Keeping Up with the Times

By Dani Villalobos, contributing writer

Ruth Colvin enjoys reading classic literature in her home.

Ruth Colvin, who turns 95 this month, still plays 18 holes of golf every day the weather allows. In addition, she works out 45-minutes daily, and rewards herself by teeing off with the putting machine in her Syracuse home. Colvin, founder of the world-wide educational organization ProLiteracy, said she believes in keeping up her physical and mental health to successfully continue her work. And even after authoring 11 books and being inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame, the lifetime learning advocate doesn’t plan on slowing down anytime soon.

Q: You received a Bachelor of Science from Syracuse University in 1959. Why pursue an issue relating to literacy?

A: I had no idea that I would be doing this. I’m an avid reader and when the 1960 census came out that there were over 11,000 functional illiterates in Syracuse … I was shocked and invited people from the Board of Education in from all the different civic groups to come and said, “Someone should be doing something.” Nobody offered, so this is why I started it, having no idea that it would go beyond Syracuse. One of the ways that I did it was taking professional methods and adapting them. I took them out of the gobbledegook of the Ph.D. and put them into layman’s language. That’s what I’ve done. I’ve written books and worked with a lot of people.

Q: Speaking of books, how does your new book “Off the Beaten Path” compare to past publications?

A: All of my other books surround literacy, but this is about people I’ve met in our travels. Remember, I’m old so I’ve been to 62 countries and I’ve worked in 26 developing countries. In this book, my main interest is people so I have stories about people from all of these different countries and I’ve got it in my computer. When Syracuse University Press was interested in doing a new book, they wanted a memoir and I wasn’t interested in that. I am interested in telling these stories, and they said that’s what we want. So these are stories from all around the world, and we decided to pick nine countries, with 90 stories in the book. This is what I do, but of course, ProLiteracy is the organization that I’m working through.

Q: ProLiteracy has nearly 1,000 affiliates across the United States, and is continuing to delve into new areas like the upcoming move into the Near West Side. How are you adapting to all of these changes?

A: I’ve been blessed with good health, blessed with great friends and blessed with a mind that is willing to adapt, willing to learn. Peoples’ minds are closed, whether by bias or prejudice. I say you have got to have an open mind. It’s a new world out there, and I want to be included. I keep up with email and I have an iPad. You just try to keep up with things as best you can.

Q: What motivates you to continue doing this at 95? Do you think you’ll ever feel that your work is done?

A: When you find your niche, your passion that is one thing that invigorates you to go on. At my age, I do what I can to teach others to follow me. As I say, you’re dropping the pebble, planting the seed and hoping that it goes on and on. If you don’t have that passion, you’re life becomes less interesting and well, boring. It’s never dull around here. This is why there are always new ways to do what I’m doing, new ways to learn within and outside of my field. I thought it was done 20 years ago, but it keeps going. As long as I can keep that balance of physical, mental and spiritual, I’ll keep going for who knows how long.

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