NORTHFIELD — The sirens blared earlier this month as the Northfield Fire Department led a nearly 100-car-long 90th birthday parade for former Northfield teacher, Bettie Cross. The cavalcade of vehicles snaked and stretched from the Tilton Shopping Center to Cross’ Burton Avenue home. She was completely surprised by the honking horns, the balloons, cards and the waves from former students and parents that have all become friends as they passed her home. Cross stood on her front porch flanked by Northfield Mayor Erland Chau and her friend and former co-worker, July McClain, waving back at her many friends.
Cross spent 24 years teaching in Northfield: six years in fourth grade, eight years in first grade and a decade teaching kindergarten. She began with the district in the 1964-65 school year and taught for eight years before taking a leave of absence and moving out of state. She returned in the 1980’s and retired at the end of the 2001-02 school year. For the last 18 years of her teaching career, Cross did something special for her students. She sent birthday cards to every single one of her students every year until they turned 21. Alicia Garry, whose son had Cross as a teacher, said that her son looked always forward to hearing from his former teacher.
Neighbor Lily Curtis said both her daughters had Cross while they were students in Northfield and have remained in contact with the beloved teacher.
“Bettie is really a pretty amazing person. She has always been there for others all her life,” said Curtis. “She has no social media or electronics, so it was possible to spread the word of her birthday and plans for the parade without her finding out.”
Curtis explained that Bettie was surprised daily going to her mailbox for the last few weeks to find birthday cards from former students that are now across the country, many of them with little personal notes about how much they appreciated their former teacher.
While her life was dedicated to teaching, she has spent years heading efforts that bring smiles to so many people in the area. Together with her friends at Grace Lutheran Church in Somers Point, Cross each year organized a baby shower to benefit the maternity department at nearby Shore Medical Center. She, along with other volunteers, have hand-knitted caps and blankets for newborns, as well as purchased and donated new outfits so that every mother leaving the hospital has something new to take how with them. Cross has been recognized at Meadowview Nursing and Rehabilitation Center for her donation of time over the years visiting residents, bringing gifts and caroling during the holidays. In 1991, Cross was chosen as the Northfield Teacher of the Year and the recipient of the governor’s award.
All of her kindness did not go unnoticed as evidenced by the hundreds of birthday cards and well wishes she received. Mayor Erland Chau presented Cross with a proclamation Monday recognizing her extraordinary commitment to the children, parents and the school community in Northfield, calling her a distinguished advocate for the children and citizens of the City of Northfield.