For more than 45 years Betsy Whitehurst has been the face and heart of the United Way of Corinth and Alcorn County.
Joining the organization as only its second executive director in September 1975, Whitehurst has led the United Way of Corinth and Alcorn County through more than four decades of growth and support for community organizations making a direct impact on the people of the area.
As she prepares to retire along with her daughter, First Call for Help director Beth Whitehurst, the longtime executive director is looking back on a career filled with relationship building, learning and caring.
“Everybody brings something to the table. Whether they’re United Way volunteers, agency people, people who need help. Everybody should be heard and have human dignity,” she said.
The executive director said her father was instrumental and very active in the predecessor to today’s local United Way program, the Alcorn County Community Fund born in the 1940s, which used the same model of creating a single organization for donations to be made and then distributed to support multiple organizations providing help and assistance in the community. In the 1970s, when the United Way of America was established, the local organization began operating as the United Way of Corinth and Alcorn County.
She said it was simply the right job at the right time when the opportunity became available and though she never imagined she would be there 45 years later, she knows she found her place.
“Over the last 45 years working with agencies, industries, business leaders, community activists and other volunteers I have been privileged to work with the best of humanity in Alcorn County. My work with United Way has allowed me to be involved with the essential work of improving life for everyone in our community through numerous avenues,” she said.
Whitehurst said people have always been at the heart of United Way and she’s been blessed to be surrounded and supported by a strong board of directors filled with people who truly have a heart for helping others.
“It’s the people. That’s what it really is, and consistently we’ve had a wonderful board of directors. They’re in it for the good of the community,” she said.
The mother and now grandmother was joined in the United Way office in the 1990s by her daughter, Beth Whitehurst, who served as an assistant and director of First Call for Help, a central source for information on assistance for those in need of help. After leaving briefly, the daughter returned in September of 2001. Beth is retiring with her mother because she said they’ve always been a “package deal” and it makes sense for them to leave together and open the door for the organization’s next chapter.
Community service runs in the family and Beth’s earliest memory of United Way activities is attending a kickoff program for the group as a young Brownie scout.
“I went to kickoff before school in my Brownie scout uniform,” she recalled with a laugh.
Quick to point the spotlight toward her mother, the daughter said Betsy is at the heart of United Way’s success and service.
“She created the job. She is the one who built this. I just sort of came along and we worked well together as a team,” she said.
Beth’s daughter, Elizabeth, who now lives in Huntsville, also grew up assisting with United Way efforts and using her graphics skills to design brochures and other materials for the group.
“It’s always just been a family thing for us,” said Beth.
She said whether at home or traveling, they’ve always found themselves working on the organization and its efforts. She remembered her mother and daughter sitting on a bench in Chicago with their phones working on securing emergency funding for an agency while they were on a family vacation.
Beth described her mother as one of the hardest working people she’s ever known.
“This has just been her heart,” she said.
United Way of Corinth and Alcorn County President Wendy Shinault said it’s hard to talk about the executive director without a few tears of gratitude.
“She’s just golden. She’s a golden person,” she said.
Shinault said she’s never known anyone with the kind of love and passion Whitehurst has put into her role in caring for the community through United Way.
“It has been a pleasure through the years to work with her and have her to lead and guide us. This is a bittersweet moment. It’s just her experience and the love she has always treated everyone with. I just have so much respect for Ms. Betsy,” said Shinault.
United Way board member and 2020 president Traci Johnson said the executive director’s heart for people is what makes her special. Johnson said Betsy’s passion for the work of the organization has gone beyond simply organizing and leading. She cares on a personal level and takes the time to know the people within all the agencies they help fund and understand their unique needs.
“They all know that she cares. She’s actively involved in their work and their lives,” said Johnson.
She said there is no replacing a leader like Betsy Whitehurst.
“We have a big challenge in front of us. She can never be replaced. The knowledge and the love and the care. This was more than a job, it was more than a career. It’s who she is,” she said.
Current board member and former president Ken Lancaster said he got to know Betsy first through Corinth Theatre-Arts and when he moved back to Corinth in 1994 she asked him to be on the board.
He said her love of people and ability to forge relationships and connections has helped create a very special organization.
“I think the world of Betsy and I consider her a good friend. We’re all certainly going to miss her,” he said.
Board member and former president Reece Terry is also quick to praise the longtime executive director.
“Betsy has been a valuable asset to United Way and Alcorn County for over 45 years. Thanks to her hard work, dedication, and leadership United Way has been able to provide support to numerous agencies and organizations throughout our community. Betsy has always demonstrated a deep commitment to United Way’s mission. She will be missed,” he said.
Terming it a “soft retirement”, she said she’s agreed to remain at work as they search for a new executive director and make herself available for as long as she’s needed to help her replacement get off to a good start.
She’s looking forward to enjoying time with her grandchildren and traveling in her retirement.
“I’m 75 and I’m still in good health and fairly spry,” she said with a laugh and a smile.
She also expects to continue to volunteer in the community where she can, thought it may be at a more relaxed pace.
“I do expect to volunteer for some things, but I want flexible things at this point,” she said.