Betty Jensen was born and raised in the Mission District of San Francisco during the race riots and hippy years. While she lived in a safe area called St. Mary’s Park, she says it took courage to attend the public schools in her neighborhood. Her grandmother was a devout Christian who took her to Bethel Church on Valencia Street as a little girl, and Betty eventually became an active member of the youth group there. “I’ve known my husband my whole life because we went to the same church,” she says about Ken Jensen. They started dating when Betty was just 15, and the couple married five years later. That was 42 years ago.
In the early years, Ken’s work as a youth pastor had them moving a lot. One year they moved eight times, including to Oregon and Washington, and finally back to the Bay Area. After their church did a demographics survey, the couple was given a rare opportunity to “plant” a church in one of a number of cities—and they chose Benicia.
“We wanted to create a place where un-churched people could feel comfortable,” she says. What started with 12 people meeting in their living room has grown to a congregation of nearly 1,300 people at what is now Northgate Christian Fellowship.
There wasn’t much pay in starting a church, so to make ends meet Ken did construction and Betty started her own housecleaning business. When she developed Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, she got a job at Joe Henderson (where her children went to school) as a noon duty aide.
Eventually she was asked to take over the role of Attendance Manager at Benicia Middle School, which she did for more than a decade, and was fondly referred to as “Attendance Betty.” HR called her one day, asking her to apply for the job as Assistant to the Superintendent. “I said no several times because I couldn’t type fast enough, and the job description required that. But they were persistent,” she says. “By then I was so bored in my job, I was inventing work for myself. So I finally applied.”
Her official title now is Chief Assistant to the Superintendent and the Executive Secretary to the Board. It was a brutally steep learning curve for the first two years, she says, but she took every class she could on district laws and policies, and even learned HTML. Now that she’s eight years into the job, BUSD Superintendent Charles Young calls her “the best assistant in the intergalactic universe.” Janice Adams was the Superintendent when she started.
“Betty became a close friend and confidant as well as a highly capable assistant. She takes initiative, and is able to handle the complexities of the job. Her organizational skills helped me manage a challenging role,” says Janice Adams, now retired. “We made a great team.”
When she’s not in the office, Betty spends as much time as possible with her two small grandchildren, Emma and Cohen, and she remains close to her daughter Erin, who owns the event production company Bustle Events, and her son Eric, who studied in Italy to become a master bespoke tailor and now owns Atelier Jensen in New York City. Betty and Ken have always encouraged their entrepreneur children to do what they love, even if it seems crazy. After all, that’s what they did 27 years ago when they came to Benicia.In her other life as a pastor’s wife, she enjoys teaching at Northgate, and recently taught classes called Present over Perfect for people in all stages of life, and
Beautiful Mess for moms. She also helps organize a major fundraising campaign for Hope 4 Kids International, a charity that drills fresh water wells in Uganda. She and Ken go there every other year to work with children, and to help dedicate the well that will save many lives.
Although she hasn’t been bored at work for years, Betty says it won’t be long before she retires from BUSD. “I’ve been fortunate to work with two incredible superintendents. I’m leaving before I get another one, because I might not be so lucky next time.”