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This summer, the early language and speech intervention program in the Department of Communication Disorders and Sciences had a special visit from alumni and endowment benefactor Ruth Rothman. Before retirement, Ruth was a speech pathologist, speech teacher and therapist dedicated to helping children who have difficulty with communication and self-expression. In 2010 Ruth established a scholarship program, combining current gifts, an endowment and a commitment from her estate, to help CSUN speech-language pathology students. It is her way of carrying on a family tradition of helping others.
Ruth grew up in a Russian immigrant family in Los Angeles in a family where Russian, Yiddish and English were all spoken. She developed a keen ear for language and discovered a knack for recognizing some of the obstacles to speech that tended to affect English second language learners.
In the family home, Ruth’s parents made a habit of helping people – family members and strangers – obtain their education. A principle taught by example was ingrained in Ruth’s personality. “They taught us to be involved,” Ruth said, adding that it was not uncommon in her household for her parents to invite people they didn’t know in for food and shelter. Ruth’s mother knew what it was like to struggle. She herself was only thirteen years old when she led her extended family out of Russia, navigating and negotiating for the group all the way to the US.
So in the early 1970’s, at the age of 46, with her children grown and out of the house, Ruth was ready for a new career. She wanted to combine her desire to help others with her appreciation for children. She enrolled at Cal State Northridge (then San Fernando Valley State College) at an age many would consider to be late in life for starting out on a new path, but Ruth saw that a degree program in speech pathology had all the earmarks of a successful choice for the future. She earned her undergraduate degree in 1973 and continued on to a Masters in 1977, both in Speech and Communications Disorders (now Communication Disorders and Sciences).
With the graduate degree in hand, Ruth was eligible for employment with the Los Angeles Unified School District where she worked for the next 25 years as a speech pathologist traveling around the district for a variety of assignments. She met with students both individually and in group settings, and always made sure the children’s experience with her would be fun and engaging. She drew upon her personal experiences, and encouraged the children to use their own drawings and family photographs to talk about their lives and family history, knowing that being engaged emotionally creates a deeper investment in communication.
Ruth became a family friend to many, reaching out to their parents, and often visiting families in their homes. And this summer, Ruth visited us in our home at CSUN, and because of the generosity of her scholarship endowment, she will carry on a family tradition of sharing the value of education. Since beginning her program, Ruth’s support has already helped ten CSUN students pursue their education. With six scholarships awarded in Communication Disorders and Sciences through the spring, not to mention additional awardees for the upcoming semester, her caring and generosity will lead to many more happy homes for years to come.
- Jean O’Sullivan and Greg Buesing