- Published: December 15, 2022
Ruth reached her hand across the table toward a new arrival to the Friends Care Community, who was sitting lost in sadness. “I know,” she said gently, “life can be hard; I understand.” The elder man smiled back weakly and gratefully, as if to say, “Thank you for caring.” Ruth and the newcomer sat together in companionable silence.
This was our mother. This was her innermost self. This is who she was. She placed her family and others’ well-being before her own, and generously extended herself to ease their way. Her wonderful nature endured throughout her entire life; she never met a stranger.
Ruth was born in 1925 in Montour County near Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania, and lived her adult life in Yellow Springs, Ohio. She died peacefully at Friends Care Community on Dec. 7, 2022, at age 97½ years.
Growing up on a farm in the rural hills of eastern Pennsylvania during the Depression and World War II, she knew how hard life can be. Her father died when she was 6 years old. Her widowed mother, a teacher before she married, could not find a teaching job during the Depression, and the family struggled to make ends meet. Ruth’s two older brothers helped raise her. Their close-knit family knew deprivation and loss, yet also love, hope and the promise of a better life and a better world.
Ruth graduated from Bloomsburg High School in 1943. Afterward, she went to a nearby State Teachers College for a year, while also working at a local ice cream parlor, where she developed a powerful “scooping” muscle that stayed with her for decades. The owner, Mr. Fess, had a brochure on Antioch College, and knew someone going there who loved it. Ruth entered Antioch College in 1944.
While there, she met fellow student Gordon Cowper thwaite in Antioch’s renowned Tea Room. They were married in 1947, and afterward lived in the infamous Splinterville — the married student housing that the college set up, comprised of discarded army trailers. Upon Gordon’s graduation in 1949, they remained in Yellow Springs to raise their family, as did many Antiochians at that time. They had two daughters, Leslie and Jenifer. Although Gordon and Ruth divorced in 1982 after 35 years of marriage, they remained friends and dedicated parents, still caring for each other and their daughters, and gathering their family together for holiday celebrations.
Ruth took several years off from her studies and work when her first-born, Leslie, arrived. Later, after resuming her studies at Antioch, Ruth was employed by the college in the bursar’s office. She managed to complete her degree while working, taking classes and raising a family. She graduated with a bachelor’s degree in business administration in 1959. Afterward, she added some graduate courses at Wright State University. Ruth stayed in Yellow Springs, working as the financial officer for Fels Research Institute from 1965 to 1971, and later for 16 years at Vie Design Studios in Yellow Springs. She retired in 1991.
Ruth also served on the Yellow Springs Recreation Board and the Yellow Springs Arts Council and was a volunteer treasurer for the Yellow Springs Community Foundation. She assisted with establishing the Quakers’ Friends Care Center by managing the government contracts during the construction period. With her partner, Kenneth Tregillus, whom she met in 1982 and who died in 2008, Ruth was very active in helping establish the local cable access channel.
After her retirement, she enjoyed traveling with Ken and on her own to places that she longed to see and experience, including Western United States and north into Alaska, Canada, the North Pole and Greenland, plus many European countries, Russia, eastern Africa, Costa Rica, Argentina, the Galapagos Islands and more. She was an adventurous traveler, both with others, and on her own.
She loved natural history and wildflowers, and pursued these interests wherever she went. Her elder daughter, Leslie, while studying life and earth sciences at Antioch in the early 1970s, introduced Ruth to field botany and birding, and those quickly became her passions as well. Ruth especially valued her two summers traveling by herself through Alaska and later Newfoundland, where she saw moose, grizzly bears, bald eagles and abundant wildflowers, reveled in the beauty of vast pristine wilderness, and met many new people.
Nearer to home, she and her daughter Leslie spent many summer days visiting prairies and prairie remnants throughout the Ohio Valley region, enjoying and identifying species of native plants, and appreciating their beauty, fragility and plight, as prairies dwindled nationwide. During their summer explorations amid sultry Ohio humidity, they stayed hydrated by guzzling lemon-infused water and slurping watermelon. Growing up, Ruth’s family grew many watermelons — a favorite fruit of hers.
Her youngest daughter, Jenifer (Jenny), stayed in Yellow Springs running the Little Art Theatre, and helped her mother during the last 12 years of life as dementia and a hemorrhagic stroke took their debilitating toll. Ruth spent her last nine years at Friends Care — first in Assisted Living, then in Extended Care. Dedicated staff at Friends Care Community and Hospice of Dayton took daily care of Ruth and eased her way through to the end of her life. Ruth’s family extends their heart-felt gratitude to these earthly angels.
Before incapacitation during her last years, Ruth was dedicated to healthy living. For most of her life, she engaged in regular exercise routines — especially water aerobics and walking around town and throughout Glen Helen, and she ate a balanced, often organic, diet. She gardened throughout her life, growing vegetables for her family, and tending flower gardens and shrubs around her home. She especially loved growing native wildflowers such as red bee balm, purple and gray-headed coneflowers and the rare orange milkweed called butterfly weed so beloved by monarchs and other butterflies. She gave away native species of plants and seeds for others to add to their flower gardens.
Ruth was devoted to her family and helping others whenever she could. Her persona embodied enthusiasm for life, practicality, a caring spirit, thoughtfulness, kindness, generosity and an ever-expanding heart supporting others. When her elder daughter, Leslie, and her husband moved to New England, and Ruth could no longer carry heavy items, she stood steadfastly by the open doorway with a box of Esther Price chocolates in her hand, popping one into the eager mouths of each of the movers.
Throughout her life, Ruth was an adept and genuine hostess, joyfully attending to her guests. She laid out elegant and nourishing meals for family and friends, usually garnished with sprigs of parsley for Vitamin C and visual appeal. Jenny fondly remembers carrying a dinner plate and heading toward the family room to eat, when her mother chased her down to position that ever-important piece of parsley on her plate. Ruth had a natural gift for creating beauty in everything she did.
Her skilled craftsmanship was evident in her many practical sewing and knitting projects for family and home. She made new clothes for her daughters before every autumn school opening, a special dress at Easter time, flannel nightgowns for Christmas Eve, knitted sweaters and shawls throughout the year, and re-upholstered cushions and pillows when needed. She encouraged her daughters to follow their dreams and live grounded, fulfilled lives, while also caring for others. She taught both of her children the practicalities of running a home, living within a budget and maintaining a balanced and compassionate life.
Leslie and Jenny, and their father, Gordon, deeply mourn the loss of Ruth — their mother, and his former wife and long-time friend. Gordon misses her caring friendship throughout the years. Her daughters miss her loving presence, guidance and support.
Rest in Peace, beloved mother. You are our guiding light. We honor you by continuing in your footsteps. We will always remain together in spirit, with your flowing energy of love forever enriching our lives. When we join you on the other side, together we will roam fields of flowers blooming through eternity.
At Ruth’s request, there will be a small private gathering to honor her memory, rather than a public memorial service.
In lieu of memorial flowers, Ruth wishes to be remembered by donations in her name to one or more of the following organizations. These organizations ask donors to specify “In memory of Ruth Cowperthwaite,” along with their gift:
• The Nature Conservancy, Attn: Treasury, 4245 N. Fairfax Drive, Suite 100, Arlington, VA 22203; or via their website, “nature.org.”
• Friends Care Community, 150 E. Herman St., Yellow Springs, OH 45387.
• Hospice of Dayton, 324 Wilmington Ave., Dayton, OH 45420.