A native Californian, Betty Rodriguez was born on February 11, 1929, the daughter of Nicholas and Constance Raya. The family lived in Fresno’s west side, and Betty attended and graduated from the Columbia Elementary and Edison High schools. During her earlier years, she helped her family by working at a number of jobs in nearby Chinatown.
It was at Edison that Betty met Armando Rodriguez, whom she married in 1950. They left Fresno during the Korean War, while he served in the U.S. Air Force, and lived at various locations throughout the United States. After his military service, he worked his way through Fresno State College and Lincoln Law School, and Betty helped support the household by becoming a beautician.
Soon after her husband was admitted to the California State Bar in 1965, she “retired” to become one of Fresno’s most notable community leaders and volunteers. Betty left a large mark on several organizations. She was president of the Friends of the Fresno County Public Library, and helped create the League of Mexican-American Women in 1973 and Arte Americas in 1987. She served as president for both of those groups as well, and also for the local Infant of Prague adoption agency.
One of Betty’s major volunteer accomplishments was the League’s annual Fiesta Navidena Fashion Show, Luncheon and Boutique. Inaugurated in 1975, this event has raised more than $250,000 in scholarship money for Latino students. It was often said that the fashion show was always successful because no one could refuse Betty’s earnest appeals to buy tickets.
In addition to heading four major volunteer organizations, Betty also served as a board member for the Children’s Services Network, Fresno Historical Society and Valley Medical Center Foundation. She was also active in Girl Scouts, the League of Women Voters, the Fresno-Torreon Sister City Committee, the Mexican-American Political Association (MAPA), and the St. Agnes Holiday Boutique.
Betty’s husband, Armando, compiled an equally impressive record of community service: the first Latino elected to the Fresno County Board of Supervisors (1972), along with appointment to the Fresno County Superior Court bench in 1975. Both of them were eventually honored with La Medalla Ohtli, the highest award the Mexican government can bestow on non-citizens.
A number of additional awards came to Betty as a result of her continuous, high-level community involvement. Among them were the “Latinas Beyond Boundaries” award from the Latina Women’s Conference in 1998; the Conference also named its annual volunteer award in her honor. She also received the Rebozo Award from Arte Americas in 2007, and was named a “Latino Legend of the 20th Century” at the Fresno Latino Legends dinner in 2012.
While Betty was committed seriously to her many volunteer activities, her playful, lighthearted side was always visible to family and friends. She never missed seeing a movie that featured Charlton Heston. She was a big fan of “My Fair Lady” and loved to sing its songs. Her house usually had cats in it; most had found her rather than the other way around.
Betty’s health took a turn for the worse in 2011, when cancer was detected, but she refused to let it cramp her enthusiasm or style. She remained active on all her usual volunteer fronts, and started planning a new Navidena fashion show with only weeks to live. On November 12, 2012, she passed away, leaving a rich legacy for Fresno and the San Joaquin Valley.
Betty herself best summarized her philosophy of life by saying, in a 1987 interview: “I can’t just be a member. I have to be doing something.”