Lebanon’s Betty Whitener was one of the most inspirational people I’ve ever known.
At age 80, the retired school teacher decided to take up turkey hunting and deer hunting.
She not only took it up, she took it up with a passion.
Betty, who passed away recently at age 89, used to tell me about her hunts. I wrote a couple of columns about them.
I’m not sure who enjoyed it more – Betty, telling about them, or me, listing to her stories.
Here’s how it began:
Several years ago I was introduced to Betty’s husband, Carroll, by hunting buddy Roy Denney of Gladeville. Roy said Carroll was a renowned hunter and suggested he might make a good story.
A few days later Roy, Carroll and I were swapping yarns over steaming plates of spaghetti at Demos’ Restaurant. After lunch I snapped some photos of Carroll to accompany the newspaper column I wrote about him.
Shortly after it ran, I got a call from Carroll’s wife Betty, saying she enjoyed it. She said she was born into a family of hunters in Nacogdoches, Texas, but was always too busy with household chores to join in.
She went off to college, began her 33-year teaching career, met and married Carroll, raised their kids, taught Sunday School. Sill too busy to hunt.
But she was aware of how much her husband enjoyed hunting, and, in the back of her mind, she always wanted to give it try.
Finally, she decided 80 years was long enough to wait.
Encouraged by Carroll and their grown children, Betty outfitted herself in camo and joined her husband hunting deer and turkeys around Wilson County.
She bagged a buck on her first hunt. The following spring, she collected two big gobblers. She sent me a photo of her hoisting one. It was almost as big as she was.
I called Betty to interview her about the hunt. Carroll answered the phone and we chatted a few minutes about his new-found hunting buddy.
Carroll said, with a laugh, he had trouble keeping with her. She’d be up, dressed and fidgeting to go, long before daylight, prodding him to get moving.
Betty came on the line and admitted to hurrying her husband along.
“I like to be in the blind in time to see the sunrise,” she said. “That’s the most beautiful time of day, as the sun comes up, the birds start chirping, and the woods come alive.”
She made a confession:
“That’s what I love most about hunting. It’s not just the excitement of seeing a deer or turkey, it’s being outdoors. It’s about sharing an experience with Carroll that he loves so much. My only regret is that I waited so long to join him.”
Carroll passed away a few years ago, and now Betty has joined him – again – to share more sunrises.
People like Carroll and Betty are why I write outdoors stories.