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101 and Counting!

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Ruth Colvin, 101

By Larry Hayes
At 101, Ruth Colvin—a pioneer in adult literacy education–has seen and hear it all.

I had the honor of interviewing Ruth recently at the Santa Clara City Library hosted by Read Santa Clara and Vision Literacy—two nonprofits providing adult literacy programs in the San Francisco Bay Area.

The reason I was asked was due to my background in adult literacy going back to my graduate days at Syracuse University from 1968-70 studying Literacy Journalism under Dr. Bob Laubach, son of legendary Dr. Frank C. Laubach, the father of adult literacy.

It turns out that Ruth launched her adult literacy program Literacy Volunteers of America, in 1962 in Syracuse. A few years after Dr. Frank Laubach launched Laubach Literacy in 1955. Interesting that both started in Syracuse. She knew Dr. Frank and Dr. Bob but our paths never crossed.

From research, I knew that Ruth had an amazing resume: author of nine books, taught literacy training in 26 developing countries, received the President’s Volunteer Action Award from President Ronald Regan in 1987, the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President George W. Bush in 2006 and inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame in 1991.

Amazing! What an inspiring person at any age. In all honestly, I didn’t know what to expect meeting Ruth for the first time at age 101.

Could she still walk? Talk? Hear? See? I only know one person age 100+ and that person is confined to a wheelchair and unable to engage in a conversation.

Then I meet Ruth. Shattering all the stereotypes we have about the elderly.  Walking upright, proud, without a walker. Alert and articulate. Responded to everything I asked and then asked me some hard questions!

Full of life, fun and high energy. I was truly impressed and inspired. At 101, Ruth continues to work with students as a tutor at Literacy NYC and serves on the board of ProLiteracy, the largest adult literacy nonprofit in the U.S.

During my lifetime, I have known only three truly outstanding individuals making a difference in this world—Dr. Frank C. Laubach, Dr. Walter M. Bortz, II and now Ruth Colvin.

P.S. She is the commencement speaker at Le Moyne College in Syracuse, NY in May. Still going strong!

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