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Betty Jean Furgerson

1990 Iowa Women's Hall of Fame Honoree:  Betty Jean Furgerson (March 10, 1927 - August 14, 2018)

"Betty Jean, for all her soft spoken, friendly demeanor, has a toughness of steel for causes she believes in."
—Karen K. Goodenow, 1990 

Betty Jean Furgerson

Betty Jean Furgerson's life is epitomized as one of service and leadership, particularly in human rights, education, public television, and the arts.

Betty Jean ("BJ") Furgerson was born March 10, 1927, in Waterloo, Iowa, the second child of Lee Burton Furgerson M.D., the first black physician in Waterloo, and Lily Nina Furgerson, who became the first black teacher in Waterloo's public schools. After graduating from East High School in Waterloo, she attended Talladega College and the University of Iowa before obtaining her bachelor's degree from Iowa State Teachers College (now the University of Northern Iowa). She subsequently earned a master's of social work from the University of Kansas. 

Her professional career included work for the Girl Scouts, Head Start, and, for nearly two decades (starting in 1974), directorship of the Waterloo Human Rights Commission. A tireless advocate for civil rights, diversity, education and the arts, her curiosity about the world, love of learning, sense of fairness and willingness to listen made her an exceptional leader. She was keenly attuned to the needs of children, often asking other adults, "Don't you remember what it is like to be a child?" 

Betty Jean served on the Broadcast Board of Iowa Public Television for an unprecedented 35 years (July 1980-April 2015), including 20 years (1986-2006) as president. She also served on the Board of Regents for six years (starting in 1989), the Iowa Arts Council and the Lily Furgerson Child Development Center board. She was a member and president of the Waterloo Board of Education, a founding member of KBBG Afro-American Community Broadcasting in Waterloo, and an active participant in many other community groups. She was treasurer of the Regional Executive Council on Civil Rights, an organization comprising human rights agencies in a tri-state area. She was one of the original members of the Iowa Department of Education's Multicultural, Nonsexist Curriculum Committee and aided in the formulation of the state policy that human relations training be a part of teacher preparation and relicensure. Furgerson also served as president of the Advisory Board to the University of Northern Iowa Leadership Studies Program and chair of Regents Affirmative Action Priority Study committee. 

Betty Jean was given numerous honors and awards, among them induction into the Iowa Women's Hall of Fame in 1990, receipt of the Leonard Katoski Volunteer Service Award from the City of Waterloo in 1998 and the Waterloo Courier's 8 Over 80 Legacy Award in 2010, induction into the Iowa African American Hall of Fame in 2013, and selection for the 2014 edition of "Ovation: A Tribute to Iowa Women and Girls." In 2006, she received the prestigious David J. Brugger Award. This national honor recognized her for demonstrating "exemplary leadership in grassroots advocacy on behalf of public television." 

Betty Jean Furgerson passed away on August 14, 2018.