Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Obituary: Ruth (Harris) Garner - Class of 1963

CHICAGO - Ruth Garner died of complications related to multiple myeloma at her home in Chicago, Saturday, July 15, 2006, following years of chronic illness. She was born Jan. 17, 1945, in Rockford, Ill. She attended school from elementary through high school (Randall, Hoyt and Central) in Madison, always ranking at the top of her class and was a spelling bee champion. After graduating from the University of Wisconsin, she taught elementary and middle school in the Madison public school system. Those who knew academic talent wondered why she didn't go directly to graduate school, but she reminded them that sixth grade was a pivotal year in children's lives. A few years later, she returned for her master's and doctorate degrees from the UW-Madison and moved into teaching, research, and leadership roles at the University of Maryland, Washington State University, Michigan State University, the University of Illinois at Chicago, and held a visiting scholar post in the Department of Psychology at Stanford University. She is survived and will be missed by her husband of 20 years, Mark Gillingham of Chicago; a sister, Betty Harris Custer (Corkey) of Madison; a brother, Bob Harris (Nancy) of San Carlos, Calif.; nieces and nephews including, Genevieve Custer Weeks (Andrew) of Emeryville, Calif., and Jamie Custer of Madison; and countless friends and colleagues, including former husband, Jim Garner of Madison. She was preceded in death by her parents, Ruth Meyers Harris and Bob (Boomer) Harris. Her life was one of learning both as a student and teacher. She was a voracious reader and author of four books, including "Hanging Out: Community Based After School Programs for Children," "Metacognition and Reading Comprehension," "Beliefs About Text" and "Instruction with Text" and a hundred articles. Her writing attempted to shine light on obscure or difficult problems. Ruth believed in place - that context mattered. She studied her own context and that of others whether it was her own teaching or a child struggling to read. Ruth was a brilliant teacher and speaker. Her courses were always in high demand. Parents of her middle-school students jockeyed to get their kids in her room. She had more graduate students than she should have had and still had time to help many students who were not her own. She was sought after as a lecturer across the country and could speak to thousands and seem to reach each audience member individually. She got the highest teaching ratings ever given by the department for a psychology course, which was taught to three locations at once using a video feed. Even in her final weeks of life as illness took its toll, she was sending forth a proposal for a new book. There will be a celebration of Ruth's life and work at a future date close to Thanksgiving. Proceeds from her book with her husband, "Hanging Out," were given to the Children's Defense Fund. It is the family's desire to benefit a local program that also works with children's needs, and they ask that memorials in her name be made to the Community Education Center, an innovative learning center to be built by the Wexford Ridge Neighborhood Center. Checks may be sent to the Wexford Ridge Neighborhood Center, 7011 Flower Lane A/C, Madison, WI 53717; or the Madison Community Foundation, 2 Science Ct., Madison, WI 53711, earmarked for the Ruth Garner memorial to the Community Education Center, which is an endeavor chaired by Ruth's sister Betty Harris Custer. Ruth felt passionately about many things: her work, her family, good wine and food, beautiful vistas and sunsets, politics, the state of the world and its young people and how they are educated. The world has been a better place for her presence and her passion and she will be sorely missed.

Originally published in the Wisconsin State Journal on July 19, 2006


D Strand said...

I was never really close to Ruth, but I knew her and remember her. As a high school student she was a little more mature than the rest of us I remember, studious but very aware socially and caring. I liked her; Ruth was very likeable and I am saddened by her passing. I wish that I had known her better but she was two years ahead of me in school. I believe that she is in Heaven know with her Mother and Father.

Anonymous said...

I had Mrs. Garner as a 6th grade student at Cherokee back in 1970. She was a wonderful teacher, and these many years later I remember her fondly.

My thoughts are with her family.

Erik Phelps