Trout lily at Betley Woods

Giving for Impact

Second in a series memorializing our friend and benefactor, Len Betley

Our spring newsmagazine spotlights the late Len Betley, whose support of conservation had a far-reaching impact. As a business leader, Len mentored many younger colleagues. One of them was Dan Appel of Gregory & Appel Insurance.

Dan served on multiple boards with Len and has been involved with all three of the foundations that Len helped to start: the Richard M. Fairbanks Foundation, the Walther Cancer Foundation, and the Regenstrief Institute and Regenstrief Foundation.

Early on in their work together, Dan came to value Len as a friend and mentor.

“I began to have coffee with him once a week for a number of years,” says Dan. “It was amazing to spend an hour with Len because he was such a wonderful person, so worldly and wise. He was always willing to share his knowledge.”

Dan appreciated Len’s quiet way of managing conflict. “I don’t think I ever saw him raise his voice,” Dan says, “but he was always able to untangle the most complex and difficult situations without (needing to)… and everybody walked away saying, ‘How did he do that?’”

He was also incredibly generous with his time, enjoying growing and mentoring others. Dan was one of many who counted on his wise counsel.

Len had a way of asking questions that cut through the noise. Dan recalls, “Whenever I saw him—as late as a month or two before died—he always asked me, ‘Are you having any impact?’ It’s a very thoughtful question, because you can give a lot of money away and do good things, but is it really impacting what you want to do?”

Currently Dan is board chair of the Fairbanks Foundation, whose mission is to advance the vitality of Indianapolis and the well-being of its people. “It can be hard to measure the impact,” Dan says. “But he always asked the question, and it made me step back and ask, ‘Why are we doing what we’re doing?’”

Dan serves alongside Claire Fiddian-Greene, President and CEO of Fairbanks, who took over from Len when he retired from that position. “We both have Len on a pedestal,” he admits, referring to her moving tribute in the Indianapolis Business Journal. 

Asked about the origins of Len’s philanthropy and service, Dan says, “I don’t really know where it came from. I can only imagine it came from his humble upbringing and being one of the few in his family to attend an Ivy League school…I think that he was in that camp that believed that for those who are successful, the responsibility to give back is even greater.”

Dan suspects that Len’s generosity was farther reaching than anyone knew. He says, “I would guess that the things that I know about are really just the tip of iceberg in terms of who he’s helped and organizations he assisted, because he was so quiet about it.”

But on the question of impact, one thing is clear: “He had a great impact with his gift to the land trust,” Dan notes. In 2021, the Betley Family donated $1 million toward the restoration and protection of our Hills of Gold Conservation Area. An endowment specifically for this Johnson County region continues to save more critical habitat.

Dan and his wife enjoyed traveling in Europe with Len and Katie, benefiting from the older man’s passion for history. Len was incredibly well-read, with deep knowledge of World War II history, among other things. “It was like traveling with an encyclopedia,” Dan recalls.

But Len wasn’t a stuffed shirt by any means. He was a great conversationalist and very funny. “He had a very subtle, dry, witty sense of humor—and he loved bourbon,” Dan says.

Read more about Len Betley’s legacy in our spring newsmagazine, available online here.

Up next: A tribute from a colleague in the conservation arena

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.