Guns Go in the Basement,
Geraniums in the Greenhouse
By Cody Bloomsburg, Bugle Intern
The first package shows up at Betty Slowey’s house in August, just about the time she is getting ready to move her geraniums from their summer beds to their winter lodge.
By September there is a constant trickle of parcel-post prizes delivered to her home just outside of Yankton, South Dakota: guns, sleeping bags, coolers, elk-antler lamps, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation embroidered this, RMEF emblazoned that. For the past 10 years the 85-year-old and her buxom cat Bob have inspected and inventoried every piece of merchandise for the Lewis and Clark Chapter’s annual banquet.
The tradition started when her son, Tom Slowey, became merchandise chair for the chapter and had no place to house the goods. He is now the regional director for South Dakota.
Through necessity, Betty developed a numbering system for every item that went downstairs. A stag-handle skinning knife designated for sale in the silent auction becomes SA-11; a 12-gauge shotgun for the live auction becomes LA-2. The system stems from her days running the family sporting goods store—Garvey’s Sport and Gun Shop.
Betty worked at the store, started by her father, throughout her life. She picked up the finer points of gun repair from him, as well as a good sense for how to run a business. Tom says that back in the day it was rumored she could take down a Browning A5 and reassemble it faster than any man.
She continued to run the store as a family business with her two sons, until Tom decided to become a firefighter and first responder and his brother Jerry started a home repair business.
Once the doors were shut on the sport shop, Betty opened an H&R Block office, which she ran for 10 years before retiring.
Betty has always loved to be outdoors, and even though her eyesight is failing she still cuts the grass on her 5-acre spread and keeps the trees trimmed and the outbuildings in fresh paint.
Merchandise deliveries reach peak flow in the winter months preceding the February banquet, and Tom starts stopping by a few evenings each week to help out with the stock. Then one morning, usually about 8 a.m., the chapter committee members show up and relieve her basement of its bounty.
“It doesn’t take them long to get the stuff out of here, they’re a great bunch,” Betty says.
Because long outings from home now prove too taxing for Betty, she doesn’t attend the banquet, but she follows the fate of items through Tom, questioning him on who got what when everything is done.
“I’m always interested in who gets some of the particular items,” she says. “This year we had a beautiful lamp, and I was curious as to who got that.”
With an empty basement, she returns to tending her full greenhouse and waits for the perennial cycle to repeat.
“I look forward to it and they really have some great stuff, some really wonderful stuff,” Betty says. “It’s an interesting organization, I’ll tell you.”