Born to Ward Rankin and Anna Belle Burke on June 15, 1950, in Lufkin, Texas, Betsy made her peaceful transition to heaven on January 7, 2021, after a brief COVID-related illness in Austin, Texas.
Betsy was born with the challenges and the blessings of Downs Syndrome. Her birth in 1950 became the genesis of many lasting contributions her parents made to Texas residents living with mental health and developmental disabilities. Her parents lived with faith-in-action daily and chose to accept Betsy’s challenges as their “call to action.”
They also contributed their talents to the creation and improvement of many local and state programs to improve the lives of individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities, mental health issues, and/or physical challenges, including the Burke Center, Austin State School, Austin State Supported Living Center, Lufkin State School, Lufkin Independent School District, Lufkin Adult Learning Center and Lufkin Workshop and Opportunity Center.
The Burke family enjoyed working with other parents and leaders to continuously create new solutions and opportunities to improve access to education for students of all ages and backgrounds. In addition, Mr. Burke served as a member and Chairman of the Former State Board of the Texas Department of Mental Health Mental Retardation, the Texas Council of Community MHMR Centers, the Burke Center (formerly Deep East Texas MHMR Services).
Sweet Betsy, as her family liked to call her, lived a full and happy life and will be remembered as “living in the moment,” “overflowing with joy,” and always happy to make new friends. Her family ensured that she engaged with the community on every level; from Sunday School and church services to public school, Girl Scouts, dance classes, choir, parties, summer camps, fishing, campouts, cooking, music lessons, flying on an airplane, going on a cruise, fine art events, and volunteering. And it was through these activities that Betsy touched so many lives and, in turn, was blessed by so many people from all walks of life.
Betsy graduated ‘beaming with joy’ at age 21 from Lufkin High School as the first student graduating from the Special Education Program. A fond family memory is her walking across the stage and receiving a spontaneous, cheering ovation led by her classmates and the entire audience.
Shortly after graduation, Betsy moved into a group home sponsored by the Burke Center, which provides services to persons with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Betsy continued to thrive and enjoy many of her favorite activities. Specifically, she loved working every day until age 68 in community day habilitation centers at either the Burke Center Workshop or the Lufkin Workshop & Opportunity Center or the Oak Creek Center Day Habilitation and Vocational Center. At work, she enjoyed performing a variety of jobs, which created the opportunity for her and other adults with various disabilities to become outstanding citizens contributing to the value of the community.
And what she liked BEST about working was she got paid! She was thrilled to go on Saturday shopping trips with her housemates. And then, on Sunday, she proudly put some of her paycheck in the church offering plate! She was a chartered member of the First Baptist Church Special Education Department.
She also liked to attend many activities sponsored by the East Texas Fun Bunch, Inc. (ETFB) – a non-profit organization whose mission was to enhance the lives of individuals with intellectual, physical, and/or developmental disabilities and related conditions by offering them recreational, cultural, and educational opportunities. These additional services are still available for people attending day habilitation programs, nursing/retirement homes, and for those living in the community through the ETFB scholarship fund at Angelina College.
The family would like to extend gratitude and appreciation to all persons whose purpose and mission in life was and remains to be not only to improve and enrich Betsy's life but enhance the lives of other citizens with physical, mental, and/or emotional challenges. Thank you for dedicating your time, talent, gifts, and money to support and improve programs that benefit those in need.
Betsy is survived by her two (2) sisters, Marilyn Ruth Burke of Austin/Cozumel and Barbara Smith, who lovingly and attentively shared Betsy's 70-year journey. She is also survived by her brother-in-law, James (Jim) M. Wong, her nephew, Ben C. Smith Jr., his wife Sara, grand nieces, grand-nephews, first and second cousins.
If you would like to honor Betsy’s legacy and support others, the family requests donations be given to:
(1) Betsy Elaine Burke Scholarship Fund (BEB) and/or
(2) Higher Education Loan Program (HELP) and/or
(3) East Texas Fun Bunch (ETFB) Scholarship at Angelina College, P.O. Box 1768, Lufkin, Texas 75902 (Phone #: 936-633-5386), and/or
(4) Your favorite charity.
On a future date, there will be a memorial service for her at Austin State Supported Living Center, the last place she resided.
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