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Betty Genter, former teacher and administrator, had heart for children

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 18 April 2015 at 12:00 am

Photo courtesy of Genter family – Betty Genter is pictured with her daughter Alexandra in this photo from 2010.

ALBION – Clark Shaffer believes his four years living with Betty and Adolf Genter may have saved his life, putting him on the right course.

Shaffer is one of six foster kids who lived with the Genters. Adolf and Betty also had a son Joseph and a daughter, Alexandra, who they adopted from Russia.

Shaffer stayed with the Genters from fourth through eighth grades. He remembers the first ride home with Mrs. Genter. They stopped at the store to buy him clothes.

“Without her, who knows what would have happened to me,” Shaffer said. “She’s been everything.”

Genter was 79 when she died on April 11 following a long illness. She was a prolific local author, writing about growing up on a muck farm in Clarendon, restoring cobblestone structures, and her experiences adopting Alexandra and providing a home for Eddie Stone, a local orphan who would become a colonel in the U.S. Army. He gave the keynote address at her funeral on Friday.

Shaffer said Genter had a big heart full of love.

“I did a lot of mess-ups when I was younger but she always stuck by me,” Shaffer said.

Genter attended a one-room schoolhouse in the Manning hamlet in Clarendon. She worked for Albion Central School for 34 years, first as an elementary teacher, then as reading coordinator, assistant superintendent and principal of two elementary schools.

“She was very popular with the students,” said Linda Spierdowis, a long-time friend and teacher. “She had a way with the kids, especially the wayward kids.”

She remembers Genter going to student’s homes to find out why they weren’t in school. Sometimes she would have a carload of kids and take them for ice cream.

She used her caring nature and sense of humor to win them over. Spierdowis remembers Genter dressing up as a fox, a wolf and robin to make learning more fun for the elementary students. She felt drawn to children struggling, perhaps due to a difficult home environment.

“She just wanted to give them a better life,” Spierdowis said. “She could sort out the ones who needed the extra attention. She saved a lot of them. Her goal was to get as many kids to succeed as possible.”

When Genter was a small child, doctors said she wouldn’t ever walk because she was missing a hip joint. One leg was much shorter than the other. She would walk, but did so with a limp and it became more difficult in recent years.

“She was very strong-willed,” her daughter Alex said. “Whatever she wanted to achieve, she did. I always admired her determination. She was the strongest woman I knew.”

Alex has cerebral palsy and she wasn’t walking when she was in the orphanage in Russia. Betty believed Alex would walk, and she felt drawn to a child that didn’t have a family.

Alex, now 27, learned to walk and would become a college graduate. She and her husband Kevin Andrews welcomed their first baby, Bowen, about 2 weeks ago.

Genter’s husband said his wife always wanted a big family. The Genters owned a farm house on Brown Road and Mrs. Genter thought it could be an oasis for children, filling them with love.

“She had a love for children,” Mr. Genter said. “She wanted to give them a home.”

The Genters’ son, Joseph, is now 42 and lives in the Tug Hill area of northern New York. He remembers his mother being very positive to the children when he was growing up.

“She always said, ‘You can do it,'” Joseph said.

His mother was committed to local community in many other ways, active at Holy Family Catholic Parish, as a 4-H leader, the Clarendon Historical Society, and human service agencies.

“She touched a lot of lives,” Joseph said. “For her, children always came first.”