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Betsy Rush: Former Ossining Librarian, Briarcliff Resident

BETSY ANN PIFER RUSH, b. April 6, 1920 in Boston, d. May 3, 2014, in Leesburg, VA. Born to Claude and Elizabeth (Parrish) Pifer, Betsy grew up in the quintessential New England village of Shirley Center, MA. One of the strong formative figures in her childhood was Shirley Center neighbor and family intimate, Benton MacKaye, the founder of the Appalachian Trail. Betsy attended Concord Academy and The Cambridge School during her high school years. She graduated from Vassar College Class of 1941, having served as the college chairman and a national vice-president of the American Student Union. The friends she made at Vassar remained her dearest friends for the rest of her life. After work for the TASS and United Press International news services during World War II, she married the love of her life, Burton Rush, in 1945. First in Brooklyn, then in Irvington, NY, and finally in Briarcliff Manor, NY, the couple raised a family of four children.

In 1960, Betsy returned to school, earning a Masters in Library Science from Columbia University in 1963.  She completed 20 years of acclaimed service as children’s librarian for the Ossining Library before retiring in 1981. Betsy transformed the children’s department into a hub of story-telling, special reading programs, and outreach into all the Ossining-area public and private schools.  In 1973, she served on the Newberry-Caldecott award committee of the American Library Association, which selects annually the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children. She took a determined stand on offering high quality books and audiovisual material, and was devoted to sparking the imaginative powers of the children, the teen-age pages whom she mentored and who, in return, revered her, and the parents. At retirement, she was honored with a Proclamation of the Westchester Country Board of Legislators, lauding her as the “head (and heart) of Children’s Services at the Ossining Public Library,” who, “not content with limiting the library to the confinement of its four walls… brought the library to the community.” A particular favorite of Betsy’s were the Laura Ingalls Wilder books, brought to life when the Rush family visited many of the books’ locations on a cross-country trip in 1963. When Ossining-area author Barbara Walker, who regularly brought her children to the library, wrote “The Little House Cookbook: Frontier Foods from Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Classic Stories”, she inscribed a copy “for Betsy  Rush, who started it all”.

After retirement, Betsy continued extensive volunteer work with local library and children’s programs. She served on the board of the Ossining Children’s Center. Ossining’s Clearview School installed a special plaque in her honor for her work overhauling their book collection.  Betsy and Burt indulged their love of travel, visiting 46 of the 50 U.S. states, and more than 30 countries on five continents. For every photograph Burt  put into slide shows for area senior centers, there was a page of travel memoirs kept by Betsy. Burt died in 2007.

Throughout her life, Betsy was a committed advocate of social and economic justice, including involvement in civil rights and anti-war causes. She was an inveterate reader. She kept a love of walking and the outdoors throughout her active life, which included seven decades of playing tennis, often in mixed doubles with Burt. She loved to listen to classical music, and could flawlessly sing the alto part of the Lachrymosa section of Mozart’s Requiem, first learned in the Vassar College Chorus in 1938, until the end of her life.

Betsy is survived by three sons: Peter and Timothy, both of Leesburg, VA; Barney, of Chevy Chase, MD; by daughter Lucy, of San Francisco; by grandchildren Kristen, Alison, Adrienne, Roman, Carolyn, and Nadia; and by one great grandchild, Kylea. She will be buried in a family plot in Shirley Center, MA, at a joint family remembrance for her and her sister, Joan Pifer Michaels, who passed at age 99 in February of this year. Memorial gifts in her name may be made to the Ossining Children’s Center. Please leave condolences at www.colonialfuneralhome.com.

Nick Ripostella May 13, 2014 at 04:00 PM
I fondly remember Mrs. Rush who helped make the Ossining Public Library a great place where I was always greeted with smiling, friendly faces. I recall how the librarians were always so helpful. Bless them all.

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