Bill & Betty Mann Tribute

We remember and celebrate neighbors Bill & Betty Mann

Ten years after Bill’s passing and one year after Betty’s passing, we are marking the anniversaries by putting “pen to paper”, so to speak, to remember and celebrate Bill and Betty, so we can reminisce with family and friends, pass on lessons learned, and share stories of beautiful souls with anyone who did not get the chance to meet Bill and Betty in person.

Two offerings are posted below: a video with recollections by Eric Fitts of Bethlehem Farm’s relationship with Bill and Betty over our first 17 years (2005-2021) and an audio recording by Caretaker Casey Murano of a eulogy written by Jeannie Kirkhope remembering lessons and stories from the Catholic Worker Farm days (the CW Farm existed from 1983-2004; Jeannie visited in the ’90s and managed the Farm in 2000-2001). Jeannie’s reflection was so rich with imagery that we felt scrolling photos in the background would only take away from what our own imaginations can conjure (so it is meant to be listened to, not watched).

Please feel free to leave any further remembrances here in the comments or in the comments on YouTube. 
Special thanks to Caretaker Casey Murano for producing these recordings.

Eric remembers Bethlehem Farm’s relationship with neighbors Bill & Betty over the years.
Jeannie shares memories and stories of Bill and Betty from the Catholic Worker Farm days.

Bill’s Obituary

William L. “Bill” Mann, 82, of Talcott passed away February 3, 2013 at Summers County Appalachian Regional Hospital following a short illness.
Born September 23, 1930 at Talcott he was the son of the late Everette L. and Florence C. Bostic Mann.

Bill was a retired machinist for the C&O Railway with 43 years of service. He enjoyed farming, sharing stories, making people laugh and spending time with his family and friends. He was a loving husband, father, grandfather and great grandfather.
Bill was the last surviving member of his immediate family. Other than his parents he was preceded in death by one sister, Laura “Polly” Mann.

Those left to cherish his memory include his wife of 62 years, Betty J. Mann, at home; one son, James W. Mann and wife Teresa of Hinton; one daughter, Rhonda Mann Hale and husband Gary of Phoenix, AZ; four grandchildren, Jamie Mann and partner Merenda Crotts of New Castle, VA, Joshua Mann and wife Zadia of Goodview, VA, Casey Hale and wife Kim of Phoenix, AZ and Adam Hale of Phoenix, AZ; three step grandchildren, Chris Bragg of Lost River, Michelle Bragg Comer of Huntington and Amy Bragg Crawford of Forest Hill; five great grandchildren, Lucas Mann, Sadie Mann, Mason Hale, Jackson Hale, Jocelyn Hale; two step great grandchildren, Candace Crawford and Leah Comer.

Funeral services will be held at 1:00 p.m., Thursday, February 7, 2013 at Ronald Meadows Funeral Parlors Chapel with Pastor Dana Stalnaker officiating. Burial will follow in the Talcott Cemetery. Friends may call from noon until time of services at the funeral parlors.

Pallbearers will be Richard Hypes, Jamie and Josh Mann, Casey and Adam Hale and Josh Lee.

Betty’s Obituary

Betty June Upton Mann, 89 of Talcott, passed away Tuesday Dec. 28, 2021 at Bowers Hospice House in Beckley, WV.

Born June 25, 1932 at Jumping Branch, she was the daughter of the late James and Nellie Bennett Upton.

She was preceded in death by her husband, William Lewis Mann; sisters, Twila and Garnet; brothers, Bill, Judd, Russell and George Upton and a grandson, Joshua Lewis Mann.

Ms. Mann is survived by her children, son, James W. Mann and wife Teresa of Hinton and daughter, Rhonda Mann Hale and husband Gary of Peoria, AZ; grandchildren, Jamie Mann and wife Merenda of New Castle, VA, and Casey and Adam Hale, both of Phoenix, AZ; 7 great grandchildren, 3 step grandchildren, 5 step great grandchildren and 5 step great, great grandchildren; one brother, Charles Upton of Beckley, along with several nieces and nephews also survive.

Betty was a devoted wife, mother and grandmother and loved animals. She was a former employee of G.C. Murphy Company in Hinton and was retired from FCI Alderson, formerly PCI Alderson where she worked as a correctional officer and warehouse manager. She enjoyed life on their farm, tending her flowers and caring for all her animals. Betty never met a stranger. She would greet you with a smile, a “come on in, would you like a cup of coffee” make yourself at home attitude. She enjoyed sharing lots of stories about her life, work, and family. She will be missed greatly by all her family and friends.

Due to Covid19, funeral services will be private at Pivont Funeral Home Chapel. Burial will be in Talcott Cemetery. The family would like to thank the staff of Hospice of Southern WV, both in home and at Bowers Hospice House for their care and compassion.

Reflections on 12 years at Bethlehem Farm

12 years ago the day before yesterday, Colleen and I graduated from grad school at WVU. 12 years ago yesterday Colleen and I moved in at Bethlehem Farm, greeted by the sole Caretaker at the time, Russ Plywaczynski. 2 hours later, a group arrived from Illinois State and we met Lauren LaCoy, among others. A week later, Kathleen Brian DeRouen moved in.

Having lived in community with 35 Caretakers and hundreds of Summer Servants, and having hosted thousands of volunteers over 193 service-retreat weeks, adding three little ones to our family (the last one here at home) along the way, there is so much to be thankful for and so many people who have lifted us up.

Some things never change, like planting tomatoes in May on a college week, while so much growth and change has transpired as well. Here’s to many more years!

