Ruth Mary Parks Rooney, J37

Biography

Ruth Mary Parks Rooney, J37

Ruth Mary Parks Rooney, J37

Born in Stoneham, Massachusetts, Ruth Parks Rooney, J37, learned about Tufts from her family. Two uncles were Tufts graduates, and she remembers visits to one uncle's home always included sing-alongs from a treasured songbook. Other families were also influenced to think Tufts: a sister (Class of 1933), her brother (Class of 1938), and a cousin (Class of 1937). Like so many students struggling to pay the $300 annual tuition, Ruth found commuting the only affordable option, and so she lived at home. As her father was a railroad conductor, she also enjoyed a free rail pass to and from the Tufts College railroad station that once stood along College Avenue.

After Tufts, confronted by few career opportunities, she lived at home and endured a secretarial job at a local company. "I stayed with the head man for 11 years, bored out of my mind. [He was] getting wonderful typing—I could do up to 100 words a minute and all of that—but I wasn't interested." Then, at age 32, she took a long shot and responded to an opening for a recreation director for the Army. That led to a two-year stint in Europe, during which she married. The marriage would end in divorce several years later, leaving Ruth in Massachusetts with four children and no income. Luckily, her English training at Tufts came in handy for her job as a reporter at the Leominster (Massachusetts) newspaper. She later earned her teaching certification and taught high school English in Leominster, retiring after 17 years in 1982.

She still lives in Leominster in a tiny cottage crowded with houseplants, family photos and gifts from her children and grandchildren (including a Cabbage Patch doll named "Ruth," dressed in a Red Sox uniform, revealing her devotion to the Boston Red Sox).


Interview Excerpt

Ruth Mary Parks Rooney, J37

On the academic decision to study English

"Now my sister was a French major. My sister is a super-intelligent person, and she wanted to teach French. She graduated in '33 and there were zippo teaching jobs. She said, 'For heaven sakes, don't take any education courses. You'll be bored out of your mind, and you'll never get a job.' But I loved languages, so I went in as a French major. Stuck to it for two years, and then they introduced 17th-century French literature. And I said, 'Oh, you know, I wasn't interested in it anymore.' So I just automatically went to English."

On faculty

"Looking back, I can hardly remember my English courses. [But] I remember Bob Nichols. I'll never forget Bob Nichols in geology. What I remember particularly about him was his field trips. One of them was down, I think it probably was Roxbury, and we learned about the [puddingstone]. And we went to Winchester to the Blueberry Mountain with our little pans to get specimens. And I remember as we were going through Boston one time, he stopped the bus for us all to see a moraine. Did you ever study geology? It's the end of where the glacier is. And as it melts and falls back, this pile of dirt that it's pushed up stays. They're all over the place. But most of them had been destroyed when people built. But this one was a perfect moraine covered with grass and with trees on it. But you could tell that was where all the dirt was pushed, but I can't remember where that was. My goodness, this is a long time ago."

Ruth recalls an occasion when she was embarrassed by a well-meaning professor. "I think it was [Professor] Ransom. I went into class, oh, this was the beginning of a semester, and I sat down and a fellow came and sat beside me, and we chatted. And Ransom came in and looked us all over, and he said, 'Oh, Mr. Cant is sitting in Miss Parks' chair so Ruth Parks 'can't park there.' And here I am . . . everybody looking at me. That's embarrassing to a 17-year-old college student. He was a great guy, anyway, with his black beard. I remember him very well."

On work and money

Ruth worked a summer job as a camp waterfront instructor and had an ongoing job at Tufts at Eaton Library. "My closest association was in the library. Being off hill, I spent a lot of time in the library instead of walking down the hill to the hill rooms, which were down in Richardson. Instead of going all the way down there, I'd go in the library in my spare time. And I eventually got a job in the library. If I had a class, and no class, and then another class, I'd work the desk for an hour. And I did that for a while. And then Roosevelt's New Deal stuff started NYA, which I think stood for National Youth Agency. And I would work doing that cataloging. One of the things I did was painting the numbers, Dewey Decimal numbers, on the spines of the books. We had to cover the spine with something, a shiny paint, like a dark red or something, and then we'd do the numbers. The white paint was not very good or easy to do, but we'd probably use—I've forgotten whether it was toothpicks or what. And Christmas vacation, I worked from Monday 'til Friday, with about four other kids cleaning the stacks, which hadn't been cleaned down the cellars forever. And I got 25 cents an hour, so at the end of the week I had $10. And I think I bought two books with it. My biggest thing was having a nickel to spend and I would buy a Goodbar. We'd go downstairs to the bookstore, which was down underneath the library.

"On our class day, I got an award and the one I wanted to show it to was Miss Hooper. I went right down to the library to show it to her. And not only that, she brought her cap and gown in for me to wear at commencement so I wouldn't have to rent one. So I was really a librarian."

Ruth received the award for being chair of the Outing Club and a "scholar-athlete."

On extracurricular activities

"I was the Off-Hill Representative my senior year. And I remember working with the Student Council to get a little electric plate put in down there (in Richardson House). Oh, that [kind of thing] was never allowed, you know. You had to carry a sandwich. There was nothing there. So I got that put in.

