Octogarian has more drive and energy than those half her age

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Betty Walker has been coming to the Keys since the 1960s. She said her appreciation of the changing water view, first from her home on Tingler Island now from a condo overlooking Sisters Creek, still feels fresh.

“Busy is best for Betty.”

That’s Betty Walker’s motto and, boy, is she busy. The 80-something-year-old plays tennis at least twice a week, does a bootcamp-style workout most mornings, plays golf on Tuesdays, volunteers at KAIR three days a week and cooks and serves dinner to the homeless on Sunday nights at Independence Cay. Plus, she entertains, goes to church, drives, and takes photographs with unfatiguing energy and good cheer.

“She’s a very good tennis player,” said Yvonne Wilson. “In fact, she seems to get better every year. Oh, and she made a birdie on the golf course on Tuesday. She hit that long shot and then chipped it right in.”

Betty is the type of person that looks at others strangely when they complain of boredom. She finds the world vastly interesting, especially the details and “little” moments.

“I’m an early riser. I like to stand in my kitchen and wait for the first boat to go by in the morning,” she said, adding that she’s likely to race for her camera if it’s a particularly picturesque moment.

Betty has been visiting the Keys since the 1960s. In fact, the first time Betty Walker came to the Keys it was during the era when guests booked hotel rooms by handwritten correspondence.

“I wrote letters to the Islander in Islamorada and the Buccaneer in Marathon. My late husband told me which every one responded first, we’d go there,” she said from her second floor condominium overlooking Boot Key Harbor, “so Marathon it was.”

She was the designated driver in the relationship with her husband, Jim, navigating from the passenger seat.

“’Turn here. Turn there,’ he would say. And eventually we’d always end up on Tingler Island. He’d get out of the car and shove his hands in his pockets and just look. After a while he’d come back to the car and say, ‘Ma, one day we’re gonna buy a house here.”

Jim was as good as his word, Betty said, and the couple bought a house on Tinglers Island in 1966. It was the start of many happy years together with two young sons in tow for family vacations at Christmas and during the summer. The couple formed lasting friendships with other families, the wives and children vacationing under the rotating “supervision” of at least one of the husbands, who was usually more than willing to captain the boat on the weekends. Betty continues to host family get togethers in the Keys for her growing brood — her sons and their wives, four grandchildren and two great grandchildren.

“It’s one of those lucky things,” she said, smiling.

Regardless of her social calendar, Betty volunteers three days a week at KAIR — Keys Area Interdenominational Resources — a food and clothing pantry. She works in the clothes department with two other hardworking volunteers — Sande and Karen.

“She is a selfless volunteer and a delightful person,” said Sande Neiditz. “She’s known for her generosity and sincerity and kindness.”

Of course, when she shows up at KAIR at 9 a.m. sharp on her appointed days, she has already completed her exercise. Her trainer, Daashia Cochran of Phoneix Rising, said Betty is an inspiration.

“I hope and pray that when I’m 88, I am still moving like Betty Walker,” Daashia said. “She’s always smiling and doesn’t have a negative thing to say.”

Betty would tell you that’s because she doesn’t have anything to complain about.

“I had a wonderful childhood. I’ve had a wonderful life all the way along. You have to learn to overcome sadness and obstacles because life goes on and do the best you can with it.”


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Sara Matthis thinks community journalism is important, but not serious; likes weird and wonderful children (she has two); and occasionally tortures herself with sprint-distance triathlons, but only if she has a good chance of beating her sister.