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A volunteer love story

By giving more of herself, volunteer is building strong relationships, making big impact on area students

Ruthie “Mimi” Schultz, of Alexandria, interacts with a student in Alexandria between classes. Mimi has been a volunteer in District 206 since 2014, building relationships with students in both Garfield and Alexandria. Contributed photo by Alexandria Public Schools

Have you ever met someone and instantly known that your life is instantly better for knowing that someone? In one word…that someone is Ruthie. Some kids may call her by another name, Mimi, but it’s all  kids that make the world go ‘round for this special someone…Ruthie aka Mimi.

Ruthie is a volunteer for District 206, and with that title of “volunteer,” — Ruthie’s passion for education, for kids, for supporting teachers, for lifelong relationships —  can all be encircled with one word…love.  Her energy abounds. Her eyes twinkle. And her smile is broad as she explained her mission in volunteerism.

The “Volunteer Story”  

When Ruth and Roger Schultz moved to Alexandria in 2014,  they knew that volunteering would be a part of their lives.   Retired educators, the couple embraced the many volunteer opportunities before them.  They support  Habitat for Humanity and Someplace Safe.  They participate in Douglas County Friends of the Library and Calvary Church.  They sustain their love of theater and arts by supporting the Andria Theatre and the Central Lakes Symphony Orchestra.   Roger also volunteers with Love, Inc.

It was District 206, among these local opportunities, that Ruthie Schultz completely embraced, and I mean, embraced. Roger is Ruthie’s number one cheerleader and number one supporter in her District 206 volunteering efforts. He smiles with pride as he says   “This is her story.”

“When we moved to Alexandria I knew I wanted to do something with education, with reading, with the schools, with kids,”  Ruthie said.

She contacted Ruth Turner, District 206’s volunteer coordinator.

“My father, a salesman,  was a huge influence in developing my love for books and education. He was an avid reader, sometimes reading into the wee hours of the morning because he couldn’t put the book down.  He passed that legacy down to all five of his daughters. I naturally gravitated to English. Dad loved to debate, discuss and talk history, and his example of building relationships through books and learning  inspired me,” Ruthie said.

This would be why, when Ruthie Schultz talks volunteering,  she also means  “building relationships.”

And so, it came to pass that Ruthie Schultz began building relationships with Karen Andrews’ fifth-grade class in Garfield soon after she retired in 2014.

Ruthie “Mimi” and Roger Schultz, of Alexandria, have made volunteerism a big part of their retirement years. Mimi is all dressed for ‘50s Day at Discovery Middle School. Photo by Rachel Barduson

At the end of the school year in 2015, 14 students learned that Ruthie wanted to see them through to high school graduation. “These young people have so much potential, so much learning ahead of them. I couldn’t just ‘drop out’ when they were done with fifth-grade. I am committed to following them through high school graduation, and, hopefully, beyond,” Ruthie said, as tears welled up in her eyes. “They are too important to me.”

The relationships are real. The kids call Ruthie “Mimi,” a name given her by her own grandchildren, Gentry and Ainsley Nuytten. The couple has four grown children:  Peter, Elizabeth, Anna, and William.  Pride is bursting at the seams.

During her first year of volunteering with the Garfield fifth-graders, Ruthie did more than read to the class, mentor, and visit the classroom on a regular basis. With Roger’s help, they rented a “big van” and took the entire class down to the Minnesota Historical Society in 2016.  In addition, they have invited the entire class to their home during summer break for a back-to-school get-together.  And last summer, when the weather didn’t cooperate, everyone went bowling!  “Ruthie and Roger Schultz do this all on their own dime,” said one grateful parent, Amy Christopherson. When the fifth-grade class went on to sixth-grade,  some of the Garfield students went into Nicole Fettig’s class at Discovery; the others were often seen in the halls or at choir, band, or orchestra concerts.  During the spring of 2017, Ruthie and Roger celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary by taking the kids to the Central Lakes Symphony concert followed by dinner at Doolittle’s.  “It was so much fun to watch them each order from the menu,” smiled Ruthie, “Fettuccini alfredo is a favorite.”