"I played field hockey for four years. That's my love. I'd played hockey in high school the whole time. And, oh, God, field hockey I dearly loved. And then I went into basketball, which I played all the time. I never was the top player in basketball like I was center forward in field hockey. And I remember when I was in high school, there was an article in the paper about field hockey and it said something about 'Speedy Ruth' or something like that. Can you believe?

Well, anyway, my last thing in senior year was when I ruined my knee in basketball. We were playing with another college. We only played about four colleges, played four games a year. I jumped up for the ball, and I came down and I was flat on the floor. I didn't even feel my leg hitting or anything, but I stretched the ligament right here, and this is what they call a trick knee. The doctor told me that if I didn't stop this activity I'd be crippled or something, I don't know, he had something to say." [When asked how Jackson students competed, Ruth describes a loose arrangement with three other colleges: Pembroke, Radcliffe and Wheaton.]

On the Depression

"We didn't have any money (for even a snack). Didn't have any money for anything like that. Nope. No, this was at the peak of the Depression. (But) so what? Everybody had no money. When my daughter went to college, I was teaching and you can imagine the income. She got such good grades in her freshman year that she got her tuition from then on and she'd work all summer at Dunkin' Donuts and pay for her room and board, and then every month I'd hand her $25 or $30 for her to live on. My folks couldn't even have done that.

"For instance, my brother graduated from Tufts a year ahead of me, and he went to work—I think it was in Lawrence in an office. Entry job. And by the end of summer, he couldn't take it. Couldn't take it. And he had been accepted at Harvard Law, so he went to my father and told him that he just couldn't take it anymore, and my father says, 'How are you going to pay for [it]?" I was his fourth going to college. I had a sister who went to BU and my next sister was at Tufts and my brother was at Tufts and then I come along. So they made an arrangement and my brother signed a paper for my father, and my father paid all his tuition from then on for the three years. As my brother had money, he'd pay him back, and he paid every cent back."

On the Reservoir (the Rez)

"That had nothing to do with me. That was for people who lived in the dorms. I knew where it was, and I would walk over to the Medford-Hillside railroad station. I'd walk over to that."

On traditions

"Not living on the campus made a big difference. Usually, as soon as school was over, I'd take a train home. In fact, the few times when I'd stay for something, a basketball game or something, and nobody had a car, sometimes I'd get a ride. I would have to go by bus or trolley to Medford Square, take a bus—a trolley—from there out on Salem Street to the Fellsway and then I'd wait forever in the middle of the night, no place for shelter, and the trolley would go through the Fellsway into Stoneham. It would take forever. But being off hill is a completely different way of life. You forget that. But in college it was very obvious. Very obvious."

On social activities (audio unavailable)

"I went to Tufts with my high school boyfriend. He was a Delta Tau Delta. My uncles were both Delta Tau Delta. My brother is a Delta Tau Delta, and a cousin and this boyfriend. We'd been very close in high school, and in college we were pretty close, but not as much, and I remember one thing. I'd go to Delta on a Sunday afternoon to a tea dance and I'd feel very out of place because they were fraternity and sorority people, and I wasn't dressed for tea dances. But I'd go. My boyfriend was there and we'd go and dance, but I never had any connection with others. Although, at my 60th Reunion, my daughter went to drive me, as a matter of fact, and we were sitting at the table and across the table was Jack Mugar. Of course, he had black hair in high school. Now he's all white, and he said something about Ruth Parks, and I said 'yes.' He said, 'The one who talks?' [Laughter] So he remembered that, but it was through reunions because I didn't have anything to do with him in college.

"But my boyfriend and I went out dancing about every week. We'd go to Revere Beach. Canobie Lake was outdoors, and the one in Lynnfield was a gorgeous outdoor dance place. There was a place in Lowell and Lawrence. We were at dances all the time, and a friend of ours had us go to his church over in Melrose. They had a dance. We went over there. Oh, God. We never went into Somerville at all for anything. Never. Never. Ours was, as I say, Lowell and Lawrence, and Salem, New Hampshire. Now, when I moved here, everything was Hampton Beach. Hampton Beach. That's all they talk about. But we'd go to Craig Beach. My mother would take us to Nahant and Swampscott, all of those beaches, and the Cape, and of course the mountains.

"I think it was my 50th Reunion. I went to it, and I entered where they were all registering and there were about five or six women who looked familiar to me. So I went over to them, and they all looked at me very strange and I said, "I was Ruth Parks, and the one down in front says, 'but you were a blonde.' Now that's all she remembered of me, and I was. I was a platinum blonde. But when I came back from overseas I was turning, and my hair gets darker now. It gets darker all the time. But it's funny. She remembered me as a blonde. Mugar remembered that I talked. Oh, God. What a reputation.

"But it's strange because my son, as I say, is a funeral director, and he's forever coming and saying, 'So-and-so asked for you.' Last week he came and I couldn't remember this person at all. I had him in Advanced English. I couldn't believe it and I think he told my son that his wife was also one of my students, and he says, 'Oh, we got along so well with your mother. She was so motherly.' But it's funny about the motherly [part] because when my son told me that, I said 'Well, OK, that's my personality. But did he learn anything?' That's what I want to know."