Betty Gunn is known as the friendliest neighbor in West Homewood by those who know and love her. Whether it’s leaving a loaf of fresh bread at a neighbor’s doorstep, welcoming guests into her carport for a visit, or walking the neighborhood and praying for families along the way, “Mrs. Betty” (as she is lovingly called) is truly a gem in this community.
In 1983, Betty first moved to West Homewood with her husband Bill and youngest daughter Catherine when Bill became the pastor of Oakmont Methodist Church (now Trinity West Homewood). They lived in the parsonage behind the church until 1990. The couple met more than thirty years earlier while attending Birmingham Southern College. They were married after graduation in 1960 and moved to Atlanta where Bill completed seminary at Emory University. As the daughter of two public school educators, Betty earned her degree in education and began her much-loved teaching career. Eventually, she and Bill came back to Alabama where they lived in six different communities across North Alabama before landing in West Homewood where she and Bill lived for seven years.
Bill was transferred to a new Methodist Church in 1990, but it was West Homewood that called them back home years later upon Bill’s retirement. Of all the places they called “home”, the community of West Homewood was their favorite - it also didn’t hurt that they would be close to their three children and eight grandchildren who live in Homewood. They bought their home on Ridgemoor Drive in 2000, and Betty wasted no time getting to know her neighbors as she strolled her at-the-time three grandsons throughout the neighborhood. Many memories and numerous meaningful relationships have been made in their home. These relationships became more important than she could have ever imagined. First, with the passing of her beloved husband six years ago, then with navigating the recent global pandemic alone.
Leave it to Mrs. Betty to figure out a way to make community work during a pandemic. Just two weeks into the mandated shutdown, she formed a “Neighborhood Carport Group.” A group of six women, consisting of five widows, who began to meet weekly in each other’s yards or carports to keep each other company through this very difficult time. “In my 82 years, I’ve never experienced something like COVID, and I didn’t want to be alone. I couldn’t even hug my grandchildren! I called up my friends and said, ‘let’s meet socially-distanced in the yard and be together,’” Betty said. “We found a way to be together while still taking the pandemic and the social distancing guidelines seriously, so much so that our friend Faye showed up the first time we met with measuring tape to ensure we were six feet apart!” The group of women have met outside together weekly over the past year. They eat meals together and talk about current events and their families. The group shares similar political interests, which made getting through the elections a little easier. “I am so glad to be a part of this group. It has made us all feel comfortable and secure to be able to call on each other. We help each other with grocery pickup, and every one of us knows that if we need something, we first call Faye!”
Now that Betty is back to her daily walks, she snaps a picture of something beautiful she passes by each day in the neighborhood and sends it to the group. She calls it her daily “pandemic picture” and the practice has become a special way to share the beauty of the neighborhood with her friends. The group recently branched out into taking a few local fieldtrips. They pile up in Faye’s van and find outdoor places to share a meal, they support local businesses, like picking up dinner for each other at Ash, and a highlight was the English tea party they threw themselves that included fare from Little London Kitchen.
Betty shares a familiar love of the West Homewood community as the young couples and families who continue to flock to the neighborhood. “This is a great neighborhood to meet people. Neighbors are so friendly and look out for each other. There’s not a need to be perfect and people care about you just the way you are. I love how people here are so receptive and open to people of different ages, cultures and interests. I know almost all my neighbors, and if I call on them, they would help me.”
When asked how she feels about the changes in the neighborhood over the years, Betty welcomes the progress but has concerns. She worries about the safety of the children who are walking from the school to the park every day as they have to cross an increasingly busy street. “I also regret to see the housing costs go up in the neighborhood. A close friend of mine, who is also a widow, recently bid on a house and lost it even though her offer was over the asking price. We want her to be a part of this neighborhood so badly, and it’s sad that it may not happen. I am grateful for the diversity, but we need to make sure that remains. My grandchildren are better because they live in a more diverse environment than I grew up in. We learn from each other’s diverse perspectives, and that’s the best part of this neighborhood.”
Betty believes the future of West Homewood looks bright. Though she is not sure how our leaders will find ways to make housing more affordable, she believes they will work to maintain diversity. Many of us agree that the diversity of this neighborhood, whether color, ethnicity, religious beliefs, or age, makes this a special place to live, and our community won’t be the same if our future children don’t grow up having a neighbor like Mrs. Betty.
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