Now those 14 students   are finishing up their seventh-grade year. Fortunately, six of them are in Kristi Breitling’s  American History classroom at Discovery, Ruthie’s volunteer placement this year. But getting them all back together is important, so Ruthie is beginning plans for another summer outing at their Lake Ida cabin and for another “back-to-school” party with all of her Garfield students.   “I think I will tell them each to invite a friend,” she said, smiling at Roger.   Roger is completely, 100 percent on board and supportive of whatever Ruthie decides. He joked, “This could mean up to 30 kids!”  In addition to summer fun, Ruthie and Roger are already thinking about possibilities for next winter’s outing with their Garfield 14: maybe a trip to the Mall of America and the new water park that is soon to open.

In the meantime, and in addition to all of that, Ruthie is passionate about supporting the teachers of the school district.  “We need to let our teachers know we appreciate them,” Ruthie said. “We must support the efforts of our educators.” Many times, it’s the small gestures that leave a memorable mark. “I bring baskets of goodies to teachers…they do so much for our kids in addition to teaching them every day. Teacher Appreciation Week is not the only week out of the entire year to show appreciation for the great work our educators do, and the dedication they give to our kids.”

It’s obvious that Ruthie brings more than treats…her smile  and the smiles she creates are a living legacy.

Love Story/Love of Education…     

Ruthie and Roger met on stage at Weld Hall at Moorhead State College in 1963. Although they were not starring in the production at the time, which happened to be Romeo and Juliet, their eyes met, and the rest, you could say, is history.

Productions, including Under the Yum-Yum Tree and A Shot in the Dark were just part of Ruthie’s theater history.  Upon graduation, the couple married, and each accepted English, speech, and drama  teaching positions in Minnesota, including St. Cloud, Virginia and Duluth. In 1982, they moved to Texas, where they raised their family and pursued their active teaching careers.

“Mimi” Schultz reads to a group of students at Discovery Middle School in Alexandria. Contributed photo by Alexandria Public Schools

Roger taught dramatic literature and theatre at Texas A & M in College Station, Texas,  until retirement in 2014. Ruthie had a home day care for six years where she “taught” 2-5 year olds. She also taught preschool, directed a summer camp for several years, and has experience teaching in both public and private schools in Texas.   When she retired from public school teaching, she taught grades 8 – 11 in Bryan, Texas, at Allen Academy. Beginning in 1996 Ruthie served as an Advanced Placement teacher and later graded Advanced Placement tests in Daytona, Florida,  and taught other Texas AP teachers at week-long workshops. It was also during this time that Roger and Ruth opened the doors of their home, inviting eight Allen Academy students from China and Korea to live with them. Although the students came with  limited English,  the couple admits that they learned more from the students than the other way around.

In retirement,  Ruthie and Roger began traveling extensively and have found a way to share even those experiences with their new-found “kids” of District 206. Roger explained, “Ruthie sends postcards from Pike’s Peak, Yellowstone, Garden of the Gods, New York City…all over,” as Ruthie chimed in…”to show them that we care, that we are thinking about them. What better way to show the kids they are cared about but also, share with  them a bit about our  beautiful country.” And taking it to another level of learning, Roger added,  “We are talking postcard. Not email, not Facebook, not instant anything. ”

Truly, Ruthie and Roger love kids, and they love education, and they are dedicated volunteers. In between doing a hand jive during a ‘50s day this spring and delivering food baskets to teachers during Teacher Appreciation Week, Ruthie continues to foster relationships with the kids and teachers of District 206.

And those kids who started their fifth-grade in Garfield in 2014 with Ruthie Schultz in their classroom? They trust that Ruthie will be in the front row at their graduation in 2022.

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