January 27, 2012

Asking a Lot - Ruth Barth answers
Debra Orecchio, Correspondent

Busy post-retirement

Ruth Barth retired from teaching after 27 years in the Platte Canyon School District. She finds herself busy now serving as president of one her church's women's organizations, writing a biography of her father, knitting, crocheting and reading. (Photo by Debra Orecchio/The Flume)

Ruth Barth taught in the Platte Canyon School District for 27 years. After graduating from Brigham Young University in Utah, she returned to her hometown of Fort Collins and taught for two years. She met her husband, Rick Barth, while he was attending graduate school at Colorado State University. The two married in 1968 and moved to New Mexico, where Barth taught for one year, after which she said she would never teach again. The Barths returned to Colorado, eventually settling in Bailey. And it would be 12 years before Barth returned to the classroom, starting as a part-time music teacher at Deer Creek Elementary, which she did for two years, then moved on to teach fourth grade for five years, before moving on to Platte Canyon High School. Barth taught English, speech, drama and choir at the high school. In 1990, she started working as the assistant speech coach; after two years, she took over as coach of the speech team until her retirement in 2009. With her speech team winning state in 2009, that made six times one of her speech teams had won at state during her 19 years in coaching. Her teams had also taken second place 12 times at state and third place once. She was awarded the Sharon Wilch Lifetime Achievement Award at the state speech meet award ceremony in January 2009. She and her husband have two children and seven grandchildren.

DO: What was your major in college?

Barth: I majored in elementary education, with a minor in speech and drama, and took tons of classes in English and loved them, but didn't go any further with it than that. And then when I decided I wanted to go from the elementary level, which I wasn't crazy about, to high school, we looked at my transcript, and I had enough hours to teach English.

DO: Growing up, did you always think you wanted to be a teacher?

Barth: Yes, that was from the time I was little, I wanted to be a teacher, but every woman in my family had been teachers, so it was kind of a family thing.

DO: From the time that you returned to Colorado before you went to work at Deer Creek, what were you doing?

Barth: I was a mom.

DO: Why did you decide to retire?

Barth: It was time. I had given myself 30 years, I was kind of aiming for that, because you get better retirement after 30 years with PERA [Public Employees' Retirement Association]. It was just right. Everybody thought I'd crawl into a corner and die. [laughs]

DO: What have you been up to?

Barth: Right after I retired I was asked to become president of my church's women's organizations, all the way from Buena Vista to downtown Denver. I was what's called the local relief society president, [in] the Mormon church. And they asked me to be the Stake Relief Society president, which covers all of them. And it's been a wonderful, marvelous experience because these women are amazing. And I have loved it. I have met a variety of people in situations like I've never known before. I work closely with fascinating people, and that takes up an awful lot of time. But I'm also writing my father's biography. I've learned to knit and crochet, and I do Curves three times a week. And I really am very busy.

When I retired somebody said to me, Ruth, don't retire from something; retire to something. And that's what I was determined to do. I didn't know it would quite be this.

DO: Tell me about your father's biography that you're writing.

Barth: His name is John Stewart. He died at 63. He was a World War II veteran and he ended up getting ulcerative colitis during the war. And it ended up turning into cancer. He died basically of colon cancer. But he was young, he was active. He was a manager of the Great Western Sugar Company. He was a school board president for 10 years in Fort Collins, and he was just this dynamic man. But kept no records whatsoever about his life. He was so young that my children didn't know him. My siblings' children didn't know him. So I felt like somebody needed to know this really neat man. And you can't believe the stuff that I've found. I've gone into the archives into downtown Denver. Turned out, a second cousin of mine was in charge of all the Great Western Sugar reports at CSU library. And she had all these pictures and everything else. And so she helped me do all this research from Great Western Sugar.

DO: So how far along are you on that?

Barth: I'm getting almost finished; I've got about one more chapter to do. For Christmas my sister sent me a whole bunch of pictures that I had never seen before, which was really, really neat. War pictures that we hadn't known. I got his war records from Washington, and he got medals that he hadn't told us about. He lived a life of service and wouldn't toot his own horn, so nobody knew the things that he'd done. But I contacted the Poudre R-1 school district in Fort Collins, and they had articles about him because he'd been there for 10 years. So I've been able to get all kinds of things gathered together.

DO: Are you planning on publishing it?

Barth: It will be self-publishing. I have tons of relatives: 32 cousins on my mom's side and 28 on my dad's. They're going to want it. I just want it so my kids can read about their grandpa. And he now has great grandchildren. They just need to know about him.

DO: How long has the book taken you?

Barth: I started the summer after I retired. I didn't have any idea that I would find so much stuff. My college roommate is a librarian, and she was able to help me [with] places to go and people to contact. I had a cousin who found letters that he had written to her mother during World War II that we didn't know that they had had. And that was so cool, because after the war was over and he was back with my mom again, she did all the writing. To see this with his attitude was really neat.

I make myself write about at least a half hour every day just because I've got to get it done.

DO: When you were teaching, what was the best part? What did you like best?

Barth: Reaching the kids. I had very personal relationships with the kids; they called me Momma Barth. I loved to challenge the slower learners to get excited about learning. That was so fun for me. I loved working with the lower kids, I really did. I mean I had outstanding ones on the speech team. But those kids in my English class that could hardly spell their name, and by the end of the year they were excited about reading. I loved it. But see, that's where my elementary background came in. My principal told me to teach the student, not the subject, and that really worked in high school. And that's what I learned from being an elementary teacher.

DO: Do you stay in contact with former students?

Barth: Oh yes, very much. I'm in contact with a lot of them. One of them even taught speech in Arizona in a private school and did really, really well, and ended up moving to Germany. There are some that I will always stay in touch with.

