By Alicia Doyle

The Writer
Specializing in Good News
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Betty Izant, an Ojai Music Fest institution

Photo by Jason Redmond: Betty Izant was the first businessperson hired to work for the Ojai Music Festival. She was hired as a secretary in the 1960s before becoming a ticket manager in the 1980s.

Ventura County Star
Monday, February 25, 2008

Born in the early 1900s, Betty Izant doesn't feel it's necessary to reveal her age.

"I don't believe in measuring life chronologically," said the Ojai senior, who was recently honored for her service with the Ojai Music Festival.

"I've been there so long, I'm an institution," said Izant, who was originally hired as a secretary in 1969 and later promoted to manager. Today, she remains active as a docent, overseeing historical and research aspects of the annual, international event that kicks off in June.

"I've always loved classical music, and this keeps me in touch with it," she said.

Now flash back to Izant's childhood. Born in Cleveland, she moved to Corning, N.Y., at 5 with her parents. When she was 12, they came to the West Coast and settled in Hollywood.

"My father was changing jobs and wanted to follow opportunities in California," Izant recalled. After graduating from Hollywood High School, she attended three years at UCLA (then called the University of California's southern branch) as an art major.

"I wanted to be in the fashion industry," she said. "I realized I needed more technical education, so I went to trade school for two years."

From there, she started working at a small dress manufacturing firm as a cutter and pattern maker, and eventually as a designer. When the firm closed years later, she got a job at the Huntington Hartford Foundation, which provided subsistence, living quarters and partial supplies for writers, composers and artists at a 150-acre residential site in Pacific Palisades.

"I lived on the premises; it was a beautiful job, the cream of jobs," remembered Izant, who was originally hired as a secretary and soon became the residential caretaker until the foundation closed in the 1960s.

"When I took the job, I didn't even know how to type and bought a book on how to be a secretary but the job later involved a great deal more than secretarial work," she said. "It was great meeting all those people in the arts; I made many wonderful friendships."

She moved to Ojai in the late 1960s and was doing freelance typing for writers when she heard about an opening at the Ojai Music Festival. "Someone told me they were looking for a secretary," she said. "Their secretary was leaving for health reasons and I took over her job." Decades later, "I still love it," she said.

As the first businessperson ever hired to work for the Ojai Music Festival, Izant knows many event patrons as well as their seating preferences, said executive director Jeff Haydon.

"She was hired originally as a secretary, and after it became apparent she was running everything, she promoted herself to manager," he said. Izant remained in the post for a number of years, "and as the organization grew, they hired an executive director in the 1980s and she became the ticket manager. Her focus has always been on the tickets and the patrons; she ran that until the early 1990s."

Now in her 90s, Izant has been volunteering ever since.

"She volunteers in the box office every single year," Haydon said. "She also comes into the office about once a week. A lot of what she does is historical in nature. She is our walking encyclopedia of everything that happens at the festival. She provides that inside perspective that you can only have by establishing a long-term relationship with all these patrons."

Izant believes her love for the creative arts might have come from her parents. "My father was a weekend artist — paintings and etchings — and my mother was a pianist," she said. "I don't see any visible connection. It's just where I was led."

She officially retired in 1984 so she could travel; she's been to Greece, Egypt, France, England and Scotland (to see the Edinburgh Music Festival), among other places. Though she doesn't travel anymore, "I kept diaries, so whenever I feel like traveling, I just read through them."

Though she had several marriage proposals over the years, "as I look back, I can see I was exactly right when I said no. There were some proposals that never seemed to be the right one. So I've really enjoyed independent living."

A resident since 2003 at The Gables of Ojai, Izant looks back on her life with the same gratitude that fuels her hope for the future. "With all the extra activities I've taken on, I always seem pressed for time."

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