“During the war there were a lot of nights and weekends I volunteered. Basically I wanted to help. Everybody was doing something to try and help the effort,” Betty added.
Though Betty is quite modest about her volunteerism with the American Red Cross during World War II, she is proud that during her term of service, the Los Angeles area was one of the top blood donor recruitment centers in the nation.
She initially wanted to be an archaeologist but since “there was no place for women in archeology unless you wanted to teach,” she fell into studying journalism just before one of the world’s most crucial times.
After graduating from Woodbury College in Los Angeles just as the war began, Betty went to work for a radio show sponsored by an oil company. The show featured interviews for servicemen and a popular parody group, Spike Jones and the City Slickers. (Oddly, Spike Jones grew up in Calipatria where his father was superintendent of schools. However, since Betty grew up in Brawley, they didn't know one another.)
Later, as the executive assistant to the Los Angeles Publishers Association that headed four Los Angeles area newspapers, Betty was privy to meetings where subjects vital to the four were discussed, such as the shortage of newsprint to occasional sensitive information..
“They frequently had information that could have impeded the war effort,” Betty, now 89, said.
Just as Germany fell, 12 publishers were sent to visit the concentration camps and report back what they had seen. Betty said Norman Chandler, publisher of the Los Angeles Times, broke down every time he tried to dictate his story.
“He kept crying. It had to be recorded a piece at a time. I heard a portion of it and to this day can’t quite cope with it. What they had done to people…you can’t conceive of people being that evil,” Betty added quietly.
Still, her work during the war was extremely rewarding, but she said it pales in comparison to that of the dedication of the men who served overseas.
“To look back at what those men did is amazing,” Betty said.
When one of those men, William (Bill) E. Young, Jr., her former high school boyfriend, came back from the war, he immediately contacted her. While she had continued to be smitten with him even while he was away, he seemed to like every blonde in Imperial Valley, she said.
“I thought he was a playboy. Bit I never really liked anyone else.”
Betty, a Brawley native, did eventually marry Bill, an Army veteran, and moved back to the Valley in 1946. She still lives in the house they first lived in as a couple. It’s been remodeled to grow with their family over the years, she said, but they always found a way to stay in the first place they called home.
The couple had two children, Rick and William III, who was disabled from the measles he contracted when he was 11 months old and died at the age of 32. Betty and her husband ran the farming business together from their home, with her acting as the company bookkeeper and a stay-at-home mom..
“We had a business relationship in our marriage. Our lives were lived that way. We thought alike; it wasn’t unique at the time. It’s a shame so few family farms exist now,” Betty said.
She expected the children to get along, and said she learned that with kids, you have to learn to stay and face things. She admits she gave up the idea of being a perfect mother.
“I was sure I’d never yell at my kids. I’d see people who did that and thought that would never be me. But they taught me just how impatient I was,” she said with a knowing smile. “I was so fortunate just to be able to be with them.”
Some of the most difficult lessons in life came when she became involved with starting the Betty Jo McNeece receiving home school. Although she had volunteered at Los Niños for years, the foster children desperately needed a better place to learn since most were behind in school.
“They had endured emotional abuse, poverty…they were embarrassed.”
Over the years, Betty said, so many people from across the Imperial Valley helped take care of the children there. And while the receiving home is now monitored by Imperial County Behavioral Health, she said the memories she has of the many volunteers coming together for the children will never be erased.
“It’s a monument of caring,” Betty said. “And without Betty Jo, it would never have been built. She was bound and determined to see it through.”
Betty said both she and Betty Jo were surprised and honored to have their names on the building that they both felt was an enormous community effort rather than their own: The Betty Jo McNeece Receiving Home and the Betty Young School.
With two grandchildren and one great-grandchild, Betty fondly remembers the times she shared with her husband and her boys. The Youngs traveled frequently, and even retraced William’s tour overseas, visiting Cardiff, France, Belgium, Germany and Prague.
She’s visited Easter Island and though her interest in archeology never stopped, her lack of formal training allows her to continue to stand in awe of natural landmarks.
An avid book reader and active member of the Friends of the Library in Calipatria, Betty has bookcases around her home with non-fiction, James Michener novels, and biographies.
“I said if I ever took down all the books in the house the walls would cave in,” Betty said with a smile.
Despite praise from others for her volunteerism, Betty says she sometimes wonders how much she impacted others.
“I wonder about some of those kids. I’ve never been sure how many we helped, but I hope for some we made a difference,” Betty said.
While Betty has spent much of her life volunteering, she said she realizes how fortunate she has been throughout her life to be able to try to help others.
“I’ve been blessed,” she said.