, play, raise a family, etc. … She has the energy and the enthusiasm, and she will always find the time.”
Hopsecger’s reaction was joyful — and a tad more practical: “What costume shall we all wear to the dinner?”