Betty Wood Heineman is well known in Clarksville, and thousands of local residents remember her from her teaching days. At the age of 87, she hasn’t slowed down a bit—and she’s keeping her new community at The Villages at The River Club as vibrant as she is.
If you get a chance to spend some time with Betty, you’d better be on your toes. She’s a wonderful conversationalist, and it’s important to note that Betty’s laughter is contagious—and she laughs a lot. She’s led an interesting life, known some amazing people, and when she speaks, the minutes fly by. You’ll leave wishing for more time to delve into her story.
“I was born on February 27, 1932, the same day as Elizabeth Taylor, whom I called my soul-mate, because we shared a birthday,” she says proudly. With easy recall and great detail, she speaks of a migratory childhood that followed the work of her father’s job with the railroad before World War II, dotting the map through the South until they settled in Tennessee.
After graduating high school, she went on to teach elementary school and was a teacher when she met her first husband, David. The couple married in 1955 and had three sons together, Winston, David and John; and Betty actually stopped teaching for a while. Sadly, David passed away in 1974. Betty married her second husband, Bill Heineman, in 1984.
She took a short break from teaching and eventually retired from CMCSS in 1994, celebrating a career that spanned 35 years. Retirement, however, was short-lived, and she took a position at the Fort Campbell campus of APSU for the next 12 years. Having had such a long career in the area, it’s only natural that she still sees students she once taught. “I’m always bumping into former students,” she says with a laugh. “In fact, I taught Alison Hurt, who works here.”
“She was my Algebra teacher, and I’m only one of many,” confirms Hurt, the Community Relations Director at The Villages at The River Club, who has nothing but praise for “Miss Betty,” using the name by which Betty is so well known. “Her students come and visit all the time. Nobody can forget her,” she goes on. “She’s been here since December, and we’ve shared tons of memories. I could listen to her stories all day. She’s the smartest woman—so gifted and talented—and everyone here loves her.”
“I get my joie de vivre from my grandmother. She was the most fun person you ever met, and she lived to be 96. You have to remember, none of us will live forever, and life is too short to be unhappy. My grandmother always said, ‘It’s a choice. If you want to be happy, you will be; and if you want to be unhappy, go ahead, be miserable and make everyone around you miserable.”
- Betty Wood Heineman
Hurt says Miss Betty has lots of ideas to help make The Villages great, and she’s not shy about sharing them. “She says she’ll make this the best community in the area, if we’ll just listen,” Hurt laughs. “And we believe her. We know we can learn from her. She’s still a great teacher.”
“I do have ideas,” Betty agrees. “I want this place to be the best community it can be. I spent a few years in Mt. Juliet, and it was first class. I loved it and made so many friends there. But The Villages is wonderful, too. It has so much possibility, so much to offer,” she contends. “I told Alison, if I’m staying here, this place is going to be number one. Clarksville is a vibrant, and there is always something wonderful happening around town that we could participate in,” she says with a twinkle in her eye. “Once we build a community here, we might even be able to do some travel. At Rutland Place, we actually took a trip to Florida. That was an interesting group of ladies. They were all Yankees. I tried to make Southerners out of them!” she says with a burst of laughter.
For Betty, miserable is not an option. She keeps herself entertained with music, card games, jigsaw puzzles, and reading. Clearly, she enjoys staying busy, but she also enjoys being social. “There’s no point in sitting alone. I’m a people-person, so I couldn’t live by myself. I say, the more people, the better, and I’ve met some great people here already. Still, I think we need more people, so I take brochures everywhere I go and tell everyone what a wonderful place this is. I’m sort of an unpaid employee,” she says with a laugh. “These are great people to work with, and when the right people come together, it feels like family. Everybody looks after everyone else.”