Betty Shimo served as Executive Secretary of the NYSUFC from 2005-2015 and she helped plan and coordinate and also facilitated 11 ReLeaf Conferences held all over the state.
Betty first got connected to the Council when she was hired to facilitate the ReLeaf Conference in Utica in 2003. In 2004, she was contracted by the Council to conduct a statewide urban forestry needs survey for the Council. This survey was beneficial in helping DEC increase their yearly grant total from the state EPF funding line from $150,000 to $500,000.
Betty says, “My time with the Council has been one of the best experiences of my life—not just in terms of work, but because of all I learned and the friends I made along the way. They will be in my heart always. The position was challenging for me in a good way, and the experience of being part of that group for 12+ years was warm and wonderful.”
What are some of your strongest memories?
Betty: On the funny side of things, the Annual ReLeaf Conference held at Cornell University in 2008 had a twist that we laughed about a lot afterwards. The University was wiring the dorm we were supposed to use for Internet access and bumped us from the original assigned dorm rooms. The University reassigned our attendees to different suites and rooms and did so in a willy-nilly manner. There were some really odd pairings, like a couple in their 80s in a suite with single women, and there were quite a few unanticipated co-ed bathroom moments. Each conference had its own unique surprise like that, something we organizers had to overcome no matter how good our planning was. In the end, we were successful because the attendees never noticed a problem!
On the serious side, I was really affected by the life and unexpected death of urban forestry activist Susan Kalin. She was one of the Region 2 ReLeaf members, an original Council member, and a longtime advocate for urban forestry in NYC. She passed away suddenly, during the planning of the 2009 ReLeaf Conference in Brooklyn; we were all shocked. I first met Susan at the 2003 Utica ReLeaf Conference. She was so vibrant and enthusiastic, I caught her enthusiasm. She was very involved and the time we spent together was always a learning experience. She taught us all to be fervent about what you believe in. She lived it and we learned from her. I will always remember her.
I especially love most the diversity of people involved in the Council. I loved that members ranged from 18 years old to 80+, from citizen pruners to arborists and foresters, and they came together to share their enthusiasm and experience.
What is one of the accomplishments you are most proud of?
Betty: The first year that I was ES, I had to sort of discover the job. I had the opportunity to put good procedures and systems in place that were not there before, to build something from the ground up. It was a good challenge for me and helped make the job easier through the years. I enjoyed working as an independent contractor; it was my first chance to be in such a position and be self-motivated.
Are there colleagues you want to single out and thank?
Betty: First and foremost is Pat Tobin. She is the sweetest, kindest, most caring person I have ever met in my life. She’s one of those people that will be in my heart forever. Andy Hillman and I go back to the beginning of my career with the Council. He’s a person who’s had a lot of challenges in his life as I have and I’ve always identified with Andy. Brian Skinner was my salvation right from the beginning when I took the job. He guided me and was my support and my hero; he’s the best among men. I thank Michelle Sutton for the validation she gave me even in the short time we’ve known each other. And of course there’s Mary Kramarchyk, with whom I spent so many hours on the road, sharing every kind of emotion you can imagine. We even went on vacation together to Cape Hatteras, North Carolina with other members of the Council. I will never forget the time we spent together. We both share an extreme love for the ocean, among other things! Rock on, Mary!
Wishes or thoughts for the Council going forward?
Betty: My hope is that the Council will keep going forward and continue to succeed. New Executive Secretary Liana Gooding is extremely capable and will be an asset to the Council. I wish Liana the best in the future. And to all the members and the board members, I will miss you and you will be in my thoughts wherever life takes me. The Council was not just a job, it was my life for all those years; not too many people can say that and be happy about it, as I am.
What are your plans for this next phase of your life?
Betty: I just turned 62 and want to keep moving forward, contributing and working. I don’t see myself totally retiring for a while. What comes to mind is my dog Spike (who has since passed away), who lived a long, full life. I always knew he’d die running in stride; he’d never stop. I’m like Spike that way. Anyone who knows me well knows I will NOT go quietly into the night! My “hobby” now is my family here in Scranton, PA; I missed out on time with them when I was on the road for almost 20 years with my late husband (Navy), and for another almost 20 years. But now they are where I want to be. One thing I really want to do in the near future is take my sister (and my roommate) on a cross-country camper trip, something she’s never done!
Anything else you want to be sure to add?
Betty: I will never forget the people from my Council years that have been a big part of my life. There are a lot of them! I will keep in touch. Who knows? Look for me in the future—I’d love to be on the other end of things and come to a ReLeaf conference and get to participate as an attendee!
Cheers, take care, and bye for now!