As I’ve said many times in this column, Waunakee is very fortunate to have so many caring individuals give of their talents and time to make our community a better place.

One individual who made an impact on so many lives during her two careers in Waunakee died Feb. 3. Her story serves as an inspiration.

For more than 20 years, Ruth Quam was a teacher at St. John’s School, and after she retired in 1994, she became involved in the senior services offered then in the old Waunakee library’s basement. According to Cindy Mosiman, the current director of the Waunakee Area Senior Center, Ruth was the impetus behind Waunakee’s senior citizens programs as they exist today.

In 2001, when she retired from that second career, she told the Tribune that when she started, “There was no senior programming. It was a huge challenge to see if there was a need.”

I wrote that story then, calling Ruth a “pioneer” in the headline. For the first six years of my career as a reporter in Waunakee, I worked with Ruth professionally, covering stories about the center and events. By then, the senior center had its own established space in the Country View Apartments building where older adults could get blood pressure and other health-related checks, play cards and have lunch.

Cindy told me Ruth started the Waunakee meals site after the Senior Center moved into the Reeve Drive apartment building site in ’95.

“She went to Dane County and was able to show the need for there to be a nutrition site,” Cindy said. “She laid the structure. If she hadn’t done what she did at that time, I don’t think we’d be where we are today.”

Ruth also demonstrated a need for transportation, and when it came time to find case managers, she made that so, as well.

“They did that only in Dane County, and she thought that was a great idea,” Cindy said.

Cindy said Ruth recruited her friends as volunteers.

Ruth came to the role of senior center director with no experience in senior services. She received training through Dane County’s Adult Services Program, attended university classes, and asked for help from the 16 other senior services directors working across the county. This was all after she was retired from her teaching career.

Long after Ruth retired for good, I became acquainted with her again. I had begun swimming mornings at the Waunakee High School, often at the same time as a group of women gathered for water aerobics each morning.

Ruth was always friendly, but perhaps what I most appreciated about her was her authenticity. She had a fun sense of humor but was always just real, saying exactly what she meant and felt. It always felt good to see her in the locker room, even if we were just talking about the weather.

Our lives are lived to the fullest when we leave our communities a better place, and Ruth certainly did that. The example she set showed us not to let fear of the unknown stop us from realizing our goals. If you want to do something, even if you have no experience, you can learn the skills to get it done, just as Ruth did. Anything is possible when we try.

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