Paying it Forward

Betsy Mitchell in front of the lake at Nathan Benderson park.
Betsy Mitchell at Nathan Benderson park.

Quitting isn’t Betsy Mitchell’s style. Passion is. When something moves her heart, she goes the distance. 

Take art. Mitchell pursued this love at Ringling College of Art and Design, where she studied interior design and space planning from 1982 to 1985. As part of a diverse, creative community, she embarked on a shared adventure through the past, present, and future of visual expression. Heady stuff, and Mitchell loved every minute of it. But she also worked hard. To make ends meet, she got a part-time job. Scholarships weren’t easily available back then. 

After she graduated with a BFA, Mitchell pursued a successful career in interior design. When children entered the picture, she changed her focus to fundraising and development for nonprofits. Mitchell was equally successful in her new field. But she never forgot her first loves.

Art, of course. And also physical competition.

Mitchell was a born athlete—until a trampoline accident sidelined her at age 17. She risked losing her leg and people feared she’d never walk again. But she overcame the odds and didn’t stop there. In her 50s, she learned to row and went on to become one of America’s most accomplished para-rowers. 

A fire in her belly pushed Mitchell beyond the limits that others had set. She brings that same fire to her philanthropic work, along with her expertise in development. At Ringling College, she’s done a world of good. Mitchell created an endowed scholarship at the College, and also gives generous support to capital projects and programs, including the dazzling new Alfred R. Goldstein Library, and Continuing Studies’ PreCollege summer teen program. Mitchell also signed up to be a docent, introducing residents and visitors to the state-of-the-art campus.

What creates her special connection to Ringling College?

To Mitchell, it’s a way of passing the baton. 

Empowering the College’s next generation of students to pursue their first loves always makes her smile.

“I love seeing students go forward to lead creative and fulfilling lives,” she says. “At some point in our lives, we’ve all been helped by others. Whenever possible, I want to make a difference in someone’s life. My family passed this basic principle on to me—and now it serves as an example to my children, too.” 

By Su Byron  |  Photo by Matthew Holler ’11
Su Byron is a poet and freelance writer based in Sarasota.