Ruth Olson died peacefully on January 19, 2015 after her long journey through metastatic breast cancer. How fitting that such a devoted advocate for pregnant mothers and unborn babies died the night after Sanctity of Human Life Sunday.
Poured out onto her family, church, community, and beyond, Ruth’s lifelong gifts of service are a legacy worth commemorating. In honoring Ruth, we honor the God who infused her with trailblazing talents, ministry leadership, and a passion to share Jesus’ love.
A memorable impression of Ruth was her rich, full soprano singing voice and the excitement she brought to praise and worship gatherings. Ruth sang like a soloist, with the vibrato, projection, and descants of a soprano star, but she stayed focused on the God she was praising. In the early 1970s, as a distracted kid looking around at church members singing with closed eyes, I curiously noticed that the adults, Ruth included, were focused on worship and purposeful about the lyrics. Ruth never knew that she had at least one kid marveling at how her vibrato worked.
Ruth was a trailblazer in many different aspects of her life. In a generation where tradition dictated that women should not wear long hair after age forty, Ruth kept her wavy black hair long and full. Not until decades later, after many rounds of chemotherapy, did Ruth keep her salt and pepper waves above shoulder length.
In ministry and otherwise, Ruth always functioned with her husband Jerry’s support and collaboration. Whether they counseled families together or he backed her outreach to women, Ruth and Jerry were partners in their service to God. Occasionally, couples would show up at the Olson’s house at 10:30 at night, desperate for marriage counseling. Jerry and Ruth would drop everything, offer their hospitality, and pour God’s love into hurting lives, no matter who came to their door. When they weren’t ministering at night, the Olsons occasionally chased their cows that had escaped the fenced pasture. As a child, my impression of Jerry and Ruth was that they were night owls – dealing either with angry couples or wayward cows.
Long before the ease of clip art, printing a bulletin involved hours of typing up stencils and making mimeographed copies. As church secretary, Ruth often drew unique little pictures to add to the bulletin. Her gifts of organization, artistic skills, and heartfelt writing blessed many people in her role of secretary, and also in her later life roles of pastor’s wife, counselor, speaker, and author. Using church bulletins, newsletters, and her self-published books, Ruth continued to communicate her faith and love for Jesus through the printed word.
Many women’s groups were blessed by Ruth’s ministry of speaking and teaching God’s Word. My mother’s role was to sit in the back row and intercede for God’s truth and blessing during these events. After the message, Ruth would spend hours ministering to women one-on-one: listening, encouraging, and praying with them. My mother returned from those outreaches exhausted, wondering how Ruth could continue to give so much to so many, especially the additional ministry after she spoke.
Although Ruth focused her ministry on local outreaches, such as founding a pregnancy assistance center in Red Wing and speaking at Women’s Aglow meetings, her Gentle Doves ministry reached far beyond the region. Ruth’s goal in writing Gentle Doves, a Christian newsletter, was to encourage women in their walk with the Lord. The monthly magazine contained articles on topics as varied as end-time prophecy, pro-life perspective, and household helps. In the late 1980s, my parents used a dot matrix printer to print address labels. Then they gathered with other volunteers at their dining room table to label and sort the mail by hand. At its peak, the newsletter was mailed out to over 1500 people in the United States and internationally. Ruth later expanded the Gentle Doves magazine to an online presence with Bible studies, articles, book descriptions, and her blog.
Before self-publishing was easy or common, Ruth self-published several books and made them available during her speaking presentations. Ruth’s last book chronicled her adjustment to the diagnosis of breast cancer from her perspective as a retired registered nurse. She shared what she learned, her selfless motivation evidenced by the title, My Gift to You: Encouragement During a Cancer Crisis. The long journey Ruth faced through breast cancer and subsequent bone metastasis became her ministry outreach to those facing the same diagnosis. Her calm dignity and constant focus on Jesus’ love for others were the hallmarks of her approach to cancer.
When her health declined and she could no longer attend speaking engagements, Ruth’s heart for ministry never wavered. Recently, she focused her efforts on personally supporting, and raising money for, impoverished families in Africa. One of her last outings, as breathing and walking were an obvious struggle, was spent wiring monetary support to an African pastor.
Ruth lived her life pursuing God’s work and ministering wherever God called her. May Ruth Olson’s legacy inspire us to passionately serve the amazing God she loved and lived for.
[Originally posted February 2015]