Diaries through the Decades

Betty Balkin speaks deliberately.

She pronounces every word precisely and carefully. To her, life is an art, something to be savored. As a child, Betty's mother read her a poem published by another child. "And [my mother] said, 'You could do that,' … so I did it!"

Balkin's poem earned first prize on the children's page of The Jewish Tribune, a national weekly publication in Canada. It was written in iambic pentameter, the style William Shakespeare often used. As the publication printed more of her work, Balkin was on her way to becoming a well-rounded artist.

At Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, Balkin double majored in English and French and earned her master's degree in theatre. After college, she took up a career teaching French to gifted children.

Balkin said loved it; she remembers the children dancing to French folk music, the boys in plumed hats bowing to the girls. Balkin said she appreciated their intelligence and capacity to learn.

When her husband became a serviceman in World War II, Balkin traveled with him around the country, spending time in Indiana, Louisiana, Arkansas, Tennessee and California.

Each location gave Balkin a new outlook. She learned the violin, piano and viola da gamba - a medieval instrument. "I had fun, because I was always so curious about how you could create the right pitch just by where you put your fingers," she said.

This curiosity and desire to explore has driven much of Balkin's life and characterizes her view of college education. "Really, when you come right down to it, if your interests are so deeply into something else, I don't see the point of having to spend time in something that you're never going to explore," she said.

Today, Balkin is an active resident of the Morgan Estates Assisted Living Facility on Morgan View Road. She is relearning piano and has not turned on her television since President Barack Obama's Inauguration in January, except once to watch an orchestral concert. She said she enjoys seeing her son and daughter-in-law - Richard and Laura Balkin, both music professors at Geneseo - who make sure Balkin always has fresh flowers in her room.

At 91-years-old, Balkin said she is still learning. As she observes the world, she said she is distressed to see people who let everything pass them by. "I feel like telling them, 'Don't do that,' … there's too much to do and to see and you have so little time to do it in."

Balkin said she encourages college students to take all the experience we can from the time we have. We are, as she put it, "at the cusp" of life.