Today's Paper Arkansas News Legislature Newsletters Core Values Sports Public Notices Archive Obits Puzzles Opinion Story Ideas
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT

Marge Betley

A heart for the arts, a head for business and a passion for people make Marge Betley a perfect fit for the Arkansas PBS Foundation. by April Wallace | December 4, 2022 at 1:00 a.m.
“Although very bright, Marge is motivated by her heart, which gives her a strength and courage capable of moving mountains.” — Husband Greg Weber (Courtesy Photo/Kai Caddy for Arkansas PBS)


So much of Marge Betley's life has centered around theater somehow. But as a child, her parents didn't take her to the theater. She learned only a little of it from some of her nine siblings. And she picked up some experience from a local professional theater just getting off the ground. But when PBS broadcast a production of Charles Dickens' "Nicholas Nickleby" out of London, Betley watched it from college. It was a game changer, she says, for adaptations for the stage -- to see how it was produced and directed somewhere else.

Now as CEO of the Arkansas PBS Foundation, the nonprofit fundraising partner to the Arkansas PBS Network, Betley makes sure funding gets in place for viewers to see that kind of renowned national programming as well as Arkansas-produced programs and to provide community-based education across the state. Last year alone Arkansas PBS was a source of free, continuing education for more than 80,000 teachers.

These days that means making sure Arkansans can view PBS programming "whenever and wherever and however they want to connect with us," she says, usually from smart phones and tablets, where many viewers now watch. In 2021, Arkansas PBS had more than 45 million digital streams, indicating that the state's youngest viewers watch shows on something other than a TV set.

Betley believes that supporting Arkansas PBS is akin to supporting a very large classroom, in part since fewer than half of Arkansas' 3- and 4-year-olds are enrolled in preschool.

"For those kids who are not enrolled in preschool, PBS is their preschool," Betley says. "For those young minds, having a resource that is not driven by commercial revenue, having programming that is crafted with thought and care and integrity, geared toward early learning standards, is absolutely critical."

PBS was also a partner for the Arkansas Department of Education throughout the pandemic by providing on-air educational programming to school kids throughout the state, says Annette Herrington, Arkansas PBS board member. Betley is a huge part of making it possible to produce more Arkansas stories through the fundraising done under her leadership, she says.

"Marge understands how important the work is and personally works hard to look for funds to ensure the programming and production are at the highest possible level," Herrington says. "Her personal background in the arts aligned well with the missions of Arkansas PBS. She likes people, she builds strong teams, she builds sincere relationships with supporters and produces strong financial results."

"She is one of the most dynamic fundraisers I've met," says Greg Weber, Betley's husband. The two first worked together at Geva Theatre Center in Rochester, N.Y., and became friends. "Everything Marge had been doing throughout her lifetime prepared her for this position. Everything that public television stands for is already deeply sown into her spirit. Raising money and leading this foundation would be as natural as breathing for her."

In the past couple of years, Marge Betley has been to a lot of community events hosted by PBS and heard a lot of testimonies about the impact that its programming has had on lives, but the most impactful was the most humble of them all.

A father and child, dressed in jeans, T-shirts and old sneakers, stood out among a well dressed crowd, but they lit up as they shared the PBS Kids characters they had both come to love.

"He told me that he had grown up in a home with a lot of bigotry and that the first time he saw a Black man and a white man talking together in a friendly way was on 'Mister Rogers' Neighborhood,'" Betley says. "He said, 'I think everything you watch on PBS just makes you a better person.' That man has no idea the gift he gave me that day ... to tell our donors what a genuine, tangible impact they have by supporting Arkansas PBS.

"That young father and his family and so many others like them, they're the reason we're here."

FARM TO STAGE

Marge Betley was born as the last of 10 children to her entrepreneurial, business-savvy father -- the owner of a tool-and-die machine shop and also a 400-acre farm -- and her very giving, serving mother in Wilmington, Del. Being the youngest meant an eclectic upbringing, starting with the music, books and other media she was exposed to due to her large sibling group.

