for release Friday April 11, 2003
by Melodie Davis
A Woman Ahead of Her Time: The Rest of the Story
A Mennonite woman with her own radio program in 1950. An entrepreneur who started numerous businesses. The first Mennonite woman to be ordained in her local church jurisdiction of Virginia Conference. Along the way she raised four brilliant and creative children with her beloved husband, Grant, who died of a heart attack at the early age of 59.
These are just some of the things that make compelling reading in the recently published memoirs of Ruth Brunk Stoltzfus, A Way Was Opened (Herald Press, 2003). I count myself fortunate to know this amazing woman and consider her a mentor even though we’re generations apart.
What surprised me most in reading her book was that she was an employed mother juggling the demands of career and children even in the 1940’s. They had, for many years, a commuter marriage, beginning when Grant was an administrator for the Civilian Public Service Program (CPS) during World War II. They were married in 1941 and had their first child in 1943. For a while Ruth joined Grant at the CPS camp serving as Camp Matron, juggling a baby on one hip while cooking for the 35 men. She never really enjoyed cooking, feeling her gifts lay in other areas. Exhausted from keeping up with a toddler and the duties of Camp Matron, eventually she and the baby moved back to their home area, enduring separation from her husband like many others for the duration of the war.
As a scholar, her husband Grant spent several semesters away from the family in pursuit of his doctorate or other research. I was also privileged to have Grant as a professor in college (bless the college settings where all the students call the professors by their first names)—and I remember the passion and conviction with which he taught “War, Peace and Revolution.”
Their brilliant and creative children were nevertheless the source of deep pain and soul searching (aren’t all children?) When one child went through a major faith crisis, Ruth writes openly of the depression Grant experienced—something I never knew even though he had been hospitalized while I was in college.
Ruth credits her father as grooming her for a speaking ministry when he coached her regarding good inflection and gestures for speeches she made for her church youth group of the time. This was particularly interesting in light of the fact that women at that time were not allowed to speak in churches, at least not from the pulpit. So her first “public” speaking began on radio—and almost didn’t happen. Ruth, Grant and a friend went to visit a radio station about the possibility of a program encouraging women in the home. She felt that the other radio shows for women focused too much on fashion, beauty and shopping, and not enough on inner strengths and gifts.
The radio station manager was out and the assistant manager said there was no available time. The door seemed totally closed. Disappointed, they started to leave the station, and met the manager on their way out. He liked the idea and offered a daily time slot—but Ruth quickly said she could only do it once a week since they had four children. Ruth went on the air June 16, 1950 with a program they called Heart to Heart because she just wanted to “talk to women heart to heart.”
She spoke on that program until 1958, when she signed it over to a successor, Ella May Miller, who enjoyed a long run as speaker on the popular radio program until 1977. I began ghost writing for Heart to Heart as part of my job soon after graduating from college in 1975, and also did some writing for the next speaker, Margaret Foth. The program changed its name to “Your Time” and also broadened its focus to include all women, not just mothers in the home.
The “Your Time” radio program eventually had a spin-off, a newspaper column, and when the radio program went off the air the organization I work for decided to let the newspaper column continue, redubbing it “Another Way.” And now you know why I feel such a tie to this marvelous role model, Ruth Brunk Stoltzfus. I felt especially privileged some years ago when she invited me to lunch at her “favorite Chinese restaurant” as a way of encouraging me in writing this column.
There is lots more in her memoirs, of course, such as dealing with her daughter’s and her own bout with cancer, but I won’t spoil the book by telling how she was able to overcome the difficult road to ordination (something she really didn’t seek, but accepted when it came to her), which helps to explain the rather passive nature of the book’s title, A Way Was Opened. Ruth has truly tried to be just a faithful person serving God. Her courage through life’s ups and downs offers inspiration to anyone.
For more information on the book, go to http://www.mph.org/books/wayopened.htm
Or write to: Melodie Davis, Another Way c/o Name\Address of YOUR newspaper; or e-mail: Melodie@mennomedia.org.
You can also visit Another Way on the Web at www.thirdway.com.
Melodie Davis is the author of seven books and has written her column since 1987. She taught feature writing and has won awards from the National Federation of Press Women, Virginia Press Women and the American Advertising Association. She and her husband have three daughters.
NOTES TO EDITORS: text = 835 words; end material = 105 words
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