Friends unite to help beloved Claremont teacher Ruth Bobo
There is nothing common about Ruth Bobo, who touched countless lives during her nearly 4 decades as a Claremont High School English and creative writing teacher. With her Alabama accent, her passion for literature and her warm and humorous engagement with students, she remains a Claremont icon 7 years after her retirement.
Unfortunately, Mrs. Bobo, 75, is facing a problem that is increasingly common among seniors. With mounting heath concerns, including rheumatoid arthritis, Parkinson’s disease, gastro-intestinal difficulties and vision loss, she now requires 24-hour in-home care. This expense of $4800 per month not covered by Medicare, has been draining and exceeding her monthly income for some time.
A few years ago, Mrs. Bobo took out a home equity loan to help offset the cost, but that amount is nearly depleted.
“It stood me in good stead for a year,” she said. “Then I started to realize I was going to be in serious trouble.”
Facing the very real possibility that she’d have to trade her Tenth Street house for a nursing home, Mrs. Bobo—who has always been known for her independence—did something she isn’t used to. She asked for help, reaching out to see if friends had any ideas as to how she can stay in the home she has lived in for 40 years.
One of these, Arin Allen, a class of ’92 CHS alumni, has responded by organizing a campaign he hopes will mobilize the community. The goal is to raise $72,000, an amount that would offset 25 percent of the monthly cost of Mrs. Bobo’s 24-hour care and medication for 5 years, allowing her to remain in her home through her 80th birthday.
Between her arthritis and Parkinson’s, Mrs. Bobo is unable to write and faces serious mobility issues, so “the thought of moving is horrendous,” she said.
Mr. Allen, a Pitzer College graduate who is nothing if not ambitious, would love to go beyond his $72,000 goal. He plans to use any additional money raised to establish a special fund in Mrs. Bobo’s name. He envisions the fund, overseen with the help of a nonprofit organization like the Claremont Community Foundation, allowing each graduating CHS class to contribute a grant to the charitable foundation of their choice.
Ready, set, go!
This weekend represents the official launch of the Save Mrs. Bobo! campaign. Flyers have been posted in the windows of more than 30 Claremont businesses. This weekend, campaign volunteers, including members of Mrs. Bobo’s family and several former students, will rove through the crowds at Village Venture in Save Mrs. Bobo! T-shirts, handing out refrigerator magnets.
The goal of the publicity blitz is to direct as many people as possible to a website Mr. Allen has created, www.ruthmbobofund.com, where visitors can contribute to the Ruth M. Bobo Fund and learn more about ways they can help the former teacher.
Contributions of any size can make a difference¸ emphasized Mr. Allen, who has previously volunteered with Claremont nonprofits such as the 1st Street Art Gallery and the American Red Cross. He urges everyone who knows and loves Mrs. Bobo to help spread the word.
When Mr. Allen and other volunteers recently approached the managers and owners of local businesses asking for support, they noticed a phenomenon underscoring Mrs. Bobo’s immense popularity. In many cases, customers, overhearing the conversation, have exclaimed, “I love Mrs. Bobo! I had her as a teacher while I was at Claremont High School.”
Just how many people did Mrs. Bobo inspire during her 38-year tenure at CHS? Even COURIER publisher Peter Weinberger (class of 1974), a student of hers at CHS, shot photos and wrote a column for this edition.
“I remember Ruth as a kind person who really cared for her students,” Mr. Weinberger recounted in a 2008 COURIER feature on Mrs. Bobo. “She had a specific game plan on what we were going to accomplish and expected a lot. But she would help you get there. She was very popular.”
And when this reporter mentioned this article in passing to a friend, a fellow Pomona resident, she answered with what the campaign is revealing to be a universal refrain, “I love Mrs. Bobo!”
“She was always straightforward and honest,” said Teresa Garcia, a graduate of the Claremont High School class of 1993. She treated her students with total respect that was earned.”
A touch of fate
Mr. Allen, an emergency medical technician and phlebotomy technician who works at UCLA Medical Center, has earned Mrs. Bobo’s respect for the many hours spent in developing the Save Mrs. Bobo! campaign.
“It’s touching,” she said. “Being this exposed is not my style, but it beats having to move.”
As the campaign gains momentum, it feels like a bit of kismet is in play, Mrs. Bobo said. A few years ago, Mr. Allen wrote to Mrs. Bobo at Christmastime, sending her several of his poems and thanking her for the profound influence she had on him in her creative writing course. Mr. Allen didn’t include a telephone number and, while there was an address, she didn’t respond to him.
“I thought, I can’t take up with another person,” she said.
The following March, she came across the envelope with Mr. Allen’s address on it. She tossed it in the trash but then, the next day, something prompted her to retrieve it.
“I thought, no, I don’t want to do that,” Mrs. Bobo recalled.
She had someone drive her to the address listed and, somewhat surprisingly, considering that Mr. Allen travels quite a bit, found him at home. They caught up and began visiting and eventually Mrs. Bobo confided to her former student about her financial and medical difficulties. He sprang into action and the rest is history.
“I really feel like this whole issue is fated,” she said.
Explaining what prompted him to help his favorite high school teacher, Mr. Allen spoke with passion. “There are certain people in our lives who we can’t refuse. When you have a mentor, an elder who’s invested in you, you can’t say no. Your heart wouldn’t let you.”
Mrs. Bobo’s heart is evident in the home where, for now, she remains comfortably and regularly surrounded by conscientious medical caregivers and family like her niece Susanne Hyvarinen, who serves as the family liaison for the Save Mrs. Bobo! campaign, and her daughter, Elizabeth Bobo, who helped compile the text for the website, including a vivid biography of the former CHS teacher.
The walls of the home are adorned with precious family photos, including pictures of her son Brian Bobo posing with the Wolfpack football team and a shot of herself as an attractive teenager, wielding a baton as a high school majorette back in her native Alabama.
Despite her recent vision troubles, the printed word also remains a beloved companion. There are bookshelves crammed with classics—Madame Bovary, Nicholas Nicholby and works by poets like her beloved favorite, e.e. cummings. Family members will read books aloud to her, with recent reads including Frankenstein and Heart of Darkness.
“Anybody that walks in the door has to read to me,” Mrs. Bobo said with a smile. Mrs. Bobo also loves to read cards, Mr. Allen notes. He believes that expressions of care are as much a part of sustaining his mentor as financial help. As such, he encourages supporters to drop Mrs. Bobo a line or even send her flowers. Hint: her favorite posies are lilies, especially stargazer lilies, peach roses and carnations.
You can send written warm wishes to Mrs. Bobo, as well as contributions in the form of a check or money order made out to Ruth Bobo, care of the Ruth M. Bobo Fund, 580 W. 10th St., Claremont, CA 91711.
For more information on the Save Mrs. Bobo! campaign, visit www.ruthmbobofund.com or email Arin Allen at firstname.lastname@example.org