It’s a Wonderful Life
When celebrating a life like Little Ruth Marie Nelson Chase Olson’s , especially at Christmas time, one immediately thanks Frank Capra. He posed the question: What difference could her life possibly have made? Having had the opportunity to play Clarence, the angel in waiting, it’s only fair I get to answer that question!
Born a daughter and a sister, Ruth’s formative years began in metropolitan Goodwin, South Dakota. Sandwiched between her two brothers and “guided” by an older sister, she quickly developed a loyalty and love for them that was boundless. And of course, there was Miss Cookie! An amazingly strong and resourceful woman, she raised Ruth to recognize her own worth—to make lasting friends—to fiercely protect the animals in her (and everyone else’s) care. Miss Cookie raised four highly intelligent, independent thinkers.
Graduating from the cosmopolitan town of Watertown, (Class of 55, an amazing amalgam of phenomenal people) Ruth was off to SDSU, where she received her teaching degree AND established life-long relationships with the women affectionately known as the Knight House Girls. These friendships would grow and deepen over time, with every effort to stay in touch through letters, cards, e-mails, and the yearly pilgrimages they would make to exotic locations like The Blue Belle Inn near Rapid City and a trip or two to holy city--Saint Cloud.
It was back to Watertown to teach, to meet her handsome prince, to marry, and to live happily ever after. Or so was the plan. Mark, her handsome prince, died unexpectedly one summer while away from home. Her “once upon a time” did not have the expected ending. But no one was better dealing with (or teaching for that matter) plot shifts. With the help of supportive friends, life went on.
Enter Clarence, or more specifically, the loud, obnoxious, freshman debate coach. Suspect from the start, Ruth and friends were completely unsure as to what had just happened. I’m not sure how, or for that matter, why, but they accepted me, nurtured me, and began a life-long friendship that even death cannot destroy!
Once upon a time becomes twice upon a time. Ruth and Chuck meet, discover in each other a part missing from their lives, and have spent the last 38 years traveling, gardening, raising and loving their cats (whose names seemed to change periodically!) and completing each other.
Retirement. While a viable concept, no one would say it applied to Ruth. Although she no longer taught, she enmeshed herself in her community. Friends of the library flourished. The Mellette House had its own girl guide. The Historical Museum had an avid crusader. Retired School Personnel had a champion. Town Players enjoyed the fruits (and savories) of her kitchen labors. And her friends and family had Ruth!
So that’s her life. Did it make a difference?
Ask her husband. Ask her brother. Ask the nieces and nephews and great nieces and nephews. Ask the Knight House Girls. Ask the class of 55. Ask her life-long friends. Ask any of the organizations to which she gave her time and energy. Ask anyone who was the beneficiary of one of her greeting cards. A couple favorites stand out—there was the Easter card with the dyed eggs on the front, and when opened, you were confronted with an extremely bellicose chicken screaming “Who painted my babies.?” And my all time favorite—the birthday card from Ruth and Chuck that very simply wished me a happy birthday—from the Jungle Stud and his Amazon Temptress!
But most importantly, ask the children whose lives she touched, whose minds she molded, whose souls she changed. Upon announcement of her death, over 100 responders spoke to her abilities…her deftness at “learning them” and making them feel good. This is what one of them wrote to her only last week.
I wanted to say a few things to someone who has touched my life so profoundly.
Not only do I value the things you taught me in the classroom, but far and away the most important and valuable thing to me is our friendship and what that has become. I am always excited to email you and tell you news from life. You encouraged me to go to grad school, to complete the dissertation beast, and always make me feel like you are proud of me. You support me in my academic, and now professional, endeavors. Having you as a cheerleader means more than you may realize. I have come to think of you as part of my family and love you as such. I am angry that we won't get enough time to continue our friendship. I am also angry that something like this happened to such a beautiful person. I am so glad I walked by your classroom saying hi everyday, and am thankful for everything that came after. You have touched many lives, none more than Chuck's, but you have certainly influenced and made mine better. There should never be a day that the earth turns without you in it, but I am so happy I got to spend some of those turns with you.
Today we celebrate our turns. Today we give thanks for all the joy and smiles. Today we eat and drink because she wanted us to, we put away our tears and pain for just a while, and we raise our glasses…To our Amazon Temptress. The time has come for you to fly away. Let us give you your wings!