Beatrice (now Batya) is a Range Girl. Born in Hibbing MN, Batya grew up in nearby Chisholm, where her family owned the local men’s clothing store. And for those who tend to wonder, her family overlapped a bit with the family of Bob Dylan (Zimmerman), and though she didn’t know (then) Robert, she did go to Herzl Camp in Webster WI with his brother David, and their mothers were friends.
Following high school she moved to Chicago to attend nursing school, but soon left to attend the University of Minnesota, where she received her degree in American Studies. She stayed on at the U to work in various research and related capacities for several years, before moving on to a career in development and non-profit work. While at the University, she met and married a PhD student in her department, and together they had daughter Anna, who now lives in Denver.
How did you come to be known as Batya?
I left part way through college and went to Israel, right after the Six Day War, and lived there – on a kibbutz – for six months. Which is actually where I identified with my Hebrew name. My name on my birth certificate is Basha, the Ashkenazic pronunciation. I don’t know if it’s my official birth certificate, but a document has my name as Basha Devorah. And so when I was in Israel, I was called Batya, and that stuck with me.
What did you do after college?
I was working for a researcher in the Physiology Department, and one of his colleagues was moving over to work in the Medical School, and invited me to interview for the job. And it was very exciting – I stayed ten years. It was the team that was exploring the role of B cells and T cells in the immune system. And it was my work, helping them look at how certain kids were born with, in effect, genetic forms of AIDS. The immune system is compromised genetically, so that they get more cancers.
But in that role I was given the opportunity to write papers, present papers in London. And I wrote papers for research money, so I was working way outside my training. And that was fine.
Editor’s note: For light reading, see “Genetically determined immunodeficiency diseases (GDID) and malignancy: report from the immunodeficiency–cancer registry.
Spector BD, Perry GS 3rd, Kersey JH.
Clinical Immunology and Immunopathology 1978 Sep;11(1):12-29.
Then I transferred to the School of Public Health. And there, I took advantage of my upbringing on the Range, because this was the very first study to document the exposure of taconite workers to what might have been particles carrying asbestos. Because stories were emerging that there was something potentially in taconite that looks like an asbestos fiber. So that meant that I worked with the mining companies, and with the labor executives. It was sitting in on meetings with the opposite teams. It was very fun.
And then I went back up to the Range, and because I was a Range girl, I was able to go into these mining companies. And I hired some local women to microfilm – you can tell what time that was – all these worker histories. And it was interesting to me that about two months ago, I began seeing articles about huge amounts of money that are being used to document this exposure to something that’s causing high rates of mesothelioma, lung cancer. That goes back 40 years, when I was first working on it. Not much happened with it then.
How did you come to join Mount Zion?
We got married in 1985, in a house on Summit Avenue. There was no Rabbi. I hadn’t found my way back into congregational life. I did when Anna was born, three years later. That was my first way of reconnecting.
I became a member of Shir Tikvah, and I remember when they walked the Torah across the Ford Bridge, when they bought their new synagogue. I have a picture of Anna and me. There was a Minneapolis photographer, and it just so happened that Anna was hugging me as I was holding the Torah. And it was really a beautiful picture.
So I studied there and I joined the board, right away. I think I was secretary of the board. I taught in the religious school, and then I left in 1997, and came to Mount Zion Temple, and I’ve been here ever since.
Tell us about your family.
My father’s name was Eugene. My grandfather was Boris David, who I’m named after – BD. When I was growing up his store was named BD Spector and Son. And my father was the son. So when I was growing up, my father’s store was the – my grandfather had died –my father’s store was the men’s clothing store in town, and it had everything from the finest Florsheim shoes to beautiful suits, and hunting jackets. And big boots that people would wear in the mines.
Do you remember taking any vacations growing up?
We had no vacations. My father worked. Vacation for my family was to go the six or seven miles to the lake. When you live on the Iron Range, you go to ‘the lake’. You go to ‘the cabin’. And my father had a lovely piece of land, on a small lake. We had a nice cabin, and he had a small boat, and he named the boat with the first few letters of his three children. His first son was Allen, so it was AL. The second son was Robert, so it was RO. And his third child was Beatrice, which was BEA. So his boat was … ALROBEA ! And it was a little fishing boat. But it had a gutsy motor that brought us up on skis. Not fast skis, but skis. A lovely, clear lake. A lovely place to be.
Have you won any awards or trophies in your life?
I was elected Governor of the State. There’s something called the American Legion Boys State and Girls State. And I got selected by my teachers, to represent my hometown.
And I got this crazy idea that I was going to run for Governor. I had shown zippo political interest. I am not a person who goes out front. But I got on a bus – there was a bus that was picking up all the girls – and as every girl got on the bus, I told them I was running for Governor.
I felt like I was possessed.
And there was this wonderful young woman from Virginia who agreed to be my campaign manager. We decided we would take on the big city girls. And we won, and I became Governor of Girls State. And it was a big deal, and it was fun.
And because I was elected Governor, I got to go to Washington DC for Girls Nation. And everybody got assigned a proxy position, and I was Secretary of the Army. And I got to meet the Secretary of the Army, and I met Congressman John Blatnik, who was from Chisholm. It was between my junior and senior year of high school. It was very exciting.
I was also Queen of the Lake. I swam across Chisholm Lake. It was a small lake. But it was hilarious. I don’t remember the context, but I remember swimming from one beach to the other. It was a race, and I won the race.
I was a good swimmer, but I wasn’t on a team. Girls didn’t have a … we weren’t racing, we were synchronized swimming at that time. You know, it was like lifting legs, and doing things like that.
I was awful at it. I was awful. But I was in it.
Are we done yet? I think we should be done.
Just one more question. Do you still swim?
No, but I’ve been to see Anna in Denver, and together we have run short races, and we’re going to do another one together in April. She’s doing a half marathon this time. Last time she did a 10k and I did a 5k. They staggered the starting times, and we literally crossed the finish line together. I’ll send you a picture. It was so great. It was called the Kooky Spooky Race, and that’s what I wore for Purim.
I think we’re done.