Act One - (1931-1952)
The Early Years
She was born in the small coal mining community of Cumberland, Kentucky to a father who taught her how to begin again and a mother who valued education. Siegel explained her heritage on GPTV's Conversation With:
Well, one of the things I like about the Mountains, I’m Scotch-Irish and my family is an old, old family in Cumberland Kentucky. I think that I learned what Robert Cole said in a book called Children of Appalachia. He said that mountain children were remarkably tenacious in spirit and healthy in mind, and of course I choose to believe that. I like it.
I think that the values of the Scotch Irish who settled in Appalachia were those that honored work, the dignity of the person. It didn’t matter what you owned. It mattered who you were. Let me tell you a story that my grandmother taught me. Whenever I would be talking to her about families or people, she would say with a smile, "They’re really not sorry people,” and I wondered what that meant and then she said: “They work! They work!” And I thought, that’s a tenacious term - you know, they work. And I like that, that they want to make a difference and they have humble roots often, but I truly find myself being a mountain woman.
The men went to work in the mines or to work the land, and the women were the ones who really loved education. I remember when I was in the first grade I went to school in this little mountain community and sitting on the stage was my mother, and my grandmother, and my great grandmother and they invited me to come up and sit with them. And they were being honored for their love of education. Now this is a big memory of mine. I remember swinging my legs and looking around in that gym and thinking, you know, this is something, these women and what they had meant to education in that little community.
Betty Lentz graduated and represented her class as valedictorian. Teachers played an important part in of her life.
I think it’s from those teachers I learned that it’s not the place where you’re taught or the moneyed school you go to, it’s the importance of the inspiring teachers, the redemptive power of a caring teacher and all along the way I felt privileged with the teachers that I had and I became a real proponent of teaching. My whole life has been one in which I want teaching to be, as Parker Palmer referred to so beautifully in his work, “The courage to teach, the courage to teach with conviction and, by that same token, to inspire students,” which they do.
Betty Lentz went to Cumberland College and finished her B.A. degrees in History and English at Wake Forest University. She went on to get advanced degrees from University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Florida State University, and Indiana University. She earned degrees in Child Psychology and Educational Leadership. When asked why she majored in History and then Child Psychology, she responded:
I wondered how I wanted to serve and use my talents. I felt drawn to teaching, and I started off teaching in English and History and then they added a course to the curriculum. This was in the fifties. Nobody was teaching psychology. They asked me to teach a course in psychology at Elle Brown High school in Hickory, North Carolina and then from that it propelled me into my masters level and then into the doctorate, in which those three courses were coming together. So when I had a chance to do a post doctorate, I wanted to do it in clinical child psychology.