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By Daniel C. Houston
She intended to retire in August, but she said, “they kept asking me to stay.”
For Baylor’s Air Force ROTC program, Betty Spencer’s contributions have been a constant for more than 30 years. While the organization saw 15 detachment commanders, thousands of students and three headquarters come and go during the past three decades, it had only one uniform custodian.
Spencer said the main motivation for her long career was the connection she made with the program’s students, but she plans to finally leave the program — and enjoy her retirement — at the end of the semester.
“I wanted mainly some part-time work,” Spencer said, recalling her attempts to find a job once her son was old enough. “I came over, was interviewed by the colonel at that time, was hired and went to work Aug. 21, . It never crossed my mind that over 30 years later I’d still be here.”
Lt. Col. Carl Wooten, first-year commander of the detachment, said Spencer’s expertise was invaluable to him as he adjusted to his new position this year.
“When you have anybody that’s been associated with a program that long, there’s a certain amount of comfort in knowing that part of the program is taken care of,” Wooten said. “We’ve got 109 students in the program and I know they’re going to get the uniforms they need in a timely manner. She has a very good plan for issuing the uniforms.”
Despite her original plans to retire in August, she agreed to stay an extra semester to ease Wooten’s transition into the commander position. When January rolled around, AFROTC staff once again requested she stay through the end of the school year while they searched for a replacement.
Spencer agreed to push her retirement to June. Even though she isn’t exactly sure what her plans for retirement are, Spencer said a vacation in Hawaii — the only American state she hasn’t visited — is a top priority. She also expressed interest in volunteer work.
“I’ve got to quit telling people when I’m going to retire,” Spencer joked, “because I’m starting to sound like Chicken Little, you know? ‘The sky is falling!’”
Spencer’s time with the AFROTC program is appreciated for more than her efficiency in managing the detachment’s uniform stock. Cadet captain Brendan Djernes, a junior from Westlake Village, Calif., said he will remember her as a caring mentor and an outlet for confidentially expressing personal concerns. Students felt welcome to share suggestions for improving the program with Spencer, who in turn would relay those concerns anonymously to the commanders, Djernes said.
“She’s a nice outlet for students because a lot of the Air Force students sometimes may not want to go directly to our commanders if they have something on their mind,” Djernes said. “Sometimes they’ll go right to her, and then she has a big input whenever they have meetings once a week about that kind of stuff.”
One of Spencer’s favorite memories with the program is how students responded during and after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Although the detachment was placed on lock-down by higher authorities the day of the attacks, AFROTC saw a spike in requests for membership afterward.
“We were never fearful,” Spencer said. “Our students were told not to wear their uniforms during that time — they didn’t want them to be a target — but that was [a] nationwide [requirement]. After that, we had students, male and female, wanting to join our program. … That was a really great moment for me to see that we still have really great men and women out there willing to serve their country. They’re a great group, so I wouldn’t trade these 30 years off for anything.”