Rumor has it that Betty Crocker is alive and baking on Ottertail Lake. Neighbors sometimes approach the Tanner cabin with requests for ”Betty” to assist with frosting a cake or friends phone in to double check a recipe. “Betty”, aka June Tanner, has been laughing throughout this urban legend for over fifty years! “I’m nearly as old as the famous icon,” gasps June, “but she already had an image to go along with the familiar radio voice by the time I joined her kitchens in 1952”. June’s true connection to Betty Crocker could elevate her status to the area’s own “Betty Crocker of the Lakes”. Delightfully, June’s neighbors and friends still call her Betty Crocker, but then didn’t most husbands secretly wish to be married to Betty Crocker?? No one is sure whether the moniker stuck because June’s first job out of college was responding to letters from the public and signing them “from Betty Crocker”, or because of her fabulous White Confetti Angel Food cake (Betty Crocker brand mix).

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Betty Crocker of the Lakes

Published 12:39pm Friday, November 9, 2012 Updated 12:39pm Friday, November 9, 2012

Betty Crocker’s image was built upon the very things representative of June’s career and family life: quality, good taste and value. And, true to the legend, June was the essence of Betty Crocker in the early ‘50’s when she answered letters and signed them “Betty Crocker” as a part of the Home Service Department of General Mills. “I was hired with a Home Ec degree and it was my dream to work in the Betty Crocker kitchens. As part of the Home Service team, I would occasionally get into the kitchens out of necessity when answering a question from the public such as, ‘Please help – my angel food cake has just fallen!’ and at this point, I might suggest a couple of our new products and sign off sincerely from Betty Crocker.”

Betty Crocker is a cultural icon, as well as brand name and trademark of General Mills. For many of us, she has always been a household name and, let’s face it: enhancer of many homemakers. First developed by the Washburn Crosby Company in 1921, the name served as a way to give a personalized response to consumer questions. The name Betty was selected because it was viewed as a cheery and friendly name. The last name was chosen in honor of a former company director. Years later, a face was given to Betty, comprised of features from all of the female employees at the time. A portrait of Betty Crocker first appeared in 1936. Betty’s image and clothing subtly changed over the years to reflect the current times, but always accommodated General Mills’ cultural perception of the American homemaker: knowledgeable and caring.

Fortune magazine named Betty Crocker the second most popular American woman in 1945; Eleanor Roosevelt was named first.

June went to work for General Mills in 1952 after graduating from St. Olaf College, where she had asked a handsome young man to the Sadie Hawkins square dance and later married Ira Tanner. She was thrilled about her first professional job, “It was a warm and friendly place to work with all women in my department. We would get familiar with all of the products and potential baking problems, as the test kitchen was on the other end of our floor.” “There was an exciting aura about it and even those of us signing letters in the name of Betty Crocker had limited access, as the kitchens were home to secret recipes and creative innovations.”

“Unfortunately, I had a little accident once in the break room when I couldn’t keep my lunch down. I was immediately called into the office and asked if I was pregnant. ‘Unfortunately, you know our policy’, were the words I remember hearing as I was escorted out the door.” (She was allowed to work until her fourth month).

June is quick to point out that the image of a pregnant employee in the work force must have been generally unacceptable in those days, especially for a company focusing on women as homemakers. “My career as a homemaker was just as important to me as my professional careers”, notes June, “but I always did them simultaneously.” A few years later, most American women do, too. In real life and in terms of feminism, woman’s rights and professional careers, June Tanner turned the bend way ahead of the famous GM icon.

While June paid a personal price during her short tenure at the company, she blossomed and prospered as a feminist/teacher/women’s advocate as a result and probably would be pleasantly surprised to learn that today, General Mills helps develop its professionals thru mentoring and employee networks including eleven women’s groups! General Mills was recently named one of the Top Companies for Executive Women by the National Association for Female Executives and one of the top 100 Best Companies to work for by Working Mother magazine.

June did manage to find other employment for the next few months until her first baby arrived. Later, she concentrated on utilizing her undergrad degree in high schools in Minnesota, Wisconsin and California. One of her fondest achievements reflects June’s interest in the success of all people, regardless of sex, race or economics: she developed courses such as How To Live on Your Own, The Bachelor Arts and Child Development for Girls And Boys which were geared to high school students of both sexes. “Kids leaving HS were so innocent and naïve about everything from budgeting to home repairs to cooking. I had one star football athlete who found cracking an egg more traumatic than smashing down an opponent. My Home Ec kitchens were kept so clean that the students started calling me the “White Glove,” but they also learned to appreciate cleanliness.”

As the Tanner’s four daughters will attest, education was the most important treasure to their mother and she shared hers unconditionally. She had a career in education and she passed its value on to her children and their children. “Education and a career were top priorities for my mom in the early ‘50’s when young women went to college mainly to find a husband,” June’s daughter shared. “She went back to acquire her masters at fifty years old to advance a career when other women were looking forward to retirement.”

With her own daughters reaching school age, June decided to pursue a Masters in Counseling at Sacramento State. Armed with this tool, and a Drug and Alcohol Counseling License, she operated a Dropout Recovery Program for the county. She and her husband, a professional counselor, developed workshops for couples from their home and June also created workshops to help women find careers.

June and Ira Tanner travel from Granite Bay, CA to summer on Eldorado Beach, Ottertail Lake where they enjoy friendships developed early in their marriage while vacationing at Camp Nidaros. At 82, June still enjoys volunteering and hiking and especially, a yearly get-a-way weekend with her daughters and enjoying their favorite Betty Crocker recipes: Creamy Turkey Divan and Divinity.

June’s personal advice to bakers everywhere: “I still use Gold Medal flour – only Gold Medal flour!”

 

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