Remembering Ruth Waller

Jessie Hellmann

Ruth Waller was free-spirited, gentle, caring and a “miracle woman.” She was a mother, wife and pioneer for women’s athletics and intramurals during her 36-year career at USI.

Ruth passed away after a battle with cancer and illness Saturday morning. Despite having a bout with breast cancer in the 80s and losing her eye to brain tumors, she continued to smile and make the best out of every scenario, said Ruth’s daughter, 29-year-old Kristin Dahmer.

“She was by far the best mom we could ever ask for,” Dahmer said. “With everything she accomplished and battled all her life, she continued to have a smile, always laughing and making the best out of every scenario. She was just a remarkable woman, and I idolized her. I wish I could be a quarter of what she was.”

Dahmer said her mom never gave up.

“Even up to the day she passed, she battled her hardest to get through this, and she always smiled about it and said ‘I’ll get better, it’ll just take me a little bit longer this time,’” Dahmer said.

Ruth created USI’s women’s sports programs during the early days of Title IX, starting the push to get it enforced at the university.

She coached women’s basketball for nine of its first 10 years. She also began and coached the USI softball team, and was also the first women’s tennis coach. She was inducted into the USI Athletic Hall of Fame in 2008 and chosen as a USI Phenomenal Woman in 2007.

Throughout her dedication to the university, Ruth continued to be a great mother, and she always put her family first.

“As a mother, she worked and had a career, and was a mom and wife, and gave it her all,” Dahmer said. “She was always at our events. Even with her career, she always put her family first.”

Athletic Director Jon Mark Hall said Ruth was a pioneer in women’s athletics at USI.

“She did some great things in her department,” Hall said. “She was aggressive in trying to promote women’s athletics on campus. She was aggressive and heavily involved with coaching these programs.”

After her coaching career, she worked with USI’s recreation and fitness programs.

Barry Schonberger, former dean of students, worked with Ruth starting when she came to USI in 1974, he said.

“I had the opportunity to work with Ruth from the very first day she came to the university, and she was a real groundbreaker in many, many ways,” Schonberger said. “She was extremely creative and developed our intramural program into a program that wasn’t just team sports, but a program that allowed students to have fun in situations where it wasn’t competitive.”

He said he will remember her for her creativity, especially.

“I can remember a time she bought a huge blow-up soccer ball that’s like five feet across and said, ‘Okay, what are we going to use this for?’” he said. “That’s what was so special about her – her creativity, and she just wanted students to be able to interact and have fun.”

Ruth dedicated a lot of her spare time to the university, he said.

“It wasn’t unusual for Ruth to be out and doing intramural programs well past midnight,” Schonberger said. “There’s no question she was dedicated to making sure USI students had good experiences.”

Dave Enzler, Recreation, Fitness and Wellness Center director, said a large part of what the RFCW offers is possible because of Ruth.

“We are not the traditional intramural program,” Enzler said. “We have disc golf, glow bowling, fun nights, things we do which are not necessarily traditional but helped us reach so many more students.”

Beyond leaving behind a legacy at USI, Ruth also left behind a family, including her only grandson – five-year-old Luke Dahmer, with whom she played Candy Land, even while she was in the hospital at Louisville, Ky., where she eventually passed away.

But just because she’s gone doesn’t mean she’s forgotten.

 “She was the rock of the family,” Dahmer said. “We’re going to miss her very dearly and hold onto those memories that we have of her and know that she’s looking down on us, being our angel and always [being] there every step of the way.”