Elizabeth (Betty) Barnett was born Elizabeth Johanna DeJonge in Fair Lawn, New Jersey to John and Elizabeth DeJonge on June 19, 1926. She was the middle of three children; her older brother was John (who died of diphtheria at age 5) and her younger brother was James. Betty grew up during the Great Depression, but her father was always employed and her life was comfortable. In 1946, she married Wilfred (Bill) Whiteley and had two sons, John (born 1950) and David (born 1953).
Betty wanted more children but Bill did not, because he was several years older than Betty, so they compromised and began raising foster children with the idea that they could stop if it was too much of a burden. Over the next 20 years, they opened their home to twenty-two foster children – as many as six at a time. Betty and Bill also got a reputation for taking in the mentally and physically challenged foster children, as well as siblings, which were hard to place. Betty never said no. They adopted one foster child, Sieglinde. During these years, Betty was also an active volunteer, serving as den mother for the Cub Scouts and holding several officer positions in the PTA. David remembers, at age 6, changing diapers on foster children – cloth with safety pins – while Betty held Cub Scout meetings in the basement. If this wasn’t enough, in the summer Betty and Bill would open their home to Fresh Air Fund children, a program to allow inner city children a chance to experience country life. Betty and Bill retired to Spring City, TN in 1976 and Bill passed away in 1978, with foster children still in their home!
Betty started a new chapter in her life in 1980, when she married Ruel Barnett, a local farmer. Betty has been a devout Christian her entire life. Getting too old to chase foster children around, she became more active in her church, the Rockwood Church of Christ. She worked into her mid-80’s, serving the needy in the church pantry and the church closet, visited nursing homes on a regular basis, and providing transportation to medical appointments for those without automobiles. She also cared for her husband Ruel, who required a great deal of medical attention, until his death in 2007. Betty believes that John 3:16 (Faith) is important, but equally important is James 2:26 (Faith without works is dead) and dedicated her life to helping others.