By age 6 or 7, Marge had become familiar with classical music thanks to her oldest sister, who studied piano; and rock 'n' roll thanks to her brothers closest in age who loved The Doors, Moody Blues and Beach Boys; while her other sisters introduced her to country music and the pop of the time like Carol King and James Taylor.

She saw a few siblings go to college, mainly the girls, while others gravitated toward vocational work -- one becoming a machinist who would follow in their father's footsteps and now owns his shop.

The commonality they all shared was an insistence for dedication and hard work, something the crew learned by spending summers at the family farm in Maryland.

"It was not a fancy farm," Betley says. "But a great way to grow up, spend time outdoors, explore nature. It kept us grounded. We knew where our food came from. Everyone had a part to play, work, chores. All of that instilled a sense of hard work in me."

Her responsibilities were typical chores for girls of the time: sweeping floors, helping with meals and dishes, and all the work of a garden -- the weeding and "putting up" or canning the fruits and vegetables. On their enormous farm there was corn -- some for people, some for the animals -- soy beans, wheat, hay, cows for meat, sheep for their wool, and ducks to raise, some of which would be hunted.

"One summer as an early teen, Mom and I (processed) 1,000 ears of corn," Betley recalls. Raising the ducks was among her first science projects -- sprinkling the eggs with warm water, checking humidity and keeping watch over the incubator they kept in the house to stave off the foxes.

Betley loves science now, but as a child she was drawn more strictly toward the arts, interested mainly in literature and writing. Her oldest sister was in college while Marge was young and would bring home the books that would influence her early life -- "Charlotte's Web," "A Little Princess," "The Secret Garden," "Across Five Aprils" and all of the Little House on the Prairie books.

She first dabbled in theater through school plays with the Catholic Youth Organization. Drama clubs were an extracurricular part of the parish, and Betley joined a lot of them back then. The first role she remembers snagging was in second grade, when she portrayed the witch in "Hansel and Gretel." Most of the productions were obscure, one-act plays, mini dramas that were intense and could bring an audience to tears.

Only once she got to college did Betley get to perform those works of great literature by William Shakespeare and Tennessee Williams and the Greek tragedies. What kept her busy in between the two gigs was a professional theater company starting in Wilmington while she was in high school.

Betley told them: "I will come and usher and volunteer and do whatever you want me to do," she says. "They opened the door, welcomed me and gave me so many opportunities -- to build sets, props, make costumes and, when I started acting in college, they would coach me and mentor me and were tremendous in my life."

Any theater opportunity she had at the time, Betley had to balance with her very first paid job as bookkeeper for her father's shop while she was in high school. She processed payroll, recorded expenses and income by hand in the giant ledger book and learned the importance of precision, since transposing one little number could lead to hours of additional work in retracing her steps.

"It also taught me patience and perseverance," Betley says. "The first time I had to produce end-of-year W2s, I asked my dad how to do it. He looked me square in the eye and said, 'Look up last year's and figure it out." So she did.

A WHOLE NEW WORLD

Washington College in Chestertown, Md., was only a dozen miles from Marge's family farm. She passed the small, liberal arts college every week of those summers she spent in the area. Not only did it look idyllic, it had a good arts and writing program. With some logic and intuition, Betley decided it was the right fit and enrolled.

She studied theater and hoped to take up a secondary language. She had studied Spanish in high school, but picked up languages easily and wanted to try a new one. One class with her German professor sealed the deal. She would major in that too.

"She was the kind of professor that if you had an aptitude for German, she would tell you that you need to take the next year and the next," Betley says. Erica Solik pushed her to do the double major, which led to many more opportunities in her young adult life -- first by studying abroad in undergraduate school.

Betley was 19 when she arrived to Heidelberg, the quintessential European town. Having none of the technology of today, cell phones or WiFi for email, she knew it would be a huge effort to talk to anyone back in the States. If she got in a "pickle," she would figure out how to solve it. Luckily, time in her large family running her father's business interests had given her a little practice. She seized the opportunity to explore new cities on the weekends, taking a chance to figure out the train systems, youth hostels and the like.

