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March 12, 2020
Authentic: Betty Ryberg
FOR AIKEN LOCAL BETTY RYBERG—whose family has called this town home for over four decades—Hitchcock Woods is one of the best parts about living in Aiken. She can’t tell you the number of miles that her feet have pounded out on the sandy trails, but she can tell you about how the beauty and vastness of the urban forest turned her into a long-distance runner. “I would go down to Hitchcock Woods intending to run just five miles, but then I’d get lost,” Betty said. “A five-mile run would turn into a ten-mile run, and next thing I knew, I became a long-distance runner by default. It’s just so pleasant in the woods and it has everything from cliffs to Spanish moss—even quicksand! Those woods have kept me healthy for a long time.” While she has spent hundreds of hours running countless miles through Hitchcock Woods, it’s just one of her favorite places in Aiken. Outside of the woods, Betty finds the downtown area the most charming area of town, and it’s where she likes to show off just what makes Aiken special to her family and friends who come to visit. “I always take my out of town guests downtown when they come to visit,” Betty said. “It’s filled with locally owned, owner-operated stores and restaurants, particularly on Laurens Street and in The Alley.”
Waiting at a restaurant or having to stand in line to check out at a boutique is never something Betty minds. In fact, she loves it! To her, it means that business is booming and that things are going well for that local owner. She wholeheartedly believes in supporting the small businesses in town because they are part of what makes Aiken so unique.
“More often than not, the owner is the one that greets you when you’re in their shop or helps you check out,” said Betty. “What you see there is somebody that is vested in their shop and in our town. It benefits all of us to have local businesses flourish.”
Another place that Betty likes to take visitors is to the Aiken County Animal Shelter, where she has been a regular volunteer for years. She and her husband foster soon-to-be-adopted dogs from the shelter to help prepare and get them ready to go home with their forever family.
“We’re like a camp counselor for these foster dogs,” Betty said. “We work with them to get them excited, healthy, and sleeping well so that they can transition easily to a new home. It’s so rewarding. Adopting a dog is beneficial both to the community and to the family that’s adopting them—it’s great for everyone involved.”
There’s something special about each of the seasons in Aiken, but the season that Betty enjoys the most starts on Thanksgiving morning and goes through New Year’s Eve. The season kicks off with One Table, which is a free community Thanksgiving dinner that Betty and her family have volunteered at throughout the years. It’s open to the public and everyone is welcome to attend and to enjoy a Thanksgiving dinner together.
“One Table is one of my favorite events of the year,” Betty said. “It’s a wonderful event that is open to everyone in our community. It’s a unifying event—one of the kindest, most hilariously fun, inclusive events. You’re outside serving friends, both old and new, and you’re just together with your community for one day over one meal. My family and I participate in this and the best part? Everyone is full afterwards and you don’t have to cook at your own home!”
From there, the holiday season is in full swing and it’s this time of year that Betty believes Aiken truly shines as an incredible town as the community shows off its best self. There are dozens of events to attend, everyone’s social calendar is full, and Aiken is filled with good cheer and twinkling lights. You’ll find lights everywhere from Hopelands Gardens during their annual Christmas in Hopelands event to the luminaries that line the streets of downtown during Night of 1,000 Lights.
“I do love downtown, especially The Alley, at Christmas time,” Betty said. “You have Night of 1,000 Lights, which is beautiful. It’s a time where you see people and businesses at their best. Windows are decorated, there’s the town’s Christmas tree, caroling, lots of parades, and so much more. We know how to do Christmas right in Aiken! It starts the day after Thanksgiving and goes right on through Christmas.”
From unifying events like One Table and the holiday season through to volunteer opportunities, Betty says that there’s a place for everyone in town to get involved, find friends, and give back to their community. Volunteering is her number one recommendation to discover just what there is to love here.
“When we first moved to Aiken, we didn’t know anyone,” Betty said. “The first time that I raised my hand to volunteer for something was out of loneliness, and it turned out to be the best thing! What a great way to meet people! We have been stunned by how open and receptive people are in town. The best way to keep people included in Aiken is to extend a hand of friendship. That hand of friendship opens the door to show them just how amazing our town is!”