Betsy Peters leaned back in her chair at the Daniel Boone City Building and pondered for a moment a question about the best word she would use to describe herself.
“Steady,” she said simply. “You know, I just don’t get flustered.”
That’s an important trait for someone who spent more than 30 years as a neonatologist treating newborns and infants who were either sick or premature and required constant care. When there’s a problem with a baby after birth, you need someone who remains calm when she tells you what the problem is and what needs to be done to fix it.
The steady nature and dependability she gained from her time as a neonatologist have spilled over into the multiple careers she juggles and to her life in general.
Eric Gentry , a retired educator who plays bridge with Peters, said he’s impressed with Peters.
“Genuine, I think would be one of the first things that comes to mind,” he said when describing her. “And caring. She certainly seems to care for people.”
Gentry said he admires Peters’ stances on environmental issues as well as her work as a physician. That’s why he supports Peters in her bid for a third three-year term as the Sixth Ward representative on the Columbia City Council. The election is Tuesday, and she faces challenges from Randy Minchew and Philip Merriman.
Growing up in Columbia, Peters went to Hickman High School until she was 16 and her parents decided to move the family to a 300-acre farm near Kingdom City. Rather than being upset about being yanked out of school and away from her friends, Peters went head first into the experience and came out learning things she never could have imagined. She has a long list.
“How to make a room warm because we didn’t have central heating; when you can rehab a house and when you can’t; pour and mix concrete; herd cattle; load pigs; get out of the way of a charging pig who doesn’t want to go to market; how to drive a tractor; bale, rake and cut hay and just stuff,” she said.
She lived on the farm with her parents and three younger siblings. Her parents, Elroy and Kathryn Peters, are her biggest influences in life.
It was her time spent on the farm, coupled with both parents’ constant hard work — her father earned a doctorate in agronomy and her mom a master’s degree in school counseling — that shaped Peters’ work ethic.
That work ethic was important when she entered college and started to think about her career options. Peters earned a degree at Northeast Missouri State University, which is now Truman State, in Kirksville. Although she got a D in chemistry in high school, she was determined to get better and majored in the subject in college. After earning her bachelor’s degree, Peter’s decided to enter the medical field and came back to Columbia to earn her medical degree at MU, focusing on neonatology.
While not exactly a 9-to-5 job — stressful or nerve-racking would be a better characterization — Peters described her career as a neonatologist as “fun.” She reminisced about her last two nights before retiring, when she was called at 2 in the morning to go into the hospital on both nights.
“That’s life,” she said.”Well, that’s neonatology.... It’s an honor to take care of babies and their parents. I mean, that’s the most important person in their life.”
Peters spent 30 years working at hospitals in Indiana and Dallas before returning to Columbia in 2010. She continued her career at MU Women’s and Children’s Hospital and became an assistant professor of medicine, retiring in 2017. That’s when she got into real estate, buying rental properties throughout the city.
Now that she has more time on her hands, Peters has been focused on improving the city of Columbia. Being active in the community is important to her. She beams when she talks about finding answers or fixing problems for her neighbors, whether they are Sixth Ward constituents or not.
After being an active member of the East Campus Neighborhood Association and a former alternate on the Columbia Board of Adjustment, which hears developer’s requests for variances from city zoning codes, Peters decided the next logical step would be to run for a council seat. When Barbara Hoppe chose not to seek a fourth term in 2015, Peters decided it was her turn. She narrowly defeated her opponent, Ryan Euliss, and ran unopposed for her second term in 2018.
“The City Council is interesting because it’s local issues. It’s much harder to have much of an impact on the state or national level, but locally you actually know your neighbors, and you actually know the people you’re talking to and trying to make everyone’s life better,” Peters said.
With two terms on the council under her belt, Peters feels she’s able to make decisions that are right for her ward and the entire city.
“After six years I’ve got a fair amount of experience on City Council,” she said. “I feel like I know how to get questions answered.”
Audrey Spieler, a retired Realtor who has lived in Columbia her entire adult life, approached Peters about potholes on Danforth Drive, the street she lives on. Spieler said she was contacted the very next day by “a very polite Street Department employee” who said the problem would be fixed in due time.
“She has a proven record of listening to citizens and taking action, and her values are values that I find important,” Spieler said. “And probably, also most importantly because she is a physician, she brings a very unique and a very important voice to the council during this pandemic.”
Spieler sent an enthusiastic email to her neighbors commending Peters for taking action so quickly on the pothole situation and encouraging them to re-elect her.
Peters is particularly interested in continuing to tackle tax issues for the city, along with funding for police and firefighters, trash collection and the goals of the city’s environmental action plan.
Third Ward Councilperson Karl Skala has worked alongside Peters her entire time on the council.
“I think Betsy is probably more well-rounded, and I think her opponents are more single-issue candidates, and that’s not as good of a background as I’d like to see in City Council candidates,” he said.
Skala, who was first elected to the council in 2007, said he was impressed by Peters’ civic service. He said it’s important to have council members who are interested in addressing a multitude of issues.
“It’s where the rubber meets the road,” Skala said. “We’re pothole fillers.”
Overall, Peters is thankful for her time spent on City Council and hopes to see it continue. She said being on the City Council is a blessing.
“Columbia is a good city and that’s been one of the big blessings of working on City Council is I just know so many people,” she said, “and I have the opportunity to interact with so many people.”