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Ringgold County's Oral Legend & Memories Project


Mount Ayr Record-News
Mount Ayr, Ringgold County, Iowa
Thursday, September 13, 2012

Aunt Ruth -- an unforgettable character

Every once in a while your life is touched by a truly unforgettable character.

Valle and I went to the service for her Aunt Ruth Newhart just before the Labor Day weekend to remember a truly remarkable woman.

Aunt Ruth was Valle's dad's sister and was a strong woman. You never had to wonder what she thought about a subject, because she was sure not to mince words.

At the same time, she could make you know that she felt you were special in the singular way that was hers.

She was born in New Zealand and grew up in Lamoni, graduating there in 1944. Her family moved to Omaha, where she was a "Rosy the Riveter" in a B-29 plant before going to college at Creighton University, where she topped her class on the way to a bachelor of science degree and a Juris Doctors degree from Creighton Law School.

She worked with her law degree and played AAU softball, volleyball and basketball in the Omaha area before getting married.

As her three children came along, she began teaching at Central High School in 1968. Just seven years later she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. She was forced into a wheelchair in 1981, but continued to teach for another 13 years.

The clip from KQTV that was shown at Aunt Ruth's funeral shared memories of people who were students and colleagues of this "teaching legend."

One student who followed Aunt Ruth into education shared that Aunt Ruth did not allow gum chewing in her classroom.

"She would say 'Kristen, stand up and spell surreptitiously.' So I would stand up and spell it and if you were correct you got a pass and could sit down. If you were not correct, she would go, 'Kristin to the receptacle at the front of the room,' and I would have to spit my gum out."

Another teacher said that if you asked any Central senior she taught to say one word that they remembered from the class it would be either "surreptitiously" or "sovereignty." Or another word that she became infamous for.

In world history class one day they were talking about the Khans that ruled nomadic tribes in northern China. Someone asked what a khan ruled if a king ruled a kingdom.

"That would be an Khandom," she jokingly replied.

She is also remembered for her traditions at Central High School.

When she retired in 1994 she bequeathed her podium to another teacher with the order that the colleague must continue her tradition.

Aunt Ruth believed in not only cheering for sports but also for academics. Before every quiz or test she would have the class do the Central High cheer to root them on for the task they were about to undertake.

"Here we go Central, here we go. Here we go Central, here we go," could be echoing down the halls from her classroom and everyone knew it was test day.

For 19 of her years of teaching, she got around either with canes and leg braces or in a wheelchair. One can imagine what it might be like to teach in a big city high school with these perceived handicaps. It was never a problem for Aunt Ruth, however.

"She struck fear in our hearts, but also what it meant to love history and to love our country," one student said.

And a colleague added "but most importantly to love the young people in our care."

At her funeral a former student talked about Aunt Ruth calling him aside one day as she approached him on her crutches. She called him by name and said she understood that as a senior he planned to attend Northwest Missouri State University the next year and major in business.

"You haven't had any accounting, have you?" she asked.

He noted that he did not.

She told him he needed to take it if he was going to major in business. He noted that he had a full schedule. Aunt Ruth knew better. She pointed out that he had a period where he was going to be working to help in the school office. She had checked the schedules and found that only accounting II was offered the second semester. She had then gone to the accounting teacher to ask her if she would tutor the student so he could make up accounting I while taking accounting II. The teacher had agreed. She had also talked with the people in the office to tell them that the student would not be able to work for the semester because he was taking accounting.

You didn't argue with Aunt Ruth, especially when she had made the extraordinary effort to help you out.

The student said that though accounting was not easy for him in college, he had been able to do it much better because of the effort Aunt Ruth had made for him. When he heard she was retiring, he picked up a bouquet of a dozen roses and went to the school.

It had been many years since he had seen Aunt Ruth so he wasn't even sure she would remember him.

When he stepped through the door, she called him by name and asked him what all this big to-do was all about. He didn't need to worry that he was forgotten even so many years later.

Her husband, John Newhart, is an example to the family of what a loving caretaker looks like. For many years he took care of her, helping her do the things she physically couldn't do.

Some people just live what love is. Uncle John is one of those.

Valle's family is closest to Aunt Ruth's family of any of her dad's brothers and sisters. They lived in the midwest and the rest where spread to Michigan, Texas and even Mexico City.

The Newhart and Loving families got together for Thanksgiving each year as a family tradition that brought many memories to Valle and her family -- and which I joined in when I joined the Loving clan almost 40 years ago.

Aunt Ruth was full of advice. I remember when our son Nathan was preparing to make his valedictory address at Mount Ayr Community high school, she told him that the advice he dispensed in his speech needed to be practical. That's where Nathan got the advice he passed on to floss after brushing your teeth.

If you needed a laugh, Aunt Ruth could surely provide one with her outside the box thinking -- and her ability to share that thinking with you.

And for her infirmities, Aunt Ruth was a tough old bird.


Several times we were called to the hospital for what the doctors thought would be her last stand.

One time she had even been pronounced dead and taken to the morgue before a twitch of a hand noticed by an orderly there brought the nurses running back in to find she was still alive.

Valle took the time the Sunday before she died to go see Auntie Ruth on a call to the family that proved to be correct this time -- at 85 years of age.

Aunt Ruth was not able to communicate much. But when Valle told her that Valle's sister Diane was going to vote for President Obama again, Aunt Ruth could still muster up enough strength to give her one of her trademark disapproving grimaces.

She was still letting us know where she stood.

Aunt Ruth had planned out her funeral details and had even made a videotape in her last months to get in the last word at her funeral. Unfortunatelythe videotape quality was technically not usable.

The family could hardly wait to see what she would say, but it wasn't to be. Instead, at that point, a tape of the KQTV news story about Aunt Ruth -- with people remembering her contribution almost 20 years after she retired from teaching -- was shown along with a few of her famous quotes.

At the cemetery after the service at the funeral home, she had hired a bagpiper to play "Abide With Me" while people gathered and "When the Saints Go Marching In" when the graveside service, led by one of her students, who became a colleague, school administrator and Baptist minister, was over.

It was a fitting way to send us on our way with our unforgettable memories of Aunt Ruth Newhart.

Transcription by Sharon R. Becker, October of 2012

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