"That was a really good lesson in realizing that whatever came my way, I'd figure it out," she says. Back home at Washington College, Marge shared in the joy of learning and discourse on campus, forming strong connections with friends she'd have for life -- some of them students, some professors. She felt encouraged to pursue a vocation, not simply prepare for a job.

As college came to a close, Betley got a Fulbright grant to study German theater through the guidance of her German professor. She spent that earned year in a dramaturg's office in Aachen, where she got to read scripts from new writers, wrote program notes for production and cleaned up their archives. But mostly she got to learn the whole process, something she had known for a while was more compelling to her than having a role on stage, all while having that time to explore Europe in all its history, art and good food, on the side.

Upon her return to the U.S., Betley secured a job at the National Endowment for the Arts in the opera musical theater program. The department has since been split off and doesn't exist as a part of the NEA any longer, but Betley was there during a vibrant period of new American opera. It allowed her a window into the more experimental forms of musical theater.

"It was an incredibly rich time to be there," she says. "Grant deadlines felt like Christmas morning, like 'Oh, look what this company is doing!'"

Betley learned a lot about what the national arts landscape looked like and stayed in the job for three years, but the work of the following decade stemmed from the NEA and all the companies she met there.

WARMTH AND MAGIC

Betley went to New York City next, following an opportunity from Patrick Smith, the editor of Opera News, to be his assistant editor. She enjoyed the work and living in the big city for a year and a half, but she had to admit that she missed working in production and for production companies.

Next she went on to launch a new works program at the Houston Grand Opera. After that was Minneapolis, where two of Betley's friends with the Minneapolis Opera -- artists she had met at the NEA -- had formed an experimental New Music Theater Ensemble. She became the nonprofit's first managing director.

Then it was at Geva Theater Center in Rochester, N.Y., where she met someone interesting. Greg Weber was interviewing for the job of director of production. When the senior team arrived to interview him, Betley took a seat nearby.

"She shot me a bright smile that hit me like a shooting star," Weber says. "I drew confidence from that smile, even though she asked me the most pointed follow-up questions to my answers. After the interview, she bounced down the hallway with the energy of a person whose heart and truths were aligned."

It would be a few years before the two began to date, but in the meantime they were a great team as coworkers and friends. Weber, like others, admired a sophisticated simplicity Betley has, which he sees as a sign of her brilliance and great intelligence. Early on, he noticed her ability to find and create order and propel all into forward motion. It's something he calls a "magical" quality because it's unrushed but still everything gets done.

By a certain point, Betley began to feel as if a day was never complete if she didn't talk to Weber, and the two transitioned quite naturally from friends to more. Weber was under no impression that their relationship would be traditional, given Marge's career that he wouldn't have her compromise. So when new work opportunities arose, he was surprised to find that she welcomed each new environment and adapted her own work path.

While living in San Francisco, Weber came home one night to Betley handing him a gin martini and making a casual request that he teach her how to read a profit and loss statement. That's how she delivered the news that she would be starting a COO position the next morning.

"At every relocation, Marge continued to build on her past accomplishments and develop new skill sets," Weber says. "She continually found a purpose to serve no matter the lifestyle we lived. She used each move as an opportunity to...sharpen her talent and forge relationships that became strong roots to support and guide her."

The couple married 10 years into their relationship and eventually moved across the country to Tulsa, Okla., to be closer to Weber's son. By the time Dee Harris met Betley at Family and Children's Services there, her reputation for leadership and fundraising in nonprofits across the U.S. preceded her.

"Immediately, I felt a genuine warmness that was authentic and enthusiastic," Harris says, noting that Betley clearly understood the complexities and nuances of the communications job she was applying for. "Never in my life have I had a collaborator like Marge who sparked this type of creative development. Before we started any project, I buckled up for our wild and ambitious planning session ... with this unspoken understanding that sparked magic."

Betley's lasting impact at Family and Children's Services was on the donors, employees and partners she interacted with, Harris says. Her ability to identify each person's gift and how they can come together to use them was among her shining strengths, which is not unlike the legacy she's building at PBS now.

