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Farewell, Nurse Betty: Graduation marks end of era for Bay Village family

Commencement marks a bittersweet occasion for the Whitaker family, as one leaves high school with a diploma and the other with decades of memories and service.

BAY VILLAGE, Ohio — The Bay High School health clinic is a refuge in adolescent storms. The door always open for sore throats, upset stomachs and even aching hearts. Inside: 84-year-old school nurse Betty Whitaker, ready to help or simply lend an ear. 

"Sometimes what they say is not what they need to say. And if you listen hard enough and talk to them, sometimes you can really get down to what's the problem," she said.

Betty has been "treating problems" since 1963, the year she became a nurse and wife. 

"I graduated on Sunday and got married the next Saturday," she said. 

Whitaker worked in a hospital first until she felt a shift. Her calling, not in surgery, but with children who sometimes needed more than a bandage or ice pack. "You get to touch their lives. Sometimes they just need somebody to say "You're okay," Betty said. 

Working as a school nurse also allowed Betty to follow family, often working in the same building as her children and grandchildren.

"Most kids don't get to see their Grandma every day. It's fun." 

Credit: The Whitaker Family
Betty and Ralph Whitaker were married for 60 years. Betty graduated from school on a Sunday and began work the following Saturday.

Betty and Casey. 

Casey and Betty. 

 Their school days intertwined. 

"One of the coolest things to see is watching Casey help his grandma into the school, making sure she gets up the sidewalk without any issues. He stops in to see her throughout the day. It's just a a really special bond the two of them have," said Bay High School Principal Jason Martin.

"To be honest, I don't even know where my locker is," said Casey who leaves books in the clinic, giving him an excuse to check-in with his grandmother. She'll often have a stash of Cheez-Its ready for him. "On Friday he gets chocolates for being so good all week," Betty said. 

Credit: St. John Hospital
Betty worked at the old St. John Hospital in Cleveland. She received her nurses' degree from the hospital, and then went to work in surgery afterward.

Casey's experience is also shared by older brother Trevor. Grandma Betty served as a substitute nurse at St. Edward High School when he went through. 

"And then she was like, "Oh, wait a minute! I have another grandchild. I think I want to try to substitute if I can." So she put in lots of good words saying "please get me into Bay." And she was there, middle school, and then high school for the last four years, she's pretty much been there," said Betty's son and Casey and Trevor's father, Michael Whitaker. 

Betty has worked for a service that contracts with schools, helping them fill open school nurse positions. The timing worked out that a permanent replacement will start at Bay H.S. next school year, allowing her to move on, with Casey. 

Credit: The Whitaker Family
Trevor Whitaker graduated from St. Edward High School in 2016. Betty was a substitute nurse there at the time.

She does so after being there for the district during uncharted times. Her calm demeanor comforting during those anxious months during the pandemic. 

"It's very unique that Betty, what all she's seen in her 40 years of being a nurse. It's amazing. But especially she's been in Bay schools during the whole pandemic, so she has seen a lot and helped the district a lot," said Valerie Ambrose, District Nurse for Bay Schools. 

"She was brought on not just to be a school nurse, but to also help with the coordination of the whole Bay system. She was involved in all that. She needs a sense of purpose in her life, and it, it was there and she was one of the first providers to help people, as she could," said son Michael.

Betty also served as caregiver for husband Ralph, an Army veteran and vice president of Litton Marine and American Shipbuilding. Married for 60 years, Ralph passed away in the summer of 2021. 

"I thank God for them each and every day. They were quite the team. Raised their kids in a good faith model. I couldn't have asked for better parents, " Michael said. 

Credit: The Whitaker Family
Betty worked at St. Raphael School in Bay Village, where her children attended school. She retired in the year 2000.

Out of all her years, this one has been the sweetest, Nurse Betty told us. Grandson Casey is graduating. And in a way, Betty is too. 

"I've been here so many years, but I would miss him very much," she said. 

Their cherished time together, is not wasted on a young man with his whole life to live. 

"I'll just remember how happy I was to see her every single time. It's amazing because most kids don't get to experience this," Casey said. 

So just as they came in together the past four years, grandson and grandmother depart together. An ending they wouldn't have any other way. 

"This is the best year I've had in all these years," said Betty. 

If you think Betty is ready to retire completely, you'd be wrong. She hopes to take on new work that allows her to continue working with children. 

*Graduation Photos courtesy of Thomas & Thomas Photography.


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