Betty Ralston, 100 years strong

Betty Ralston is one of a kind, and early next week, she turns 100 years old! 

Like many West Virginians, she has experienced a good share of hardship in her lifetime. She lost her mother to illness before her fourth birthday. Her steadfast husband, Earl, was taken by heart disease just as they were about to enter their Golden Years together. Later in life, she saw her only grandson pass away much too early. Some years later, a beloved son-in- law lost his battle with cancer. All has not been roses for this soon to be Centenarian.

But Betty has proven to be remarkably resilient. After her mother’s passing, her father found difficulty raising a brood of five by himself in the financially fraught 1920’s. Betty and her siblings were sent to various family members – Betty finding care and comfort in the home of loving relatives in Greenbank, Pocahontas County. There she attended elementary school in Cass and later Greenbank High School. 

“Those were some of the best years of my life,” she recalls fondly. “I was fancy free. The teachers, classes, activities…I loved it all.” 

“It was 14 miles round trip by bus to school, and we went in any weather–snow, ice, sleet,” she remembers. 

Betty thrived in school, taking part in school plays and dances, eventually becoming editor of the school newspaper. Years later her love of school carried forward as she helped organize and take charge of several class reunions.

Betty’s life journey took her to Parkersburg and Mountain State Business College, where she excelled in her classes. THen in 1945, she exchanged vows with a sailor fresh-from-the-navy, Earl Ralston. Two daughters, Phyllis Anne and Katherine Alice followed in due course. 

With transfer of Earl’s C&O job from Cass, the family settled into Ronceverte, just a few blocks from the Greenbrier River. The post-war 1950’s saw an expanded role for women in the workplace, and in 1956 Betty accepted a position with the First National Bank, where she would work for thirty years. There her ebullient personality and genuine love of people endeared her to clients and co-workers alike. Competent and confident, she welcomed her customers with a smile and kind words and always knew their names. She could count their money flawlessly while still looking them in the eye and conversing. Many patrons chose to wait in line at her window just to be served by her. To this day, Betty maintains friendships with several former co-workers and is greeted warmly by former customers she happens upon.

Following retirement, Betty traveled far and wide with family and friends. Highlights included the Caribbean, England, Switzerland, and Israel, where at age 88 she was at the front of the tour line everyday listening and walking where Jesus walked so many years ago. 

In 1986 she began bowling with the “Over The Hill” gang. She averaged in the 120’s but one day she bowled 190, which was announced over the loudspeaker, a highlight for Betty. She continued bowling until age 95!

Always loving Ronceverte and giving back to her beloved community, Betty served as Treasurer for the Ronceverte Women’s Club for at least 15 Years; sliced many a strawberry for the River Festival; was a Friend of the Public Library; volunteered at Ronceverte Elementary with first graders teaching them to count money; volunteered at the Greenbrier Valley Hospital at a desk near the emergency room; and helped staff the Women’s Club information booth at the State Fair. 

Bob Tuckwiller, director of the local play “Riders of the Flood” remembers, “She became a dedicated volunteer, giving of her time, her skills, and her energy to do all that she could do to make our play a reality and bring it to the stage of the outdoor amphitheater on the banks of the Greenbrier in Ronceverte. She served on the Board that was organized to provide leadership for the production, helped with publicity, marketing, ticket sales, and recordkeeping, and she was a cast member…playing the role of Mrs. Knapp in the performance.” 

Noting all her many community contributions, one younger admirer jokingly and affectionately calls her, “The Mayor of Ronceverte”.

If you have come to know Betty Ralston, you are lucky! Friends say of her: “Best neighbor ever!”; “always positive”; “has a certain magnetism”; “offers a genuine welcoming smile that makes each person feel special”; “engaged with a quick wit, sense of humor, and infectious laugh”; “generosity of self and spirit”; “can laugh at herself”; “amazing memory”; “lover of donuts and sausage gravy”. Indeed, she is all this and more. But she is quick to say that she is not perfect. Tease and pick at her just a bit too much and you might earn a sideways glance and a declaration of “kiss my foot,” delivered with a smile and a laugh!

Central to Betty’s life and above all else is her faith. “My good Lord has been extra good to me. I could not live without my prayer life,” she says 

In the Ronceverte Presbyterian Church where she is currently the oldest member regularly attending, Betty taught Circle for many years. She served as a Deacon and Elder, sang in the choir, taught Sunday school, ushered, served as liturgist, helped with meals…really anything going on at RPC she was there. Pastor Stephen Baldwin stated on a day of recognition for Betty in 2016 that “she did everything but preach…and she did that with her life, every single day!” 

Today, Betty has slowed down. She can be found in her apartment where she says she is “so content”. She might be on the phone or greeting visitors at her door, or perhaps watching her favorite game shows or sports teams–the Dallas Cowboys and anything WVU or Greenbrier East. 

As as she reaches 100 years, she looks back on all that has transpired: loss of those held dear; the Great Depression and youthful years spent while a world war raged; marriage and children and grandchildren and great grandchildren; and her successful career and the pride she and Earl had  seeing  their girls off to college. 

Community, friends, family, faith. Four rungs on a successful ladder of life. 

For being one of a kind at 100 years strong, we are proud to name Betty Ralston the certified Real West Virginian of the Week.

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