Mayapple at Betley Woods

A Personal Tribute to Len Betley

Part 4 in a series

Our spring newsmagazine honors the late Len Betley, our friend and benefactor. We’ve been sharing tributes from people who knew, loved, and respected Len. Here our longtime supporter Priscilla Johnson, who serves on our board, offers her reflections.

Priscilla first met Len over 55 years ago when he began dating her best friend, Katie. He had to pass muster with Priscilla, who’d known Katie since birth. “We were backyard neighbors for the first 17 years of our lives,” Priscilla explains. “Of course, Len had to undergo the inquiry. It obviously went OK, because they got married!”

It turned out more than OK—Priscilla and her husband Tom (TJ) would go on to spend many happy times together with the Betleys, often out in nature.

“I’ve always liked Leonard, what was not to like?” she says. “He was always genuine.”

Priscilla and TJ became invested in the conservation movement largely because of Len’s involvement. “All four of us just love the outdoors so much,” she says, “and it was part of our time together.

At the Johnsons’ Lamb Lake property in Johnson County, a particular memory stands out: Katie and Len on a four-wheeler on a muddy day. “I can still close my eyes and see them coming back,” Priscilla laughs. “They had gotten the four-wheeler stuck and Katie got out to push.” Both were covered in mud, and Katie even had mud in her earlobes. “But there were smiles across their faces,” Priscilla says, “like they’d had a great adventure.”

The foursome also traveled together many times over the years. From Alaska to London to the Grand Canyon to Banff, the two couples covered a lot of ground.

“We each had our role,” Priscilla recalls. “I was the planner. TJ was the driver. Katie was the photographer. And Leonard was the father. He’d pay all the bills. He’d take a wallet and we’d each put some dollars in. If we needed to buy tickets, he’d go up to the counter to get them. At restaurants, we’d say, ‘Give our father the bill.’”

If the wallet got thin halfway through the week, they’d each put more cash in. “On the way home,” she says, “he’d declare a dividend and pass out the cash remaining.”

Asked about the incredibly generous gift Len and Katie made to CILTI in 2021, Priscilla says “I don’t even have words.”

In 2015, Priscilla, along with TJ and her brother Randy Lamb, helped CILTI acquire the family property that would become Betley Woods at Glacier’s End—taking a bargain price in the sale.

This land is loaded with shared memories, and Priscilla is overwhelmed by the generous role her friends played in supporting its restoration. “My father would just be over the moon,” she says. “It was just an incredible gift to our state, to our citizens, to the preserving of special places.”

The property’s rich biodiversity has been documented by state botanist Scott Namestnik. Measuring just 300 acres, Betley Woods hosts a whopping 500 species of vascular plants, with a high ratio of natives to non-native plants. And counting all taxa, our stewardship crew has documented 949 species within the property, including 23 rare plants and animals.

Given how many other claims Len could have made, Priscilla was particularly touched that the land now has the Betley name. “Of all the things that he had been involved with and that he spent time, energy, and money on—things people might not even be aware of—the fact that this was named Betley Woods is very significant to me.”

Len’s impact on his community and close relationships was too enormous to be catalogued. “Len will be greatly missed. He leaves such a big hole in the fabric of the community,” Priscilla says.

Shawndra Miller

Communications Manager

Shawndra is in charge of sharing our story and connecting you to our work. Through our print and online materials, she hopes to inspire your participation in protecting special places for future generations.