Say hello to our Prairie Woman of the Month for March, Vera Betzelberger! Vera grew up on a farm outside of Virginia, Illinois, where her father farmed corn and soybeans, and raised beef cattle and hogs. She came from a family of 6 kids, and her dad and her mom (a city gal) provided them with lots of opportunities to become involved with farm life, such as 4-H activities, caring for livestock, and tending to a large garden. When Vera was 10 years old, her family bought a dairy cow, which she took great interest in: “If I was willing to milk the cow, I didn’t have to dust.”
Vera attended Benedictine University in Lisle, Illinois, where she studied math and science, and then transferred to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign to study animal science. After she graduated, she worked on a cattle ranch in New Mexico for a year, before returning home to Illinois and working for a local vet’s office. When she realized vet life wasn’t for her, she became a 4-H and Ag Extension Advisor in Scott County for the summer, which then led on to a full-time position in Mason County. It was there that she met her husband, Bob Betzelberger, who was a Farm Bureau Manager trainee at the time.
Vera has continued to work in agriculture over the years, from driving grain trucks at harvest for one neighbor, to 14 years working in the farrow-to-finish hog operation for another neighbor, but she has a passion for horses, and has worked closely with them through 4-H over the years. In fact, she was recently inducted into the 4-H Hall of Fame, and has started several 4-H clubs of her own: Adams County Horse Club, Red Rock 4-H Club in Nevada, and Boynton Boosters, 4-H Quest Club, “4-H Forever!” Club, and Horsin’ Around Spin Clubs in Tazewell County.
Through 4-H, Vera teaches kids the basics of horse safety and essentials of horse care and knowledge through a variety of activities: the Horse Bowl (similar to ‘Scholastic Bowl’ in schools), with topics such as Nutrition, Physiology, Safety, Breeds, etc., riding experience, and other 4-H events such as horse shows and camps. The kids enjoy working with her own two horses, Starr and Lexus, for grooming and riding experience, along with her miniature pinto gelding, Laddie, and miniature donkey, Shaybo.
Apart from 4-H, Vera participates in endurance and competitive trail riding with her two Arab-cross mares (Starr and Lexus). Endurance rides take place in many state parks throughout the United States, but Vera mainly participates in those around Illinois. The races are usually 25, 50, or 100 miles, and require vet checks at the beginning, middle and end of the race. As the name states, endurance competitions test the endurance of the horse (and also the rider!). Vera and her husband own 80 acres of land (and co-own another 160), where she has trails laid out in the waterways between fields of corn and soybeans to train for her endurance competitions.
Vera is very much an inspiration to me as a fellow horse-lover, and is beyond a wonderful example of a Modern Prairie Woman. Thanks for taking the time to speak with me, and for inspiring us women in ag!