Remembering Ruth Bebber

Recently, students, faculty and community members all mourned the loss of a unique retired Southern Oregon University professor.

Ruth Bebber, who taught at SOU (then Southern Oregon College) from 1954-86, possessed a powerful drive and was truly a woman ahead of her time.

When the norm for women was to marry young and produce a family, Bebber pursued her doctorate of philosophy in health and education at the University of Southern California in 1956. She brought American culture and American folk dance classes to many South Koreans while working as an exchange teacher at Dan Kook University in Seoul.

SOU remembers Bebber as a master teacher, and her passion influenced hundreds of student-teachers to love their chosen profession as she did. Those who worked with Bebber remember her sharp intellect and sweet demeanor.

A true independent spirit, Bebber paid for her education by herself and with help from VA loans, which she received after serving in the military as an aviation technician. Bebber was the sole female in a squadron of 29 men, and in the evening she played trombone in the Navy band. Though she was the isolated female, she had a reputation as a strong and capable worker, as well as being respected by all of the men in her troop.

After joining SOU, Bebber became the swim coach for the school team and secretly paid for the women's team's traveling expenses, as there was no funding at that time. She was very interested in supporting and strengthening the health and fitness department.

Bebber was also a strong supporter of the community, serving as president of different organizations including the SOU chapter of Phi Kappa Phi, the Jackson County Chapter of the American Association of University Women and the state president of the Oregon Chapter of Business and Professional Women.

Bebber wrote her graduation thesis on the importance of breast feeding. She contacted Rogue Valley doctors to explain the benefits of natural childbirth techniques and the Lamaz method. She was also known to travel with a yogurt maker and buckwheat pancake mix, nutrition always a top priority.

"She really was a woman ahead of her time," Bebber's niece, Luara Dennison, said. "When I was young she made me stop eating margarine. She said it was full of trans fats and explained how harmful they were. At that time, there was not the same health-conscious mentality, but she was so interested in that area of study."

It is women like Bebber who helped change the feminine norm. She was a positive example for young female students, as well as a strong supporter of women in the community. Women of this caliber helped open the door for those of us who believe that academic, professional and personal potential are not defined by gender. While women of this time period had few mentors themselves, they became our role models.

She had the strength and audacity to do what most women were afraid to attempt: take on the masculine role with grace and charm, like only a woman can. As a female student, I recognize the importance of strong female role-models, especially in the field of academia, where female professors are still paid less (on average) than male professors and are still judged with bias on capabilities that some believe their gender may imply.

Bebber and the support she brought to the university and community will truly be missed, and we can only hope that her passion lives on in the hearts of individuals whom she inspired with her fierce intellect and independence. We must not forget women like Bebber, who hoped to encourage all whom she touched.

Bebber was a member of our Lady of the Mountain Catholic Church, and a Mass of Celebration followed by a reception will be held there on Tuesday, June 24, at 8 a.m. at 987 Hillview Drive, Ashland. For more information, contact Laura Dennison at (505) 417-6616.

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