DO: What's it like to see them as adults, in their own careers and being successful?

Barth after winning last speech meet

Ruth Barth is hugged by a number of her students at the Jan. 31, 2009, state speech meet. Platte Canyon won state at the meet. (Photo by Spencer Nickle)

Barth: I love it. I had a student in speech who the first time he came to me was so shy he couldn't even look me in the eye. And by the end of the year he had worked up to where he was the state champion and doing humorous interp. And is now trained to sing opera and is in Seattle. And I think of that kid so shy he could hardly say "boo" and he gained the confidence and it's so neat. And I love that.

DO: How do you think speech helps them as adults?

Barth: The number one fear in the world, even ahead of death and dying, is public speaking. This is a life skill. They need speech. I don't believe it should be required for everybody because if it's required then the ones who don't want to be in there pull down the rest. But it should be offered.

DO: What do you think should change in education?

Barth: I really feel like the kids need to be given more opportunities for life skills. The reading and writing, that's important. But we are not teaching enough life survival skills for kids to be able to know how to balance a checkbook, and to know how to cook in a kitchen, and to know how to survive. We need to teach more survival skills, rather than book learning. I feel that really, really strongly. And that's been one of the things that's been cut so quickly from our educational system.

DO: What changes have you seen in education?

Barth: There was much more home involvement when I first started to teach. Kids take care of themselves now. And even a single parent, I know that they're busy and I know that they have a job, but they get home too tired to come be with their kids at night. The kids need at least one parent to be with them, to be their advocate.

DO: What are some things you want to do now that you're retired?

Barth: Travel's the only thing that I'd like to be able to do more, but Rick's not ready to retire.

DO: What is your favorite place to visit?

Barth: My family has a ranch close to Park City in Utah, right on the Provo River. My grandfather and his brothers homesteaded it in 1901, and it's just been passed down for generations through the family. We can horseback ride, and fish, and beaver ponds to play in. My grandkids can go there.

DO: When were you happiest?

Barth: I try to bloom where I'm planted. Life is good and I'm fine.

DO: What's been your greatest joy?

Barth: My family, children, grandchildren, husband.

DO: What do you hate?

Barth: The wrangling and the political junk right now. I hate contention in any form. You're not supposed to hate things, but I do hate that.

DO: What's your greatest fear?

Barth: I'm not really afraid.

DO: What person do you most admire?

Barth: I had an English teacher in the junior high in Fort Collins that was absolutely phenomenal. She was a single teacher; her name was Margaret Shepardson. She devoted life to teaching; she died the year after she retired. She made every single one of us learn to memorize poetry, to learn to stand up and speak in front of other people. And she helped each one of us know that we were of worth. She was absolutely amazing. It's probably why I became a teacher, because of her.

DO: Do you have a favorite author?

Barth: That's like asking me if I have a favorite child [laughs]. No, it depends on what I'm reading when. My legacy to my grandchildren is I want them to love to read as much as I do. I've been an avid reader ever since I was a little tiny kid, and I just love to read. To have [my grandchildren] want to share their books with me, that just is a really important thing for me. I was so awkward, and gangly and difficult and everything else in junior high and high school, and if I couldn't have had those books to be into, I don't know what I would have done.

DO: What are you reading right now?

Barth: I just bought one of Maeve Binchy's. I love Ireland. I just bought a brand new one of hers, so I'm just ready to read it. I have just finished a book by Richard Paul Evans. It's a modern "Odyssey," called "Miles to Go."

DO: Do you have favorite TV shows?

Barth: Don't watch much TV. I do watch the news and keep track of the news. I love to watch "The View" in the mornings; I do my knitting with it, just because I love to hear discussion back and forth; it takes me back to my debate days.

DO: Any favorite movies?

Barth: We watched "The King's Speech" the other night. And it's the second time we had seen it. It's that feeling of somebody having to overcome something. It was just wonderful; the acting was superb.

DO: Do you have a favorite kind of music?

Barth: I love all music. I'm not crazy about country, but I love classical music. Picking a favorite kind of music is like picking a favorite author; I love it all.

DO: What about pets?

Barth: Amigo, he's a [flat- coated] retriever. He's a wonderful dog. We always have had dogs.

DO: What is your greatest regret?

Barth: I didn't get a master's degree. I took 60 hours beyond [my bachelor's] and didn't direct it toward anything. And I've always felt kind of bad that I didn't get my master's degree.

DO: What talent would you like to have?

Barth: I wish I could sing better. I wish I was more organized; I'm not.

DO: In what instance would you lie?

Barth: To protect my kids.

DO: What's your greatest achievement?

Barth: My children.

DO: What's your most treasured possession?

Barth: The photo albums of my children.

DO: What's your favorite thing to do?

Barth: Read.

DO: What's your most remarkable characteristic?

Barth: I care about people. My ability to love others, I think.

DO: What do you not like about yourself?

Barth: I need to be more organized. To make better use of my time.

DO: What's your philosophy of life?

Barth: That every person in every situation can be made better through positive thinking.

DO: If money were no object and you could travel anywhere you want to go, where would that be?

Barth: Back to England. I love it.

DO: What's your current state of mind?

Barth: My current state of mind is that I'm happy where I am and that I'm enjoying what I'm doing.

DO: Is there a word or phrase you overuse?

Barth: Cool. Amazing, I probably use that too much, too.

DO: Do you have a favorite food?

Barth: None, it's the same as reading, I like all foods, I really do. I can't stand Brussels sprouts. But I've never tasted anything else that I haven't liked.

DO: Do you have a favorite place to eat?

Barth: No. We used to love Marie Callender's, but it closed down.