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Remembering Long-Time IRSC Supporter Betty Williamson

Betty Williamson
IRCC - Killday
Betty Williamson

Okeechobee Friday January 12, 2024: Betty Williamson, who along with her cattleman husband, Sonny, contributed millions of dollars to the philanthropic support of Indian River State College (IRSC) and other charities in the Okeechobee community, passed away on Dec. 31, 2023. She was 90. 

“Miss Betty,” as she was affectionately known by many, was President of the Okeechobee Historical Society for many years and loved teaching local history to school children. She authored several books, including “Strolling Down Country Roads: Okeechobee County,” a pictorial essay co-authored with Twila Valentine. She also taught second grade Sunday School for 39 years at the First Baptist Church of Okeechobee and served as Director for the young girls’ church group known as the Girl’s Auxiliary, later called Acteens. 

“Miss Betty leaves a great legacy. She was one of the most genuine people I have ever known,” recalls Russ Brown, President of IRSC’s Dixon Hendry Campus in Okeechobee. “She was a true delight to all who had the honor of knowing her. She made time for everyone, and always made you feel special and important. She touched so many lives. Betty had a passion for the education of our youth and our community and was always supportive of IRSC. She will be dearly missed.” 

Born Betty Louise Chandler on April 11, 1933, in Okeechobee, she was a fifth-generation resident of Okeechobee. She married Frank W. Williamson, Jr., known as Sonny, in 1952. Together, they owned the Williamson Cattle Company, building it into one of the state’s largest cattle producers. Their operation was a model for economic and environmental sustainability. After expanding into Alabama, it is now one of the largest and most diversified farming companies in the Southeast with 10,000 head of cattle, 650 acres of citrus, and 12-15 million pounds of catfish produced each year. 

Tireless supporters of higher education, the Williamsons joined dozens of members of the Okeechobee community in 2008 to donate $2.6 million toward the creation of the $5.2 million, 15,000-square-foot Williamson Conference and Educational Center at the IRSC Dixon Hendry Campus in Okeechobee. Additional support came from matching funds from the Florida Facilities Enhancement Challenge Grant Program. The opening of the Williamson Center on the campus was transformative. 

Today the Center serves as a multi-purpose resource to support economic, community, cultural and business development laboratories, classrooms, a strategic planning room for business meetings, and a 175-seat auditorium with a covered veranda and catering kitchen for conferences and community activities. 

Sonny Williamson was awarded the Dan K. Richardson Entrepreneur of the Year in 2009. He served on the IRSC Foundation Board of Directors from 1991, retiring in 2012. Upon retirement from the board, he was designated a Board Emeritus member. Sonny and Betty also have been strong supporters of the College’s Take Stock in Children program.