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The golden days of Betty Bear at the Bulletin

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POSTED April 18, 2009 2:51 a.m.
Betty Bear is back.
Well, not exactly.
I came into work Friday and there she was on my chair – skirt, blouse and head. It was everything that made Betty Bear who she was although the paws and feet were missing.

If you haven’t been in Manteca for at least 15 years, then you’ve never met Betty Bear. She was the Manteca Bulletin’s mascot for a kid’s section we ran on Saturdays. We would run kid’s stories, drawings and such and give out prizes. On occasions Betty Bear and I would go to a classroom where the teacher would have us explain how to put together a newspaper. Then the students would submit articles and photos and part a future edition of the Betty Bear Bulletin would have the inside four pages devoted to creations such as the Golden West Gazette.

Betty Bear was given rock star status by many kids 7 and under. Older kids, who had never read the Betty Bear Bulletin, thought it was Winnie the Pooh in drag.

I admit there were times Betty Bear and I were one. It is the only time – I repeat – the only time I have ever worn a skirt in my life.

Betty Bear’s persona, most of the time though, was John Decker who once worked in the Bulletin’s production department.

Betty Bear hit the big time 17 years ago and went on tour visiting every Manteca Unified elementary school campus. It was the brainchild of Rex Osborn of the Manteca Police Department. There had been a series of fatal bicycle accidents in the Manteca area – five in two years – so Rex came up with a bicycle safety campaign.

And who would be better to do this than Betty Bear and her sidekick - me. I was the obvious choice since in the previous three years I had broken four bicycle helmets and walked away – save the two times I was strapped to  backboards crashing. My mishaps ranged from a dog running out in front of me while I was going downhill in the Sierra foothills at 45 mph to getting my front tire stuck in the French Camp Road railroad crossing near Park View Cemetery while going 18 mph and going straight down like a sack of potatoes. Each time my helmet did the job although some of my detractors might argue that I am suffering from long-term neurological damage from my crashes.

The gig was simple. Betty, Rex and I would hit two to three assemblies at each school. Rex would tell about how the police were going to give out “tickets” when officers saw kids riding bicycles with helmets that were good for a soda and burger at Burger King. Betty was there to get the kids’ attention as she was a bit more attractive than Rex and me. I was there to share stories of my crashes, pass around the broken helmets I had saved, to tell stories of bicycle accidents where people died in the area, and to answer any questions.

I went in full cycling gear – the bicycle shorts, team jersey, cleats, gloves, and helmet. I also took one of my babies – the LeMond Rainbow Jersey racing bicycle or my McMahon titanium tricked out with what was the rage of the day, Scott aero bars.

To show you how old I am, Bulletin reporter Jason Campbell remembers the bicycle safety assembly from when he was a fourth grader at Stella Brockman School. Apparently my message got through to him because he doesn’t bicycle, period. I guess I should have told him about the dangers of skiing.

At any rate, Betty and I did a Shasta School assembly one time on our own.

Everything was going fine. We got to the question and answer section and a kid asked whether the bicycle I had cost $100.

I answered him honestly noting the bicycle as it was set up complete with titanium frame was $7,200.

This didn’t impress the kids who at that age $100 is the same as $1 million. It did, however, impress Principal Rick Mello.

It impressed him so much that he was worried about kids messing with the bicycle as they filed out. Normally we’d stand there and Betty Bear would give high fives or hugs. Usually they were more interested in checking out Betty Bear than my bicycle.

This time the principal insisted I watch the bicycle and he’d watch Betty.

Things were going fine until this fourth grade girl came running up to Betty while she was high fiving another kid and kneed Betty as hard as she could right where it hurts.

It goes without saying the wind was knocked out of Betty. I never realized someone could gasp louder than a Harley without a muffler.

The principal looked on mortified as the fourth grader ran back to her classmate shouting, “I told you! I told you! Betty Bear was a boy!”
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