Betty Grenig: Living a Lifetime of Service

Betty smiles with her service award certificate.

Betty Grenig may be 97, but she never passes up an opportunity to make a joke. When asked how she spent her working years, a smile spreads across her face and she says, “You know, I am getting near that age where it’s time to choose a new career.”

Of course Betty has no intention of choosing a new career. She’s dedicated much of her life to serving the Red Cross — 80 years, in fact. Recently, the Red Cross honored her for being the oldest and longest-serving volunteer in the history of the organization.

 

Knitting a Legacy

When she was a senior in high school, Betty’s mother came home and said, “They’re putting out a call for people who knit. They need knitted socks, caps and six-foot-long scarves. You know how to knit, so let’s get working.” Soon, the 17-year-old was knitting knee-high socks for service members. “I knitted socks and knitted socks,” she says. “I did that for years.”

Given her husband’s career in the Army, Betty moved around quite a bit during her younger years. And everywhere she went, she always found her home. “Almost every place we’ve lived there’s been a Red Cross,” she says. “When you move and you don’t know anyone, you go to the Red Cross and they have a job for you, you meet people and you’re helping people.”

Life Well Lived

Betty still lives in the same home she and her husband built when they moved to Scottsdale, Ariz., in 1961. She has two children — one in medical research and the other who is a lawyer and a professor. “He writes books,” jokes Betty. “He doesn’t write his mother, however. But they’re good Army brats.”

After retiring from the military, Betty’s husband went to work for an Arizona bank and volunteered his time with Red Cross as a tinkerer during the holidays. “He always supported me and my work,” she says, “and if I couldn’t get home in time to make dinner, that was alright.”

A Mission to Serve

Betty doesn’t help others for the planes or any other perks. In fact, her motto is, “Do it for the cause, not the applause.” In other words, “You don’t have to get something for what you do. You do it because it makes you feel good. And as you get older and you experience problems, you go help other people and you find out there are a lot who are worse off than you, and it makes you feel like you’re not really that decrepit.”

Betty has quite the sense of humor, but she’s serious about volunteering. “I don’t care how many years you work, if you’re going to come in on Thursdays you can’t say, ‘Oh well, I won’t be able to come the next Thursday, and I don’t know about the Thursday after that.’ If you do that you’re not a good volunteer. You have to be reliable. People need to be able to count on you and know you’re going to be helpful.”

Betty’s life of service was recently honored at a Red Cross ceremony with 350 people in attendance. Everyone agreed that she stole the show. The organization even named an award in her honor: The Betty Grenig Service to the Armed Forces Award.

These days, everyone wants a picture with the Red Cross’ longest-serving volunteer. Despite her sudden fame, Betty remains ever humble. “I haven’t figured out if they want a picture of me, or a picture of the uniform they’ve never seen before because it’s so old,” she jokes. “It’s a toss-up.”

So, what’s the secret to a long life? According to Betty, there really isn’t one: “Just keep putting one foot in front of the other, I guess. There’s no secret.”

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