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Ruth Bobo: Unforgettable teacher, loving mother, southern belle

Ruth Bobo, a longtime Claremont High School teacher, died peacefully on Saturday, June 7, 2014 surrounded by family and friends. She was 76.

Mrs. Bobo was born on March 16, 1938 in Parker, California to Arlie Moultrie and Evelyn Moultrie (née Moats). Soon, the family returned to Moulton, Alabama. While her father, a carpenter, ran his successful lumber mill and building business, her mother worked with him, leaving 10-year-old Ruth Ann to cook dinners and care for her siblings, Joan, Peggy, and Dan. She became a mother figure, according to her sister, Peggy Henson.

“Whatever I needed, I could always go to her,” she said. Always enterprising, at age 12, Ruth Ann started a local newspaper with a girlfriend and sold single-sheet mimeographed copies for a penny-a-piece. Growing up, she also picked cotton every season, and the summer she was 15, she took the train alone to Chicago and worked as a typist, a job she got the day after she arrived.

Her beauty was complemented by her music and academic talents. In 1953, Ruth Ann was crowned “Miss Aiken Co-Op”; her photo graced an edition Reality, the electric company’s trade publication. Winning the title boosted her confidence. When she returned to Alabama, she was voted Sadie Hawkins Day Queen and May Queen at Lawrence County High School. After playing the clarinet for a year in the marching band, she attained the status of drum majorette, conducting and leading the band. She earned the title of valedictorian of her graduating class.

During her first year at Florence State Teacher’s College (now the University of North Alabama), she met fellow student John Bobo. “We jitterbugged. She was an outstanding dancer,” he remembered. “Later, when I saw how she cared for her siblings, I knew she would make a great mother.”

With a year of college under her belt, she married Mr. Bobo on July 8, 1956. After a honeymoon in Estes Park, Colorado, the couple moved to Birmingham, Alabama. There, Mrs. Bobo completed her bachelor’s degree in English at Howard College (now Samford University).

Next, the couple moved to New Orleans, where Mrs. Bobo earned a master’s degree in English literature at Tulane University. The day she got her degree, the couple moved to California, where Ruth taught at Slauson Middle School in Azusa and at Glendora High School.

After their daughter Elizabeth was born, the couple moved to Claremont because of its excellent schools. Mrs. Bobo began teaching at Claremont High in 1967, shortly before her second child, Brian, was born. She quickly became active in the school, serving as faculty adviser of the Wolfpacket and the yearbook in the 1970s.

COURIER publisher Peter Weinberger remembers being a photographer for the student newspaper at the time. “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,” he said in a 2007 COURIER article.

In the classroom, Mrs. Bobo taught a range of language arts classes, from creative writing to Advanced Placement English. She hoped her influence as a teacher would extend well beyond the classroom. “My goal,” she often said, “was to teach students not only to write but also to have something to say.” 

Mrs. Bobo may have left the South, but she retained her gentility throughout her life. She charmed people with her engaging demeanor and delightful accent. She always showed southern hospitality, welcoming guests with iced tea and having homemade biscuits on the stovetop when her children’s friends came over after school. She enjoyed cooking southern dinners and baking iced apple cookies, fresh coconut cakes and her bourbon-laced “Lane Cake.”

She contributed to the homemade ice cream socials at the Claremont Presbyterian Church. She also loved to read and teach southern writers, including William Faulkner, Flannery O’Connor and Tennessee Williams. She was the recipient of two National Endowment of the Humanities Summer Fellowships: one on Catholic Mysticism at Fordham University, the other on Islamic Mysticism at Columbia University.  

With her Alabama drawl, her passion for literature and her warm and humorous engagement with students, Mrs. Bobo was a well-loved teacher at Claremont High School. She was named Grand Marshall of the Homecoming Parade in 1999, and the 2004-05 yearbook was dedicated to her for her many years of devotion to several generations of Claremont students.

“The kids got a kick out of her. They were touched by her humanity—being open, caring and down-to-earth,” CHS English teacher Becca Feeney said in a 2007 COURIER article.

“She was always straightforward and honest,” Teresa Garcia, a 1993 CHS graduate added. “She treated her students with total respect when it was earned.”

In an online tribute, Jack Myers said Mrs. Bobo was the most inspirational teacher he encountered while at CHS.  He took a moment to share one of her many out-of-the-box teaching methods: “She did this thing called ‘guided imagery,’” Mr. Myers said. “She had the classroom shut its eyes, and she was able to transport the class to a dream state to see the time and place in a fiction or nonfiction book. It was not a hokey-pokey thing but really cool. It was an in-depth experience to be alive at that time and to show a great appreciation for the historical context.”

Mrs. Bobo’s son, Brian, recalls that when his mother became his junior-year English teacher she treated him just like other students. “I learned pretty quickly not to call her mom,” he laughed.

Her niece Emily Moultrie served as a teaching assistant for Mrs. Bobo during her freshman year and got to see her spitfire aunt in action. “She was always so mannered and just lovely. But she knew what time it was,” Ms. Moultrie recalled. “If you paid attention and really listened, she would let you work at your own pace and do what you needed to do. But if you tried to pull one over on her, she would call you out in a second.”

