Happy 100th Birthday to Ruth Colvin

Ceremony for 2006 Recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom. East Room.

Today, Ruth Colvin, a pioneer in literacy and a Syracuse resident, celebrates her centennial birthday.

After reading about the 1960 census from an article in the Post-Standard newspaper, Colvin learned that over 11,000 people in her town of Syracuse were functionally illiterate—and she set out to solve this issue. She spoke with local social service agents, community leaders, and church groups to better understand the problem of illiteracy and to recruit help. Colvin worked with literacy experts and specialists to create materials and programs that would be used to train volunteers and tutor adults. A year later, she started Literacy Volunteers of America in her basement.

She has published numerous training manuals and teaching materials, such as Tutor, I Speak English, and English as a Second Language, that are still used today by literacy tutors. In addition, Colvin has not only personally taught thousands of people to read, but also resided as the first president of LVA and a lifetime member of the board of directors.

In 2002, Laubach Literacy International and Literacy Volunteers of America merged to create ProLiteracy. Syracuse is still home to ProLiteracy, where they aim to “promote adult literacy through content development, programs, and advocacy.”

Widely recognized for her efforts, the Syracuse University alumna (’59) received the President’s Volunteer Action Award from President Ronald Reagan in 1987 and then Presidential Medal of Freedom from President George W. Bush in 2006. She was also inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame.

off240From South Africa and Madagascar to India and Cambodia, Colvin and her husband have traveled to 62 countries and provided literacy training in 26 developing nations. Colvin documented the global adventures she embarked on, the cultures she discovered, and the individuals she connected with, eventually publishing her journey in Off the Beaten Path: Stories of People Around the World (2011) through the Syracuse University Press.

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