Riverview resident named 2014 Woman of the Year

Betty Cain is seldom found sitting down.

"What am I going to do if I go home and sit in my chair? Then I'm old," said the 80-year-old Riverview resident on a recent Tuesday, pausing for a moment in the kitchen of Lansdowne United Methodist Church after another busy morning of volunteer activity.

"I love people, and I love taking care of them," Cain said.

On Thursday, March 27, Cain will be honored as the 2014 Woman of the Year by the Baltimore County Commission for Women.

"She would say that she's just a simple woman that does and gives what she can, and that her reasons for doing so don't merit acknowledgment. But those of us who know her and work with her believe that she's exceptionally deserving," said Brian Bailey, among those who nominated Cain for the award.

The award recognizes women for their "outstanding achievements, unique contributions to the county and their ability to provide creative solutions to complex community and social challenges."

"I felt that she really embodies the true spirit of what Baltimore County's Woman of the Year program is," said Bailey,a member of the church who has known Cain for nearly 20 years.

"They want to know when I'm going to stop, and I say, 'Never,' " Cain said, a slight,  twang in her voice. She's lived in the Baltimore area for the past 40 years, but one can still hear a trace of rural West Virginia, where she was born and raised.

The longtime resident of this small community near Baltimore County's border with Baltimore City and Anne Arundel County has dedicated the past 10 years to feeding the hungry, usually on the Laverne Avenue site of her parish, Lansdowne United Methodist Church. Every other Wednesday, from 4 to 6 p.m., Cain and a dedicated crew of volunteers feed nearly 200 people a free hot meal.

A regular at community meetings, she dedicates hours to making the area a better place to live.

She also started a thrift store at the church as a way to raise money and help those who need a little assistance.

"I'm always somewhere doing something," Cain said. "I don't have much free time."

Though officially retired, she still works three days a week as a nurse and office manager at a Baltimore City doctor's office.

Cain has dedicated her life to taking care of other people. She has four children, seven grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.

"There's a core of people that you tend to see everywhere and she's one of them," said 1st District Councilman Tom Quirk, who represents the area. "She's one of the 'guardians,' I like to call them, the people you see out there who are always looking out for the community."

After volunteering last Tuesday, Cain sat at a table, sipping coffee from a black mug that read, "I'm the Boss," and joked with church volunteers about her strong personality.

It's among the qualities that have driven her devotion to providing help for individuals and families in need for so many years.

"She comes off as tough sometimes," her daughter, Karen Monteil, said. "But she's a sweet person. She cares for anybody and everybody."

Cain didn't have a lot growing up as one of eight kids. All of the children in her family had to help out. When she was 16, her mother died, and she had to drop out of high school to help raise her younger sister.

"They didn't have any money and had to make due with what they had," Monteil said.

Growing up on a farm, Cain learned how to cook with fresh ingredients. She hardly shopped at a grocery store.

"I didn't even know what ground beef was until I moved to Baltimore," Cain said.

Cain said she loves to cook and still makes most of her food from "scratch."

In her garden in her backyard, she grows potatoes, radishes, lettuce and a variety of other vegetables.

She cans her own tomato sauce, and makes jams and jellies from the fruit in her garden, which she sells at the church to raise money for the parish.

"I don't go to the store and buy a lot of stuff — I only buy the staples," Cain said.

While raising her four children, she often worked two jobs, as a bus driver and a nurse.

"You try to make a decent living for your kids to make sure they have a halfway decent life," Cain said.

Her late husband worked for the old Baltimore and Paint Co. and as a bus driver. The couple also tended a local bar in the evening to earn extra money.

Monteil said she remembers her mother working hard while she was growing up.

"We never wanted for anything." Monteil said. "She may have struggled, but we never knew it."

"She's a lovely person who gives everything she can to her church and her community," said Del. James Malone, whose District 12A includes Lansdowne.

Her granddaughter, April Brohawn wrote: "I'm incredibly honored to call Betty my 'Gran.' I've looked up to her my whole life. She has taught me the value of appreciating what I have and giving what I can. She is something of a Wonder Woman in my eyes."

"If I'm half the person [she] is at any point in my life, I owe it all to her for being my role model," Brohawn wrote in nominating Cain for the award.

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