Ruth Ann Strassburg loved children, books and music.
She was a teacher who began her career in a one-room schoolhouse and who taught at schools in various Wisconsin communities.
After moving to Waupaca in 1973 with her husband, Carl, she started Waupaca Preschool. In that role, she would continue to have an impact on children.
“Ruth Ann seemed to be born for this particular job,” Carl said of his wife, who passed away on March 17 at the age of 91. “There isn’t anybody I have met who understood children as she did and was able to motivate the way she did, and that includes my experience as a principal.”
He said Ruth Ann had an immediate connection with children.
“She was greeted every morning with dozens of greetings,” he said. “She knew their names, families, backgrounds, weaknesses and strengths.”
This month, the memory of Ruth Ann is being honored with Story Time with Mrs. Strassburg.
The project has been organized by Jeanne Bootz, a longtime friend, and by Ellen Davis, owner of Dragonwings Bookstore.
Throughout the month of September, people may visit the bookstore and select and purchase books that will be donated in her memory to Creative Caring Hearts, Waupaca Preschool and the children’s department at the Waupaca Area Public Library.
“She supported all of those,” Bootz said.
And, it means that infants to children of elementary age will benefit from this project.
Each book that is donated will have a template inside of it that says it was donated in memory of Ruth Ann.
Those who purchase books and donate them can, if they want to, choose where the book will be donated to. People can also purchase gift cards that will then be given to the organizations.
In addition, Dragonwings will donate 15 percent of its purchases in gift cards or books.
Plans include having a photo board at the store. Her former preschool students will be able to also share pictures and stories, which will be returned to them.
The display will be up throughout September, and plans also call for an event where people, including Carl, will read to children.
Ruth Ann was born in August, and Davis and Bootz agreed that with children going back to school now, September was the perfect month for the project.
Ruth Ann loved Dragonwings, and as she became older, often called Davis to talk about books.
Davis said that picture books were Ruth Ann’s favorites.
“She loved beautiful illustrations, pop-up books and poetry for children,” Davis said. “I would always call her when poetry came in for children.”
Davis said she spent a lot of time on the phone with Ruth Ann discussing new books.
“She was always on top of what’s new,” Davis said.
Davis would then put together a bag of books for Ruth Ann to look at. Sometimes, she delivered the bag to her. Other times, Carl picked them up.
Ruth Ann would then decide which books she wanted to buy, and she gave them away to children.
“She had specific children – children she made a connection with in one way or another – that she would send them to,” Davis said.
Bootz said Ruth Ann would not wait for a child’s birthday to send him or her a book. “Some days, it was just because it was maybe a good day to get a book,” she said of Ruth Ann, who always enjoyed writing letters.
Ruth Ann read several newspapers a day, which is why she was always aware of new books for children.
When Carl and Ruth Ann moved to Waupaca, Carl became the assistant superintendent of schools here and was near the end of his career.
Bootz said that according to Jan Bergen, who in later years became involved in Waupaca Preschool, Ruth Ann was looking for something to do with children that did not mean teaching in the school district.
She volunteered by playing piano while giving lessons, and became known as the “music lady.”
In the early 1970s, Evie Brown was working as a teacher in the preschool for disabled children. Ruth Ann began volunteering there as the music lady.
When the Handicapped Preschool moved to Manawa in 1975, Brown considered retiring.
Then, Ruth Ann presented Brown with the idea of opening a preschool in Waupaca and Brown agreed to start it with her.
The license for the preschool was issued on Nov. 11, 1976, said Jeanne McDaniel, who is the current executive director of Waupaca Preschool. The preschool has always been nonprofit and licensed for 3-, 4- and 5-year-old children.
McDaniel said that since 1976, approximately 2,200 children have been served by Waupaca Preschool and that the philosophy of the preschool has not changed: work with children to get them to love school.
Ruth Ann and Carl met in Merrill, married and had three children – Brian, John and Carla.
Ruth Ann also loved music and won scholarships to attend the University of Chicago Summer Music School. She received her elementary teaching certificate from Lincoln County Normal School.
John Strassburg said that for both of his parents, education was their life.
“I can’t speak of one without the other,” he said. “They were both supportive of each other and of education.”