Ruth Lature is a demonstrated overcomer. She grew up poor in the outskirts of Hopkinsville when government safety net programs were not as abundant as today.
“The only reason my parents were not on food stamps,” said Lature, “was that such did not exist, and they would have been too proud to accept them. Until I was 14 years old, my parents, brother and I lived in one average-size room and one other room about half that size.”
Lature, as an adult, helped organize and serve – for 42 years – as the dynamic executive director of Hopkinsville’s Dyslexia Association of the Pennyrile, a reading tutoring project helping hundreds to be better prepared to meet life’s everyday challenges. The program has fostered school success, personal confidence, and put many on the path to attaining good, fulfilling jobs. On that basis, Lature is considered by many to be a local icon for the good she has fostered in the community.
But besides being poor as a child, she faced another huge challenge during that time. “I had school phobia,” she related. At age 6, she was enrolled in a one-room school over a mile away from home. “Mother would walk me to school, and I would run away and beat her home,” Lature explained.
The anxiety problem, along with some physical illness, continued through her elementary school years, and frustrated young Ruth’s parents tried a different tact – home-schooling. “That went on until grade six, and then I was sent with my brother, five years younger, to another one-room school. There, my life changed,” she said. “By the end of the year, I had perfect attendance and I sobbed uncontrollably on the last day of school.”
The dramatic improvement in Lature’s school performance and anxiety level was precipitated by a “warm, supporting, loving lady who never criticized me in any way,” she said. “The teacher made the difference.” And though she would later face other difficult episodes in her academic career, she never forgot the inspiration an individual educator can have on young lives.
Lature proceeded to graduate from high school and college with honors. Her opportunity to attend Austin Peay State University as an education major was aided by an anonymous person who got her a Rotary Club loan. She worked two jobs. It was tough, but school had never been an easy endeavor in her young life. Lature’s student teaching involved working with a group of middle school students who struggled with reading, and the experience hooked her. She then enthusiastically accepted a middle school reading teacher position to start her professional career. “Thus the direction of my life was set,” said Lature. The next summer, she participated in a highly selective reading institute at George Peabody College in Nashville, where she received more training to deal with severe reading problems.
Her teaching career was now in full swing, and within several years she also attained her master’s degree in elementary education from George Peabody and the same in guidance and counseling from Austin Peay. Certainly not bad for a person who had to be dragged to school early in her childhood.
In summer 1970, Lature participated at the noted Dr. Charles Shedd’s groundbreaking dyslexic institute at Berea College. Shedd’s work involved an inexpensive and highly effective method. At the same time, events moved speedily for the young teacher from Hopkinsville and her community in regard to helping people with reading problems. “While I was working long hours and every other Saturday at Berea, a group of desperate parents and community leaders established what was then incorporated as the Christian County Association for Specific Learning Disabilities,” she said.
Lature quickly became a centerpiece of the organization. She was named a supervisor and “parent trainer,” was a leader and fed administrative and funding ideas to the board. And, of course, she taught students in the program. She carried these responsibilities, ironically, while working full-time in her regular teaching position. She not only brought work home, she kept work home. “My garage was our storehouse,” she said. “My husband and my cars were relegated to the driveway, and our house became the office.”
The program started with Saturday mornings, but later moved to Monday nights. A reasonable fee was charged to the parents for the two-and-a-half-hour, supervised instruction periods stretched over a fourteen-week period, with scholarships available for those in financial need. The association also soon became a United Way agency and received some of the necessary funding.
Over the years, long-term success stories came to light. “A mother of one of our students told me that he had a job where ‘he made more money than all the other children in the family made combined,’” said Lature. She also told of the sister who laughingly confided that her brother, formerly in Lature’s program, now had traveled the world during a very successful naval career. “I used to help him with his homework,” said the sister, “but the only place I’ve been is Tennessee.”
The person who battled severe school anxiety issues as a young student became one who dedicated nearly every waking minute to the educating of those with reading deficits, and she did it for over 40 years.
Joan Harris, who has known Lature since they were children, said: “She is my friend, my ‘sister,’ my confidante, and often my moral compass. She is the hero who has grown and changed but has never deviated from the highest principles of how to love the meaningful life: Open the mind and the heart and give to others. Ruth is a rare jewel and every facet is worth knowing.”
Presently, as she gracefully bows out from being actively involved, there are many who talk freely of the difference Lature made in her long tenure. Board member Dr. John H. Freer said Lature “set about in a very methodical, determined manner to educate and equip herself to teach and to raise the awareness of the schools and our community to help eliminate the stigma of ‘Dummy’ most frequently associated with the dyslexic.”
Jeannette Rook called her “a rare person in education.” Rook saw two of her sons see success under Lature and the program, including the oldest being a National Beta Club member in high school. “I have seen Ruth work with so many kids, and have seen where some try her patience. However, she works with them and is great at handling them,” said Rook. “She’s a person of integrity,” said Dr. Howard Willen, Lature’s minister at First United Methodist Church, Hopkinsville.
Carolyn Weimer, who calls Lature a “friend and mentor,” talked about the wide scope of Lature’s work: “She is keeping in contact with her congressmen (legislators) in Frankfort and is spending a lot of time writing letters and traveling to Frankfort to encourage our lawmakers to help these children and adults who are in desperate need of the chance to prove they can become, and are, a valuable asset to our world.”
Ruth Fuller Lature watched proudly on April 11 as Gov. Steve Beshear signed into state law House Bill 69, a measure that would greatly expand educational services to many persons with dyslexia across Kentucky.
Weimer summed up her praise by calling Lature “one of God’s unrecognized angels on earth. In spite of not having children of her own, she has been a wonderful mother to hundreds, if not thousands, of children who would have needlessly struggled in school.”
“The purpose of life is to count, to matter, to make a difference,” explained Lature. “I found my purpose and I hope I made a difference.”
Steve Flairty is a lifelong Kentuckian, a teacher, public speaker and an author of four books: a biography of Kentucky Afield host Tim Farmer and three in the “Kentucky’s Everyday Heroes” series. All of Steve’s books are available around the state or from the author. Steve is a senior correspondent for Kentucky Monthly as well as being a weekly KyForward contributor. Watch his KyForward columns for excerpts from all his books. This story is from “Kentucky’s Everyday Heroes #3,” due to be released in December 2012. His most recent book, Kentucky’s “Everyday Heroes for Kids” is now available at local bookstores. Or contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or “friend” him on Facebook.