To borrow from Frost:
The woods are lovely, dark, and deep,
But [we] have promises to keep.
And miles to go before [we] sleep.
And miles to go before [we] sleep.

A photo from the May 2, 2007, board meeting just prior to Eric and Colleen, Brian and Kathleen moving in.

The One Where I Moved to West Virginia

Newest Caretaker Shannon O’Toole reflects on her move to the farm!:

As of January 1st, I will have been at Bethlehem Farm for three months. Sometimes, at random moments – maybe when I wake up and see the view from my bedroom of the clothes hanging from the clotheslines on the farmhouse porch, when I’m using a sawdust toilet, or when I’m chasing chickens that refuse to go into the barn at night – a thought still crosses my mind: “Is this insane? What am I doing here?” Perhaps it is insane. I grew up in the suburbs of a big city, lived a comfortable life, and got a degree from a great university. When I entered college, I wanted to go to medical school when I graduated. Instead, I now find myself living on a farm in the mountains, with hardly any cell phone service and located at least a thirty-minute drive from an interstate. I racked up a pretty penny in student debt, yet following graduation I’ve decided to do something that doesn’t count as a “real job” – try explaining that one to my relatives. I shower twice a week, there’s usually always dirt under my fingernails, and I don’t flush the toilet after I pee. If the toilet pipe gets broken, I have no way of finding a plumber overnight. Unlike how you get to call the best santa clarita plumbing company for quick plumbing repair work, I do not have that choice living in the mountains. I see the Snapchat stories and Facebook updates of many of my college classmates wearing business casual on a daily basis, eating fancy lunches with their coworkers, partying it up in Manhattan, and going back to campus for tailgates and basketball games. Compared to their lives, maybe my life here really is insane – at the very least, it’s a little weird. But isn’t that the point? Bethlehem Farm is a contrast community, so if my life here didn’t look much different from the lives of my friends and family back home, something would be very wrong.

So what’s my story as the newest caretaker, anyway? How did I end up here on this mountain? I first found myself at Bethlehem Farm a little over a year ago, in October 2015, when I came with a group of fourteen other Villanova University students on a service break trip. The fact that I now live at a place where I once went on a service break trip may sound silly, as if I’m somehow trying to continue living out a high point of my college experience – but it’s not like that at all. Once I got a taste of life at Bethlehem Farm, I couldn’t get this place out of my head, and I literally dreamed about returning. A week and a half after, I turned in the tassel on my graduation cap, which I probably bought from an online store like Jostens ( At this time, when I turned the tassel, I was back at the Farm for a short stint as a Summer Servant, during which I was discerning doing a post-grad year of service. I thought I would end up with the Augustinian Volunteers, but with some nudging, I turned down their offer and applied to be a caretaker instead. Villanova was the place where I first dove into my faith, discovered my love of service, and realized how the two inherently go hand-in-hand. And so really, it makes a lot of sense that Villanova led me to this place I now call my home, this place of prayer, simplicity, community, and service. When I entered Villanova in August 2012, I never could have even dreamed that I’d be at a place like Bethlehem Farm when I graduated. It’s truly incredible the places that God will lead you if you let Him.

My time at the Farm so far has been beautifully overwhelming – two group weeks, a newborn, a home repair conference in Tennessee, a board meeting, and preparation for the benefit in Chicago, among other things. If I have to take one thing from that home repair conference, it might be the safety. Regular repair works often negate any possibility of accidents or injuries due to any fault in the structure. Walls, roofs, basement, windows, and floors need maintenance at regular intervals to function properly. Finding an appropriate company for any repairs may not be a problem for me as I can use the internet for such. For example, searching with keywords like “Roanoke roofing contractors” might help anyone in obtaining the contact details of a company. Apart from that, I’ve learned and done so much already, but I know that I still have so much to gain, and to give I’ve learned home repair skills, kitchen and farmhouse skills, and how to carry out my specific caretaker roles. I’ve also learnt to check online at places like Raise ( for coupons and codes when getting supplies to carry out these projects. I’m learning to be more intentional, be more grateful, be more confident, and to let small things bring me great joy. I’ve learned ways to live more simply, to be a better Christian, and to be a better human. Most of all, I’m taking what I learned in college about being part of a community and applying it more deeply. My transition into Farm life was made easier by the fact that my first group week was a group of Villanova students. Their willingness to let go, be present, and serve reminded me of where I came from, where I was a year earlier, and how I came to fall in love with this place I now call home. What better way to transition into a new community than alongside members of your old community? At Villanova, I first gained a sense of what the idea of community is all about – I must’ve heard the phrase “the Villanova community” a million times throughout my four years there. Everything you do affects your community, and the simplest things can actually be great acts of service to your fellow community members. The Augustinians really like the Latin word “caritas,” which translates into Greek as “agape” and into English as either “charity” or, more preferably, “love” – unconditional love. Caritas is necessary within your community if the members of the community are to go out from themselves and adequately serve others. At Villanova, maybe this means holding doors, respecting quiet hours, or turning a lost phone into Public Safety – at the Farm, this can mean seeing the acts of washing dishes, feeding the chickens, or folding laundry as service, too, and doing them with love and gratitude, even if those things are not specifically what I came here to do.

The Caretakers that make up our community are all very different, unique people – but what draws us together is our common belief in this simple, intentional way of life, focused on serving God and the world around us. They have welcomed me in, teaching me and loving me through all my mistakes and stupid questions. We’re here to support each other, to hang out with each other, and to laugh, cry, and pray with each other. Living in community can be hard sometimes, but it is a beautiful thing.

I love it here in wild and wonderful West Virginia. Although moving here has not been easy, it has been worth it.