After 30 Years, a Renaissance Man Retires

March 10, 2016

When Bill Betlej stepped onto the Mary Baldwin Campus in 1986, he arrived as a vendor, hired to help with the Mary Baldwin television and radio studio as the communication department was revitalizing the major. He had previously worked as a professional broadcaster and would soon join Mary Baldwin as an adjunct professor teaching Audio Programming. That led to full-time work in the communications department, then the computer center, and eventually the Office of Information Technology, where, as director of operations, Betlej designed and built the college’s first computer network, which still serves us today.

Bill Betlej, left, with President Pamela Fox at the Mary Baldwin employee recognition breakfast in 2015.
Bill Betlej, left, with President Pamela Fox at the Mary Baldwin employee recognition breakfast in 2015.

Earlier this month, Betlej announced his retirement and said goodbye to colleagues and friends after a 30-year career in an academic environment that inspired him. So, it comes as no surprise that it’s Mary Baldwin’s mission and the people carrying out that mission that he will miss most.

“I learned so many things from so many professionals. And especially the women,” Betlej said. “I am an unabashed advocate of single-gender education. And I hope Mary Baldwin can continue to offer some form of it. During my time here I realized that I am a member of the most privileged demographic — white, male, upper-middle class, and educated. Being among so many talented women has awakened my awareness. I have observed male faculty dominating fellow female colleagues, and women faculty ultimately challenging men for control and demanding a redefinition of gender roles. These occurrences were subtle, but they occurred. And for me they were transformation in the positive. Being constantly in that type of an environment will be missed.”

As a young man, Betlej thought he would be a journalist, having written for both the Staunton Leader and the Waynesboro News Virginian as a junior and senior in high school covering mostly sports and a few feature pieces. He attended the University of Virginia, which had no journalism major at the time, so he had to major in creative writing, the closest thing there he could find. He left at the beginning of his third year and attended the Radio Engineering Institute (now obsolete) where he studied broadcast engineering and earned the FCC First Class licensing credential. Throughout the years, he continued to take a variety of courses both at Mary Baldwin and other institutions “driven by what I needed to learn at that time in my life. That fits well with the Mary Baldwin ideal of life-long learning,” he said.

Before joining Mary Baldwin, Betlej enjoyed success in the radio realm. He worked for Shenandoah Valley Broadcasting, which owned WKDW and WSGM in Staunton and WLVA in Lynchburg. At WKDW he worked all areas of the business including on-air work, having the top-rated program in the market for five years running.

“In 1982 WKDW was ranked the No. 1 station in the United States by Dunning, a rating aggregation service at the time, that weights stations based on the percentage of listeners they have from their individual markets,” Betlej said. “I was also the director of engineering for the radio group and in 1982 I took WKDW-AM to stereo, the first station in Virginia to broadcast in stereo — the third station in the nation. Along the way I was doing projects for other stations on the side. I formed BAMPRO Services in 1980 and ended up building over 50 radio studios in Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, and Kentucky. I continued that work until 1999.”

Mary Baldwin administrators saw in Bill not only passion for technology, but also for the institution and the Mary Baldwin community.

“His orientation toward his work and his life is firmly focused upon doing his best for those he serves. He models an approach to life balance that is based upon ensuring he expresses his passion in all of the dimensions of his life and work rather than based upon withholding time, attention or energy from some to give it to others,” said Angus McQueen, Mary Baldwin’s chief information officer. “He has been an uncommon mentor to staff and students within and outside IT as exemplified by the number of people who maintained relationships with him long after their own tenure at Mary Baldwin ended.”

Betlej said he treasures the time spent in the classroom, working with young women and seeing them “getting it, becoming more creative.” He also thinks about the faculty members that were at Mary Baldwin in 1987 when he joined the faculty, many of whom have retired along the way and several who have passed on.

“They always treated me with a great deal of respect and acceptance,” Betlej said. “They became my model of what a university professor should be.”

Although he had more fun in the classroom working with students, Betlej acknowledges that he was more effective for the institution while directing IT.

In the process of building a modern information technology infrastructure from scratch, McQueen said, Betlej also developed a cooperative relationship with faculty for supporting instruction, assumed responsibility for the college’s telephone systems, and created a sustainable method for providing and supporting hundreds of computers with well-bounded resources.

“More recently, he returned to his network design and A/V roles by serving as the IT lead for the design of the Murphy Deming network and A/V systems, and he has been working to design the next generation of our computer network to overcome our current limitations,” McQueen added.

In retirement, Betlej said he will likely turn to furniture making, hiking, and reading “non-tech stuff.”

“I was driving home last week and realized I haven’t written poetry since I was in my 30s. It has all been technical writing,” Betlej said. “So I’m buying a new notebook just for that.”