Billye Barnett Betsworth (1944)

Disclaimer: The following was transcribed from an article in the Capper Foundation Archives published by The Topeka Capital-Journal. The choice of words used at the time this was written may not reflect current Capper Foundation inclusive language and views.

Billye Barnett Betsworth (1944)

by Phil Anderson, July 14, 2011

Thursday’s ice cream social at Gage Park celebrating the 90th anniversary of the Capper Foundation brought back a double-scoop of memories for 72-year-old Billye Barnett Betsworth.

When she was a girl growing up in Topeka, Betsworth attended a community birthday party each summer for Arthur Capper.

The birthday parties, held from 1908 to 1950 at Garfield and Ripley parks, would attract up to 20,000 people and featured free ice cream — a real treat in those days.

Capper, who had no children of his own, threw the annual birthday parties for the Topeka community.

Beyond his political and business careers, Capper in 1920 founded what was to become his enduring legacy: an organization that today is known as Capper Foundation, which provides physical, occupational, speech and behavioral services for children with disabilities.

Betsworth, who had osteomyelitis — an acute or chronic bone infection — when she was a child, was one of those who benefited from Capper’s benevolence.

Unable to get the care she needed in Topeka, Betsworth said her kindergarten teacher at Lundgren Elementary School recommended she go to St. Luke’s Hospital in Kansas City, Mo., where she would be seen by an orthopedic surgeon.

When her mother told the teacher the family couldn’t afford expensive treatment in Kansas City, the teacher said, “Go see Sen. Capper.”

Betsworth and her mother met with Capper, who told them to pursue needed treatment in Kansas City.

“He told us the Capper Foundation would pay for whatever our insurance didn’t cover,” Betsworth said. “And they did.”

Betsworth said one of her favorite childhood memories was attending one of Capper’s birthday parties at Ripley Park when she was about 5.

“He hauled me around in a little red wagon,” she said. “I spent the whole day with him.”

A prized possession, which she displays at her home, is a yellowed 1944 newspaper clipping featuring a photo of herself with Capper taken outside the old Topeka Daily Capital plant at S.E. 8th and Jackson.

“I keep it where I can see it, to remember all the things they did for our family,” she said. “I wouldn’t have gotten the good care I got in Kansas City if it wasn’t for Capper. They’re a wonderful organization. I can’t say enough about them.”

The 90th anniversary celebration on Thursday was held on the 146th anniversary of Capper’s birth. He was born July 14, 1865, in Garnett, and died Dec. 19, 1951, in Topeka, at the age of 86.

Blue Bell provided free ice cream to the some 200 people in attendance. Pepsi provided bottled water. Music was furnished by the Santa Fe band.

Dignitaries at Thursday’s event, held at the Westlake Amphitheater in Gage Park, included Gov. Sam Brownback, former Sen. Nancy Landon Kassebaum Baker and Topeka Mayor Bill Bunten, in addition to Capper president and chief executive officer Jim Leiker.

Kassebaum Baker, the three-term senator and daughter of former Kansas governor and 1936 Republican presidential nominee Alf Landon, spoke of a photo taken of herself in 1935 at the Kansas Free Fair in Topeka.

Just 3 years old at the time, she was seated between her father and Sen. Capper on a carousel.

Kassebaum Baker, who divides her time between a home in Tennessee and a ranch in Morris County, said she recalled the work the Capper Foundation did in the late 1930s and 1940s to help young people with polio, which was “a great concern” at the time.

“Just as polio has been eradicated, we now meet new challenges,” she said. “There will always be new challenges, but it’s the dedicated people at Capper Foundation who meet these special needs.”

Also speaking was Brandon Van Becelaere, 11, the son of Eric and Teresa Van Becelaere and brother of 6-year-old Alex, who receives services at Capper.

Brandon said Alex was born deaf-blind but through the assistance of Capper professionals has been able to gain a limited amount of sight and hearing.

“All the teachers and therapists have been so kind,” Brandon said. “They’ll never give up on anyone.”