Meet Mover & Shaker Betty Schleder
As a young girl, Betty was on track, literally, to compete in the Olympics in track and field. Later, she became a physical education teacher and gymnastics and cheerleading coach in a junior high school on the east coast, where she also loved to snow-ski. In 1964, she saw “The Unsinkable Molly Brown” and realized she needed to Go West to finally ski on powder. On her first day in Colorado, she met a man who managed a lodge on the western slope of Crested Butte. By the end of the night, she had a job promoting a ski property she had never seen, owned by Ben Schleder, a World War II Veteran.
Seven years later, she was married to Ben, building oil rigs by hand in West Virginia, and excited about having a family together. A couple of decades later—after staking claims in oil, gold and other precious metals, and many more entrepreneurial successes across the country—she and Ben arrived in Texas in their own DC3.
While it probably deserves a full page, ask her sometime about her nearly making the final cut to be a contestant on “Survivor” in her 60s!
We include one of Ben’s great achievements, to highlight one of Betty’s biggest successes in Georgetown. “When Pearl Harbor was bombed, Ben was a South Dakota farm boy. All the farm boys rushed to enlist so they could be in the Navy. They had never seen the ocean, but they were madder-n-hornets. The DoD gave him an IQ test and decided he could be a doctor. After three months training, he was a Pharmacy Mate and spent 4-1/2 years on a ship in the South Pacific.”
Fast forward to 2013. Ben, was an honored guest on Austin’s inaugural Honor Flight to the nation’s capital to see the World War II and other Memorials.
Honor Flight initially chose Veterans with notable positions in the Austin community, but our Sun City force of nature made a phone call, and not only was Ben invited to go, Betty was one of the very few spouses who have been a guardian on the flight.
After the trip, Betty said, “I promised myself and committed to the organization that I would do anything I could to see to it that every World War II Veteran, at least in Williamson County, if they could and wanted to go, would be able to get on board.”
Over the next year, she was a woman on a mission to raise money. She went to every neighborhood in Sun City, and many of her friends, looking for veterans as well a donations. By the end of the year, she was personally responsible for $160,000 and was promoted to Chief Gifting Officer. “It was overwhelming, but the more money I received, the more pumped up I got.” Thanks to her early support and donations, Honor Flight Austin awareness flourished and they are scheduling their 64th trip to Washington, D.C.
She has shifted her focus to supporting Purple Heart and raising money for USO programs with a continued commitment to the needs of the Greatest Generation. “Every free breath we take is thanks to the people who fought in World War II. Everything we’ve done in our lives is because we were free to try because of them. The humility of that generation, is really unmatched. When their memorial was finally finished, so many were unable to see it without help.”
Nothing changes, however, in Betty’s activities or her attitude. She has more energy than many people half her age. She and Al Blashke went skydiving to celebrate his 100th birthday; she runs businesses from her house, including a moving company, and does most of the moving herself. She tours the country on the back of a Harley-Davidson, and recently got her first tattoo. She hosts parties for WWII veterans, opens her home for political rallies, inspires and recruits volunteers of all ages and interests, and supports local and state candidates for office. She is even the founder of the self-named “Sun City Grandmas”, a group of ladies who make it their goal to be informed and educated so they can promote awareness, answer questions, and share information about current events.
Betty’s current efforts include raising awareness to rename the Georgetown airport after Johnny Gantt, and the terminal for Buz Landry.
Mr. Gantt co-founded the International Aircraft Dealers Association, the largest and most influential organization of aircraft brokers and dealers in the world. Gantt Aviation is based at the Georgetown airport.
Mr. Landry’s family owned a ranch near the airport and, as a young boy, he decided he wanted to be an aviator. He was present at the ribbon cutting when the airport first opened in 1945. He began working at the airport at 13 for $.30/hour and soloed his first airplane at 16. He has continued to serve Georgetown in many business ventures for the past 40 years.