When Betley interviewed for the CEO of Arkansas PBS Foundation, Gayle Corley was sitting in on the Zoom call.

"I felt an immediate connection with her," Corley says. "She came across as highly competent and an enthusiastic supporter of the arts and education with a warm personality. I thought she would be a great fit for Arkansas PBS, and she is."

In her first two years, PBS has benefited from Betley's strategic thinking, thorough preparation and clear communication, Corley says. It has earned her respect with the PBS board and staff.

"Marge is willing to make difficult decisions and stand by them when she believes they are in the best interest of PBS," she says.

Courtney Pledger, CEO and Executive Director of the Arkansas PBS Network, couldn't agree more.

"I loved Marge instantly," she says. "She is sharp and funny, honest and forthright. I instinctively knew she was a perfect fit for the role at the foundation. ... Joining forces with Marge has been a home run."

Pledger says Betley has kicked the AR PBS Foundation into high gear and seeks always to serve Arkansas communities in more and more ways.

"She has a great deal of emotional intelligence and because of that, has a talent for strategy and getting the job done," Pledger says.

As for Marge Betley, she seems to feel as if she is exactly where she needs to be, helping her audience to explore the beautiful wilderness of the Natural State, sharing its food and culture, celebrating young scholars and athletes, investigating Arkansas history and staying informed on news and public affairs that affect everyone.

"I think our state would be so much poorer if not for the experiences and inspiration that Arkansas PBS provides," Betley says. "As our world struggles with social and political polarization, often with a lack of civility and kindness and with what seems like a growing unwillingness to tolerate or consider opinions and experiences different from our own, we need public television's commitment to fair and trustworthy news programming and to lifelong learning and understanding other cultures. We need its celebration of the world's rich diversity."

  photo  “As our world struggles with social and political polarization…we need public television’s commitment to fair and trustworthy news programming; to lifelong learning and understanding other cultures. We need its celebration of the world’s rich diversity.” (Courtesy Photo/Kai Caddy for Arkansas PBS)
 
 


Marge Betley

Date and place of birth: April, 30, 1963; Wilmington, Del.

Family: Husband Greg Weber and our son, Benjamin Weber, are the two most important people in my life. Benjamin is about to graduate from college with a degree in Biology. We are so proud of him and excited to see where his passion for science takes him.

A typical Saturday night for me includes: one of three things: 1. Attending a performance or arts event; 2. Having friends over for dinner and conversation (Greg cooks. I entertain!) or 3. Homemade pizza with Greg and watching a movie together.

People might be surprised to find out I love college basketball, hiking, fishing and working in the garden. I think some people are surprised when someone who loves PBS, opera, theater and the arts also loves sports and the outdoors.

I know I’ve done a good job when: I can see a tangible and direct benefit to the people or community I’m serving.

The greatest obstacle challenge I’m facing right now is: helping Arkansans recognize how essential Arkansas PBS is to our state, in so many ways – and how much their support, however small, makes a big difference.

My favorite place in Arkansas is on the White River. Greg loves trout fishing, and I love to watch the eagles and the herons and enjoy the view.

My favorite book as a child: “A Wrinkle in Time.” It was my very favorite book from age 8 onward. I read it at least once a year for many years.

The reason I ended up making my life in the nonprofit world: my mom. In addition to raising 10 kids and serving as daycare for many of her grandchildren, she was a dedicated volunteer in her church and community. She worked in the food pantry at her church, cooked at a local soup kitchen and led the “Giving Tree” program in her parish to provide Christmas gifts for individuals, families and elders in need.

Your early career was in opera, did you love it from the start? I liked opera, but I was not passionate about it at first. Now I really do, but it took me a while to come to that. It took me a few years to really come to love the music and the voices when it’s done well. Germans have a word for it that means “combined art”; it’s the whole package.

The thing that makes me laugh the most: My husband, Greg, and son, Benjamin. They can make me laugh no matter how I’m feeling.

 



Print Headline: Marge Betley

ADVERTISEMENT

Sponsor Content

ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT