Ruth Zimmerman, 93 years young, of Wauseon is aging with grace. She is the picture of a positive and passionate spirit. Her life has been filled with challenges through the years, but her determination and perseverance has made the world a better place for others.
Ruth was born and raised in Perrysburg, Ohio near the Maumee River. She and her twin brother were born as tiny babies. In a time before medical care knew how to nurture premature babies, the doctor told her mother to not name the babies because they would not survive. Ruth’s grandmother was a mid-wife and helped her mother take care of them. They spent time in shoeboxes with cotton on top of the oven for warmth. Both babies survived.
“I was too ornery to give up,” Ruth says with a laugh.
Before the days of Facebook, the skating rink in Perrysburg served as a social gathering for teenagers and young adults. Ruth laughs and says the young men would come there to meet the ladies. For her husband Wayne of Wauseon, it worked. The two of them met at the skating rink and the rest is history. They dated, married, and moved to Wauseon.
Ruth and Wayne soon started a family after he returned from serving overseas in World War 2. They had four daughters. Their two oldest daughters Bonnie and Lynn developed normally as young babies and toddlers, but began demonstrating physical and neurological symptoms that left doctors befuddled and the girls unable to attend school. The girls began having trouble with their balance and were having frequent seizures. As the girls’ health declined, instead of spiraling into despair, Ruth and Wayne sprang into action.
They used their resources and began planning for a way to help not only their girls but other area families whose children were unable to attend traditional school due to disability. At a time before state funding existed for specialized programming and schools, the Zimmermans reached out for support. Ruth, who was a reporter for the Wauseon newspaper, shared her story and vision with area citizens. Her husband through his neon sign business and multiple connections within the surrounding area, reached out to county commissioners and others to spread the word.
In 1953, Happi Time School held its first class in the basement of a Wauseon church. Five children from the four county areas attended.
Their daughter Lynn was only able to attend for a short time before her health condition progressed. The families whose children attended supported the funding of the school and the teachers. This school was the beginning of the services for the present day Board of Development Disabilities, and the Happi Time School eventually fell under the care of state and county endeavors.
Although their daughters were not able to benefit for a long period of time from the school, their efforts reached families and children in the surrounding areas and provided social and educational opportunities. Their daughters’ health deteriorated and they sought medical attention through hospitals in the Columbus area. They would discover years later that the name of the disease their daughters had was a rare genetic condition known as Batten Disease.
At the age of 33, Ruth was honored with the “The Book of Golden Deeds” by the Wauseon Exchange Club in 1962 for her efforts in starting the school for developmentally disabled children.
Ruth’s strength and spirit has been shared with many people over the years through her love of the written word. Ruth wrote for the Wauseon Reporter for many years. While she received only eight cents a word for every word she wrote, she had the freedom to write anything she desired. She had her own column and also enjoyed writing human interest stories.
She laughs as she recalls, “I typed with two fingers.”
Her stories captured her wit and sense of humor while also spreading awareness and subsequent support for ventures such as the expansion of the local hospital and the Fulton County Senior Center. Ruth, with her nephew and another business partner, even went on to start their own newspaper for a period of time.
Ruth also enjoys history and loves her historic home in Wauseon which was built by a doctor in the early days of Wauseon’s history in the late 1800s. It has been visited by such legends as Buffalo Bill who performed with the Barnum and Bailey Circus. Ruth shares that the basement foundation of the home is constructed from stone from Grand Rapids, Ohio known as the “Pioneer Inn” where Indians would stay for a safe refuge. The stone was brought from Grand Rapids by barge down the Maumee River and then transported by ox teams to the site of the home to become its foundation.
“Old houses-you love them or hate them. There’s hardly an end,” she laughs with a sigh.
Her home has been a labor of love. Through the years, they have removed five layers of wallpaper, replaced the roof and furnaces, and completed multiple other projects. The home even has a few remaining original Toledo Edison light bulbs from the early 1900s.
Ruth is the picture of strength and grace. She is positive and spreads joy to all she meets. Despite life’s challenges, she has pushed through. Her daughter Angie expresses, “Mom is the most positive person I know.”
This positive spirit of strength, passion, and determination has made Ruth’s corner of the world a better place for many. The community of Wauseon is a brighter place because of Ruth Zimmerman.
Tammy Allison may be reached at email@example.com