Ruth Kunkle passed away on June 3 at her home in Los Alamos.
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Ruth Bertha Corbett Kunkle was born Aug. 27, 1926 in Flagstaff, Ariz., the daughter of Melvin and Hazel Campbell Corbett. The parents separated when Ruth was very small, and she was raised by her mother and step-father Orvill Pendergrass, and by the extended Corbett family, who operated the Hash Knife ranch outside of Winslow, Ariz.. During her preschool years, the family lived at the Arizona Department of Highways Bitter Springs road station on the Navajo Reservation. On reaching school age Ruth began her education in the one-room school in Doney Park outside of Flagstaff. After leaving elementary school Ruth lived part-time in Flagstaff with her aunt Ruth Campbell Slayton, staying in the household with her cousins Daniel and Rachel Slayton. The year 1935 saw the birth of her sister Patricia Pendergrass Potter. Ruth attended Flagstaff High School, playing on the girl's basketball team as had her mother before her, and graduating at age 16 with the class of 1943. During this time the family settled in Flagstaff, and Ruth met her lifelong best friend Betty Quayle.
During the summer of 1942 Ruth worked at the newly-formed Navajo Ordinance Depot (Camp Navajo) outside of Flagstaff. On graduating from high school she took wartime occupation as a clerk at the Depot, where the basic Navajo language skills she had picked up as a child living on the reservation found use in interviewing and registering Native American employees. During this time Ruth continued her education at Arizona Teacher's College in Flagstaff. In the summer of 1945 she took a job as Court Reporter for Coconino County, working for Judge of the Superior Court H.L. Russell.
In the fall of 1945 Ruth met the love of her life, Sherman Kunkle of Jeanette, Pa. Friends of the family had known Sherman in 1944 while he was stationed in Honolulu, Hawaii, and had kept in touch after his transfer to San Diego. On learning that Sherman was planning a road trip to the Grand Canyon, it was arranged for Ruth to accompany him for a movie and dinner at El Tovar. Three weeks later they were engaged. Sherman was 33 and Ruth 19. Their wedding day was June 7, 1946; they were happily married for 52 years.
Following their honeymoon trip to Colorado, the couple settled in Flagstaff where Ruth continued working both for Judge Russell and on her college education. Daughter Elizabeth Ann was born in March 1947. In 1949 the family moved to Paonia, Colo., the home of Ruth's maternal grandparents Edward and Ora Lawyer Campbell. Their son Thomas David arrived in August 1950. Ruth became a member of the Order of Eastern Star Paonia Chapter 74 in 1951.
In the spring of 1952 the family moved to Mesa, Ariz. where Ruth enrolled in Arizona State University and completed her degree in education in May 1956. Following graduation, the family returned to Colorado, settling in the rural Orchard Mesa area of Grand Junction. Ruth taught for the next eight years in the local school district. In 1963 she resumed her education at Oregon State University, and over the next summers earned a Masters Degree in Child Development. Ruth then took employment at Mesa College in Grand Junction, where she became Head of the Child Development program. She was active during this time in Colorado with the Rainbow Girls youth organization of the Order of Eastern Star, spending many weekends planning, organizing and supervising youth activities.
Following the children's high school graduations, Sherman and Ruth moved to Tucson, Ariz., in the summer of 1968. Ruth changed careers, moving back to the legal field as the Executive Secretary to the Mayor. Through the next nine years the couple enjoyed fishing, exploring in the desert, cooking and dinning, and gardening.
After Sherman's retirement in 1977 they moved to Camp Verde, Ariz., where they worked together to build their retirement home near the Verde River. Extensive gardens were installed, and the neighborhood enjoyed a bounty of fruits and summer vegetables. Ruth returned to public school teaching until her retirement. Days were spent with gardening, cooking, wine making, quilting, painting, genealogy and family history, walking and other outdoor activities. Ruth's mother Hazel joined the family after the death of her husband in 1980; Ruth cared for her mother till her death in 1988. The golden wedding anniversary in June 1996 brought the extended family and longtime friends together for a final time. The couple lived in Camp Verde till Sherman's death in February 1998.
Ruth moved to Los Alamos in the spring of 1998, where she lived with her son Tom and granddaughter Jessica. Her time in New Mexico was busy: She resumed her OES membership, serving as Worthy Matron of Los Alamos Chapter 63 in 2007. She was active in the Senior Quilters organization, and produced a wealth of heirloom quilts for the family. A member of the Unitarian Church, she helped man the thrift store in White Rock each Friday afternoon for over a decade. A skilled costume designer and seamstress, she produced performance costumes for Dance Arts Los Alamos.
Unfailingly pleasant and indefatigably optimistic, she was the model to her family of life at its best.
Ruth was preceded in death by her grandson GSgt. Edward Thomas Reeder, USMC. She is survived by her sisters Patricia Pendergrass Potter of Prescott, Ariz., and Darleen Corbett of Weaverville, Calif.; daughter Elizabeth Kunkle Reeder of Eager, Ariz.; son Thomas Kunkle of Los Alamos; granddaughters Oleta Reeder Trimmer of Albuquerque and Jessica Kunkle of Arlington, Va.; and best friend Betty Quayle of San Diego, Calif.
A memorial will be held at the Masonic Temple in Los Alamos at 7:00 p.m. June 26. Interment will be next to her husband Sherman in Citizens Cemetery, Flagstaff, Ariz.
The family wishes to thank the staff of Sombrillo Nursing and Rehabilitation Center and Advantage Hospice for their exemplary care during her final months.
The family of Ruth Kunkle have entrusted the care of their loved one to DeVargas Funeral Home & Crematory of the Espanola Valley. 505-747-7477 or devargasfuneral.com
Published in Los Alamos Monitor from June 9 to June 11, 2013