Ruth Wolf Page — writer, editor, radio commentator and student of the natural world — died Sunday, October 30, 2016, at Wake Robin in Shelburne two weeks after suffering a stroke. She was 95.
Ruth was a leader in the generation of women who began to rethink their lives and pursue careers in what had been a man’s world. She was known throughout Vermont for her many years as a voice on National Public Radio and Vermont Public Radio, first as the presenter of “Ruth Page’s Gardening Journal” and later for narrated essays on the wonders of nature and human threats to the environment. But those commentaries came toward the end of her long career, first as a small-town weekly newspaper journalist and then as editor of the monthly magazine of the National Gardening Association.
She was a thorough reporter and an engaging columnist; as an editorial writer, she was often the lone liberal voice on Vermont opinion pages in the late 1950s and 1960s. At a time when most wives and mothers did not work outside the home, Ruth juggled reporting, writing and editing with raising three children and serving on a series of public and private governing boards.
She was born on March 8, 1921, in Upper Darby, Pa., the daughter of Morris and Hilda (Yerpe) Wolf. She attended schools in Upper Darby and graduated summa cum laude from Swarthmore College in 1942. She soon moved to New York City, where she served as an executive assistant to the director of the Book Publishers’ Bureau. She shared a Greenwich Village apartment with four Swarthmore friends. Across the street, an apartment was occupied by four Vermont soldiers who called themselves the Green Mountain Boys. One of them was Proctor Page Jr., with whom she fell in love. When Proc returned from his counterintelligence assignment in India, they were married on March 8, 1945.
After the war, they returned to Proc’s home in Burlington, Vt., where Proc went to work for the Lane Press and Ruth worked briefly as a bank teller before having the first of their three children.
In 1952, Ruth and Proc built a modest home of recycled brick on a bluff overlooking the broad lake near Appletree Point, where they would live for 50 years. They called the place “Wild Thyme” for the herb that grew wild there. Their home’s setting — the sweep of Lake Champlain, the distant blue of the Adirondacks, the breeze that often blew — was very dear to Ruth, refreshing her spirit after a long day’s work. One of her favorite tasks was hanging the laundry outside to dry in the sun and wind, with the lake sparkling at the foot of the bluff.
At Appletree Point, Ruth and Proc became organic gardeners long before most people had discovered the concept. Over the decades they enriched the rocky soil and planted large gardens that produced an alphabet of produce, from artichokes to zucchini, in such quantity that Ruth — in addition to her other work — canned tomatoes, made jam and froze enough garden peas and the like to fill two chest freezers in anticipation of winter.
In 1957, Ruth and Proc purchased the Suburban List, a weekly newspaper in Essex Junction that served parts of six counties with hometown news. While much of the content in the early days consisted of town notes sent in by amateur correspondents, Ruth herself covered the town councils and school boards in Essex Junction, Essex Town, Colchester and Williston. She brought an independent, professional eye to that work, to the dismay of some elected officials who discovered they could not simply declare their meetings “off the record.”
She shared editorial writing duties with Proc and wrote a weekly column, Lady Fare, in which she often told lively stories about her children and her gardens. In the early days, owning the newspaper was a physically exhausting job. Ruth not only wrote, edited and proofread, but hauled heavy lead ingots from the basement to feed the melting pots on linotype machines.
Under her editorship, the weekly paper won numerous journalism awards in Vermont and New England. Ruth became the first woman president of the Vermont Press Association and served on the board of the New England Press Association.
The couple sold the newspaper in the late 1970s, but Ruth soon went to work as editor of a newsletter for members of Gardens for All (later the National Gardening Association), a nonprofit founded in Vermont in 1971. Under Ruth’s guidance, the newsletter became the glossy National Gardening Magazine, a monthly focused on food gardening, organic methods, community gardens and gardening techniques.
She retired as editor in 1986, but yet another career awaited. Under the auspices of the NGA, she produced a daily 3.5-minute radio program, “Ruth Page’s Gardening Journal,” that ran on about 100 public radio stations across the country beginning in April 1988. After two years, the program searched for a sponsor. When the only takers were pesticide companies, Ruth declined to continue the program. She realized a longtime dream of writing a book when a collection of her gardening essays was published in 1989 under the same title, Ruth Page’s Gardening Journal.
She became a weekly commentator on Vermont Public Radio, sharing her deeply reported exploration of the natural world — and her fury over humans’ callous treatment of it. She continued that work until she was 90 and decided her voice was no longer up to the job.
Gov. Philip Hoff appointed Ruth to the board of the Vermont State Colleges, where she served two terms. In 1985, she became the first woman elected to the board of Green Mountain Power, serving until the year 2000. Her public service also included working with the League of Women Voters education programs in the 1950s; five years on the state Judicial Conduct Board (1981-1986); serving as a trustee of State Educational TV Vermont (PBS) in the 1970s; and serving on the board of trustees of the Medical Center Hospital of Vermont in the 1980s. One of her joys in retirement was serving as a volunteer at Flynn School in Burlington, where she read to children in the library, sharing with them her love of wild animals and the wonders of science.
Ruth was predeceased by her husband, Proctor, and by her brother Robert and her sister Ethel Wolf Boyer. She leaves her three children, Candace, Patti Ruth and Robert; Candace’s husband, Hamilton Davis; Patti’s husband, Steven Stitzel; and Robert’s wife, Lori Page. Her grandchildren were the light of her life, and she will be mourned by Sara Davis and her partner, Calvin Rider; Elizabeth Stitzel, Lauren Page and Alyssa Page; her step-grandchild Shannon Stitzel and her husband Mike Ingram; and by members of the extended Hamilton Davis clan. Shannon and Mike’s daughter, Madeleine, brought such happiness to Ruth in her final months — pictures of Maddie lit up Ruth’s face even in her last days. She is also survived by her sister-in-law Ellen Reid and by her Boyer, Terrill and Reid nieces and nephews, and by her special friend and “third daughter,” Kit Anderson. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made in Ruth’s memory to two programs dear to her heart, uniting her love of science, children and gardens: the Early Learning Science Literacy program at ECHO Leahy Center for Lake Champlain, 1 College Street, Burlington, VT 05401 (giving website: echovt.org/make-a-gift) or the Vermont Community Gardening Network, 12 North St., Suite 5, Burlington, VT 05401.
A service of remembrance will be held for Ruth at 6 p.m. Sunday, November 6, at Wake Robin in Shelburne; family and friends are welcome.