One spring day in 1994, a pig flew over Lynn Road Elementary School in Raleigh.
More than 1,000 children sat outside and waited for their reward for having read 3 million minutes during the spring semester, and media specialist Betsye Daniels was happy to oblige – wearing a pig costume and flying over the school in a helicopter.
The children had asked to see pigs fly, and Daniels would go to the limit to encourage their reading.
“She just never hesitated if it was any extra thing that no one else was willing to do,” said Carolyn Morrison, principal at Lynn Road at the time. Morrison had kissed a pig the year before, but was afraid of heights.
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Daniels began working at Lynn Road as the media specialist when the school opened in 1976, and remained there until her formal retirement in 1999, though she stayed involved as a sub for years. The school was designed on an open plan, and the media center was literally the center of the school.
“Betsye was just that,” said Linda Robinson, a former Lynn Road teacher.
Daniels died this summer after a long battle with respiratory illnesses. She was 78.
Her husband of 57 years, Jerry, said she had been sick for a long time, but managed consistently to work with children, and to get her hair done.
Two weeks before she died, Daniels’ health forced her to resign from her part-time work evaluating ESL students for Wake County.
“She said, ‘I just can’t imagine living and not working with kids,’ ” her husband recalled. “She just sat here and grieved over that.”
‘Betsye worked magic’
Daniels was born in Anson County, and she attended Appalachian State Teachers College in the 1950s. Outgoing from the start, she was head cheerleader her senior year, and was elected May Queen for the May Day celebration.
She met her husband at App State, and it wasn’t long before they were wed and she had her first job in education not far from campus. She commuted down the mountain to Gamewell Elementary School while her husband completed his studies.
Betsye and Jerry Daniels made several moves around the state before settling into their careers in Raleigh. Betsye Daniels was sought out as the first media specialist hired at Lynn Road Elementary School, Morrison said.
“It was very apparent, immediately, that Betsye worked magic every day for the students and the teachers at Lynn Road,” said Ann Denlinger, a former Lynn Road principal. “The students viewed her as somebody who cared about them and was trying to help them learn, and they did not hesitate to ask her for help.”
Teachers also appreciated her willingness to go above and beyond. Linda Robinson taught gifted students at Lynn Road, and her students often needed materials beyond those typically kept at an elementary school. Daniels ordered materials from other schools, or sometimes found more age-appropriate alternatives to mature content. For example, she hunted down a cartoon version of George Orwell’s “Animal Farm” to help a gifted third-grader on a project.
Nancy Snow, a professor at NCSU, arranged for her students to do readings at local elementary schools. Daniels took the time to follow up with her, share stories about the impact those visits had on students, some of whom had learning disabilities or speech impediments.
From 1976 to 2006 Snow’s classes read to more than 25,000 students, but she recalls that working with Daniels was one of her highlights.
Reading was tops
Aside from being warm and inviting to the little ones, Daniels also stressed the importance of reading in practical terms.
“She always reminded us that reading was the most important thing,” Morrison said. Reading led to a larger vocabulary, and larger vocabularies led to higher test scores.
At home it was more of the same. When she wasn’t dancing to beach music or grabbing coffee with old friends, she was reading.
“I’ve been moving books ever since she left,” Jerry Daniels said with a weak chuckle. “We had a house full of books.”
News researcher David Raynor contributed to the reporting of this article.