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99-Year-Old Grandmother Serves Time, Finds Hope

Betty Wiechert never dreamed she would spend time in prison or that she would learn so much from the experience. Yet, just talking about it brings tears to her eyes.

Affectionately known as Grandma Betty, her cookies are almost as famous as she is at the Noble Correctional Institution. At age 87, Betty became a volunteer. In recent months she has baked, frosted and delivered more than 2,100 cookies.

“Since childhood, I always dreamed of becoming a missionary. I feel so blessed to be a part of this ministry. People need to know that God is there. God sees them. He promised never to leave us. The guys at Noble need to know that,” Betty said.

She said she has no fear of visiting the incarcerated. “Not a one of us is without sin. Not a one. It’s all level at the bottom of the cross. The guys at Noble need to know people care, that people are praying for them.”

A Life of Service

After graduating from high school, Betty married her high school sweetheart, Rudy, and settled in Zanesville. They raised six children. An active member of the Coburn United Methodist Church, Betty was a Sunday School teacher, Vacation Bible School volunteer and stay-at-home mom. When her youngest son came home from college, he encouraged Betty to pursue her education.

At 49, Betty entered college on a part-time basis. Education came easy to her. Within a short while, she was attending classes full time while caring for her husband, who was recovering from a heart attack. Betty received a degree in elementary education and taught for 21 years in the Maysville School District.

Following her retirement, Betty became an active volunteer throughout Zanesville. She made hats, gloves and blankets for women and children who had fallen on hard times. She baked and sold cookies so she could support mission work locally and globally. It was a chance meeting with Burl Lemon that brought a new ministry opportunity.

Lemon is the Executive Director of Forever Dads, a fatherhood initiative. He explained the work he and James Macdonald of Inside Out Dads were doing to promote the importance of fatherhood both in prison and back home. From that moment, Betty knew she wanted to be a part of it.

Everybody’s grandma

Warden Tim Buchanan said, “Grandma Betty is a valued and cherished friend of Noble Correctional Institution. She has been a pillar during the Inside Out Dads program that is facilitated here. The incarcerated men of Noble Correctional Institution speak very fondly of Grandma Betty and respect her as if she was their grandmother sparking a very emotional reaction with program participants."

One of the highlights of her prison ministry was when the men at NCI celebrated her birthday by presenting her with 95 roses made from paper towels, red paint and pipe cleaners.

“One by one, the men came up and presented me with one red rose until I had so many, I could hardly hold them,” Betty laughed. “It was a beautiful surprise.”

For a little more than a decade, Betty has touched the lives of both staff and the men residing at Noble Correctional Institution. “No words can express the appreciation that NCI has for Grandma Betty,” Warden Buchanan said.

Everyone can do something

Betty’s 100th birthday is in October. To celebrate, she is about to begin yet another new ministry, called HOPE Letters with the Foothills District United Methodist Women. Betty’s granddaughter Jody Stevens leads this local program. Its purpose is to encourage and mentor women incarcerated at the Ohio Reformatory for Women through correspondence.

“Every little thing you do can make a difference in someone’s life,” Betty said. “Just trust in the Lord and he will give you what you need.”

For more information about Hope Letters or All in Community, the West Ohio Conference Criminal Justice Initiative, contact Reba Collins at rebakco [at] gmail.com.