A Celebration of Life: Betty Wagner Spandikow
September 1923–October 2008
Chapin, SC, USA
From: LEAVEN, Vol. 44, No. 4, 2008, pp. 2-3
The world lost a precious person on October 26, 2008, with the death of Betty Wagner Spandikow, one of the seven Founders of La Leche League. Her family and friends and all of La Leche League gave a collective sigh at the news. Betty spent several years meeting the challenge of Alzheimer's disease with a positive spirit and as always, her beautiful smile! She was encouraged by the thousands of cards sent from La League Leaders and supporters from all over the world. When she was hospitalized for a stroke shortly before her death, her daughter, Helen Huntley, wrote: "She is comfortable...and still gives you that award-winning smile when she sees you in the room. That is such a gift."
Helen is Betty's youngest daughter and the baby Betty is nursing on the cover of The Love Story. If you have a copy of Seven Voices, One Dream, there's a lovely picture of Betty and Edwina Froehlich at Betty's wedding to Paul Spandikow in 1983. Edwina was Betty's matron of honor.
Betty combined a whimsical sense of humor with a very direct, practical approach to life. In describing how LLL was founded, she is quoted in the LLLove Story as saying, "When Mary Ann Cahill called to ask if I would like to join a group to help mothers who wanted to breastfeed their babies, I laughed just thinking how odd to have a breastfeeding mothers' group. I had been lucky and always patted on the head verbally by my attending physician for performing this natural function. I was the only one, or maybe one of two mothers, among his patients who were breastfeeding babies. All of my friends had their babies on formula and a schedule so I was always odd. How natural to join an odd group."
Betty started as LLL Treasurer and eventually became Business Manager. She is best remembered for her incredible work as Executive Director, a title she held for 19 years until she retired. She saw LLL through a time of growth and change. Ahead of her time, she initiated flex hours and a family-friendly workplace in the '60s long before the rest of the world realized the benefits of these management practices.
I remember Betty vividly when she was Executive Director of La La Leche League. She was a beautiful combination of strength and compassion. We had many Board meetings when Betty was "under the gun," and she never, ever, let the stress get to her. She was poised, loyal to her staff, candid, and always looking for solutions. And she was fun! At the end of the day, she could let the trials and tribulations of Board decisions go, and enjoy being with people! She was a beautifully balanced person, and I have tried to live up to her example in many areas of my life.
Randee Romano Kaitcer (Texas, USA) served on the Board during Betty's years as Executive Director. She remembers:
Betty was supportive of my becoming Chair of the Finance Committee when I was unsure of myself. She was positive and encouraging, as she was to so many. Later, when I was on the Board, Betty would often tell me quietly after a meeting that I had done a good job, even if things hadn't gone the way I had hoped. She impacted me and my family in ways we will probably realize even more fully when my daughters become mothers themselves.
Carole Wrede (Nebraska, USA) also served on the Board during this time, and writes:
I had the privilege of spending time with Betty at LLLI Board and other meetings, as a guest in her home, as traveling companions, and as suite mates at Conferences. I observed and learned from Betty as she worked....She was gracious and kind, but direct and refreshingly honest, listening with her heart as much as with her head. As LLL Executive Director, Betty managed the business with a level head, and personnel with respect and love. Her laugh and sense of humor are legendary! Betty was a strong woman, accomplished, and ahead of her time, but her greatest pride and first priority always remained her family. Betty will be missed by family, certainly, but also by the many, many women whose lives she changed.
Betty's ability to focus on issues with deep compassion was reflected in several memories. Nan Jolly (Capetown, South Africa) writes:
Betty came to South Africa for our Conference in 1982. There were some exhibits that I thought were inappropriate for an LLL function, and I asked Betty about them. I always use her reply as a model for my LLL responses (and most of the rest in life too). She said, "What do you think?" I sorted the issue out in my own mind first, before creating a conflict with others. The following year, I attended the LLLI Conference in Kansas City, Kansas, USA. It was my first trip outside South Africa, and I was continually overwhelmed. The highlight of the entire trip was when I saw Betty in the lobby....She saw me and called out, "Hello Nan! How wonderful to see you here!" Imagine remembering my name, when she meets so many people!
Another Conference memory came from Karen Shaw (Pennsylvania, USA)
As Area Conference Supervisor for LLL of Eastern Pensylvannia in 1991, I picked Betty up when she arrived. At lunch, I was in my "frantic attention to detail" mode and her interactions with me were so calming, including encouraging me to eat a satisfying lunch to assist me in functioning well at the Conference. She was practical and nurturing at the same time; there is no doubt that Betty will be missed.
When people remember Betty, they most often mention her beautiful smile. Pam Oselka (Michigan, USA) shares:
Betty's smile is what I remember most through the years. In May 2008, a group of LLLI staff members and former staff members went with Edwina Froehlich to visit Betty. Her eyes and her smile were so bright when Edwina sat down next to her. Betty was very proud to take us around her home. Betty's tireless dedication to mothers and families will have long-lasting impact.
The Founders' children have had to share their mothers with the world. I've often thought this might be challenging at times! Mary Shine (Michigan, USA) writes about how Betty affected her own family:
Most of us who have been LLL Leaders for years have taken the seven as our other mothers. I have had the honor of being a Leader for 34 years and met [Betty] several times. The last time we spoke was at the LLLI Conference in Washington DC, USA. She was a delight and so right in her ideas of babies. My own children, their children, my nieces and nephews and their children, my friends and their children, have all benefited from this heart and soul driven gift the Founders gave us.
Pete Froehlich, Edwina's son, shared with Helen, Betty's daughter, "Now that our moms are together again, it makes me wonder what wonderful type of organization they are putting together above the clouds!"
Betty knew how to work hard, but still take time to enjoy the moment. Barbara Nicholson, (Tennessee, USA) mentioned this when she wrote Helen:
I am an LLL Leader and the co-Founder of Attachment Parenting International. The first time I met Betty was at an Area Conference, and we were so proud that for a short time we could claim Betty as a Founder living in our state! Her sweetness, humor, and wisdom was such an inspiration to everyone who attended and spoke to her. Now that I am the president of a non-profit organization, I have an even greater respect and empathy for what Betty accomplished in her years of serving LLLI. The world is a better place for all she did.
Martha Sears summed up the feelings of many when she wrote:
Hearing of two Founders' deaths recently makes me appreciate, even more deeply, who they were and the way they gave themselves to helping mothers. I treasure every moment I've spent with them, and cannot help but wish we had more time with these wonderful mentors and role models, even to the point of showing us how to be good grandmothers.
LLL Founders have shared a special and deep friendship through the years. In Seven Voices, One Dream, Betty shared her memories of meeting the other Founders with simplicity, candor, and humor. She summed it up when she wrote, "I liked all of you, and I felt that all of you were very smart and very nice and very interesting people. I felt fortunate to be in your company, and to call this group of women my friends. I still do."
Helen, Betty's daughter, acknowledged the depth of the Founders' friendship when she wrote Pete Froehlich after her mother's death, "When mom was dying, I told her about all the people she loved who would be waiting for her and your mother was certainly on that list!"
Betty was a person who worked for harmony, but wasn't afraid to speak her truth directly and graciously. We can all carry her gifts forward into the future of LLL. Most of all, we'll carry her gift of herself, and remember that beautiful smile!