Ruth Evelyn Harris found the catalyst for her dreams in a one-room schoolhouse in bucolic southern Campbell County. Her deep faith, love for learning and commitment to others affected the lives of thousands not only in Northern Kentucky, but around the world.
"Miss Ruth," as she was better known, was quick witted and bright all the way through Tuesday, when she died in her sleep at a friend's home in Butler, Ky. She was 101.
"She was a corker," said Peggy Gautraud, her former neighbor from Highland Heights. "That was her favorite word to use. Whenever the kids would do something she would say, 'Now there's a corker!' "
The word described her well.
Her nephew, Bill Gardner of Louisville, said maybe it was because she was unmarried. She had her own opinions and didn't mind sharing.
She was the youngest of five daughters born to Nora and James Harris of Pleasant Ridge, Ky.
In 1928, at 17, Ruth traveled with the first delegation of the newly formed 4-H Club to Washington, D.C. The group camped on the mall with the Washington Monument as their backdrop. President Calvin Coolidge sat down and spoke with them.
What she learned inspired her to pursue her dream of becoming a teacher. She graduated from the University of Kentucky with a degree in home economics and began her teaching career.
She taught in one-room schoolhouses in Alexandria, Grant's Lick and Pleasant Ridge, and then later taught at Newport High School. She was a member of Pleasant Ridge Baptist Church.
Miss Harris built her life around her family, students, the community and church. She taught her students how to make Kentucky cream candy, jams and jellies as chemistry and science.
During the holidays, she made sure everyone had more than plenty. Gardner said at the holidays he felt so good being with family and then felt so bad because he ate too much.
He also marveled at his aunt, who spent 10 years caring for her father who suffered from a stroke.
"I don't know why, but she hated hospitals, nursing homes and hospice centers," he said. "So she built a new home to welcome and care for any family member that needed her. She was determined that none of them would ever be put in nursing home. None of them ever were. She took care of each and every one."
During the 1970s, Miss Harris met Le Drake, who had emigrated from Vietnam.
"She took me in. She was like a mother to me. She taught me English, how to cook and sew – and how to make a home," Drake said.
Their friendship grew. Drake went to college and became a nurse.
By the time Miss Harris was 92, her outreach extended to supporting the building of a new hospital for mothers and children in Vietnam. She and Drake went on mission trips to Vietnam and to China.
By way of fate, Drake was able to return her love by taking Miss Harris into her own home to care for her during her final years.
Other survivors include her other nephew, Truett Gardner, and a host of nieces and nephews.
Visitation will be 5-8 p.m. today, and services will be 10 a.m. Saturday at Cooper Funeral Home in Alexandria. Burial will be in Alexandria Cemetery.
Memorials: Pleasant Ridge Baptist Church for Missions, 5147 Lees Road, Alexandria, KY 41001.
Online condolences to www.cooperfuneralhome.net .
Published in the Kentucky Enquirer from Apr. 26 to Apr. 27, 2013