In 1980 I was attending my first OAEA Conference in Cleveland, “Vital Venture: Art in the 80s.” I was excited and anxious as I stepped on the escalator taking me up to the main floor of the Cleveland Renaissance Hotel. As I stepped off the escalator my eyes fell upon a certain lady. She was gorgeous, statuesque and a fashionesta of the highest level! I was so taken with her! Within moments a mutual friend had introduced us. I had just met Elizabeth “Betsy Ritari” Harris. Before I had attended any inspirational workshops; shared lessons at the Divisional Meeting; or listened to the keynote speakers, Joe Prince, Joseph McCullough or William McVey; I had met a lifelong friend who would do more to influence my teaching than any other person in my professional life.
Betsy taught in Painesville City and I taught in neighboring Mentor. She was not only the art teacher at Hobart Middle School, she was Hobart Middle School. She was its pulse and vitality. On a daily basis she gave 200% to her students, inspired the staff and all, while being dressed to the nines with FABULOUS SHOES!!! We soon were involving each other in our school activities. It soon became a tradition to surprise each other on the first day of Youth Art Month with flowers or donuts for the faculty/staff or unexpected visits. When she took over for Becky Laabs as the Youth Art Month coordinator we started sharing OAEA leadership gatherings/meeting. The more I learned from Betsy the more my students benefitted.
When I was Local Conference Coordinator for the 1988 OAEA conference, “Art at the Summit,” in Akron, Betsy was my banquet chair. I knew that her flair and aesthetic would transform the ballroom into a wonderland. She did not disappoint! In addition she showed up with a tank of helium, balloons, and paper tie on stars that said, “Celebrate Art at the Summit with Kurt.” All balconies in the former Quaker Oats silos looked onto the lobby. I spent my free time sending off balloons, that due to the weight of the stars, gently drifted down to the conference attenders below.
I could write a novel on our friendship. It is such a treasure to me. As I write this I look over at the area of my studio with treasured momentos and there is the glass globe paperweight that Betsy gave me when her YAM theme was “Art Can Make a World of Difference.” To me Betsy has made a world of difference.
Kurt F. Reichert