Mrs. Bobo had a full life outside of school. She was a natural athlete, who excelled at snow and water skiing. She was a devoted mother, who served as leader for her daughter’s Girl Scout troop and attended all her son’s football games. Each year, the Bobos would take a car trip to Florence, Alabama where relatives still resided. Those summer vacations were idyllic times for her and her children.

“She taught me to catch lightening bugs in a jar and how to tie a thread on June bug,” Brian said.

She traveled widely, including trips to Hawaii, New York and Europe, as well as three trips to Egypt where her daughter was teaching at the American University in Cairo. During these trips, she visited Bethlehem and Jerusalem and she celebrated the Millennium at the Pyramids. In 1993, she travelled to Russia to participate in a conference organized by Claremont’s Committee of Women for Russian-American Dialogue. Later in life, she and her sister Peggy travelled to meet her daughter’s colleagues at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette English Department. She intended to continue her travels upon her retirement, planning to live for a summer in Spain. Because of her love of opera, she also planned to go back to Italy. Her last trip was to Chicago to attend her daughter’s wedding and her son-in-law’s graduation from a PhD program.

Hosting parties was among her great joys and most refined skills. One year she threw a party every week for three months, finding that attending to the social and emotional wellbeing of others improved her spirits. In addition to the annual holiday gatherings such as the Tenth Street Luminary Night and Fourth of July, she hosted Shakespeare play-readings during which readers would finish a five-act play. There were also literary character costume parties for her students. At one such party, Ruth dressed up as the pregnant Lena Grove from Light in August, saying, “My, my, a body does get around.” More recently she, Peggy and Liza attended a literary costume party dressed as Daisy, Jordan and Myrtle from The Great Gatsby, one of Ruth’s favorite novels.

A longtime fan of poetry, Mrs. Bobo’s retirement dreams included creating and hosting a local access television show about poetry. She often gave friends a hardbound edition of the works of e. e. cummings, some of whose poems she had committed to memory: “one winter afternoon/(at the magical hour when is becomes if)/a bespangled clown/standing on eighth street/handed me a flower.”

Upon retirement at age 69, Mrs. Bobo, who had long battled the debilitating effects of rheumatoid arthritis, was hit with Parkinson’s disease. By the time she was 72, her mounting health concerns now required 24-hour in-home care. Relying on others was a hard pill for the always-independent Mrs. Bobo to swallow. The significant expense also drained her income. By October 2012, she was faced with the very real possibility of having to give up her home of 40 years for a long-term care facility that would not provide the intimate and continuous care she required. 

As a result, the “Save Mrs. Bobo” campaign was launched. When Arin Allen, a CHS class of ’92 alumnus, learned of Mrs. Bobo’s troubles, he joined with other concerned former students to create a donation website and numerous fundraisers, the goal of which was to offset the cost of Mrs. Bobo’s care and medication long enough for her to be able to remain in her home through her 80th birthday. Explaining what prompted him to help his favorite high school teacher, Mr. Allen spoke with passion.

“There are certain people in our lives whom 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 died four years shy of 80 but, according to the family, the community’s response made a tremendous difference: it helped her stay in her home until the end of her life. She was also deeply touched by the many letters, cards and visits she received as a result of the campaign. Her last request regarding the campaign was to thank everyone for all the love and support they showed her. The donations and well-wishes brought great joy and positive energy into Mrs. Bobo’s life in her final years.

Mrs. Bobo remained sharp as a tack until her final moments, inviting everyone to read to her, whether it be from a novel or the editorial section of the Los Angeles Times. Peggy lived with her sister the last three years of her life and they brought each other comfort and emotional support. Particularly sustaining was her “lunch bunch” —especially Jean Collinsworth, Emilia Trakovsky and Ann Donnan —for their love and friendship, including most recently the exquisite high-tea party they threw for this year’s birthday. Mrs. Bobo’s family wishes to express their gratitude for the dedicated work and loving companionship of her long-term caregivers, Donna, Julia, Geraldine, Margie, Kristina and Susanne.

She is predeceased by her sister Joan Mack and her brother Dan Moultrie. She is survived by her former husband and longtime friend, John Bobo; her daughter and son-in-law, Elizabeth Bobo and Michael Petersen; her son, Brian Bobo; her grandson, Henry Petersen; her sister, Peggy Henson; her sister-in-law, Carly Moultrie; her nieces, Susanne Hyvarinen, Melissa Moultrie and Emily Moultrie; her nephews, Scott McDoniel and Robert Hyvarinen; and several grand-nephews and grand-nieces. 

The visitation will be Thursday, June 19 from 4 to 8 p.m. at Todd Memorial Chapel, 325 N. Indian Hill Blvd. The memorial service will be Friday, June 20 at 11 a.m. at Claremont Presbyterian Church, 1111 N. Mountain Ave.  Friday’s service will be followed by a graveside service at Oak Park Cemetery.

 

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