Lemley Chapel
Serving Sedro-Woolley &
All of Skagit County Since 1935
1008 Third Street
Sedro-Woolley, WA
Ruth Spurling Wilkens Memorial
Ruth Spurling Wilkens Memorial

Ruth Spurling Wilkens

Ruth Spurling Wilkens

Thursday, February 28th, 2013

Ruth Spurling Wilkens—beloved family member, teacher, and friend—passed away on February 28, 2013 at Virginia Mason Hospital in Seattle.

She was born on October 28, 1937 in Tucson, Arizona, the third of four sisters. Throughout her early years Ruth’s family moved frequently between the Arizona homeland of her mother and the Washington forests her father loved and logged. The family lived in many logging communities in Washington as well as the municipalities of Clallam Bay, Sedro-Woolley, Maple Falls, Wenatchee, and Oak Harbor—returning to Arizona each time there was a logging strike or when work was scarce. With each move  the four sisters would pile into their Daddy’s canopied pickup bed for the 1,400-mile trip, camping and picnicking along the way and singing hymns to pass the time.

The year Ruth entered high school the family moved to Arizona permanently. She and her sisters attended Phoenix Christian High School, an institution that had been founded by their grandparents. After graduating in 1955, Ruth attended Azusa Pacific University (then Pacific Bible College) in Azusa, California. Focusing on vocal music studies there, she received a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1959. In that same year Ruth married John Wilkens, who had been the Assistant Dean of Students at the college.

Following their honeymoon the couple prepared to leave for missionary work in the Philippines. It was while they were in the Philippines that their son Randall was born. After returning to the United States in 1961 John accepted a call to pastor a church in Grand Junction, Colorado. Their daughter Laurel was born there in 1962, shortly before the young family moved back to California, where John returned to Azusa Pacific as Dean of Students.

During these years in Azusa, Ruth became more and more interested in English studies, taking classes to add English credits to her previous degree. Her first English teaching position was at St. Lucy’s Priory High School in Glendora, California. In 1969 John took a new position at Miltonvale Wesleyan College and the family moved from bustling, suburban southern California to a quiet, rural area of Kansas.

Ruth continued her English studies at Kansas State University in Manhattan, teaching English there as a graduate assistant, and completing a Master of Arts degree in 1973. During this time John accepted a call to pastor Brantford Evangelical Covenant Church in rural Clyde, Kansas. While Ruth was a committed Christian and loved the surroundings of their country church, she didn’t quite fit the then-prevalent mold of a typical pastor’s wife. She was far more interested in teaching, writing, and having a career outside the home than she was in cooking and entertaining. So shortly after finishing her Masters degree Ruth accepted a position as an English instructor at Cloud County Community College in Concordia, Kansas, where she taught for over 25 years.

In her roles as both a college instructor and pastor’s wife, Ruth was a mentor to countless young people. Though she taught in a secular college, she found opportunities to share her faith whenever students asked her about it—often in moments of crisis. Likewise in her church Ruth taught youth Sunday school classes and Bible studies, providing a safe environment for an entire generation of young people to grow in their faith and in their personal lives. She was always available for a conversation with any student who needed to talk. Both in the church and on the college campus, hundreds of young people were impacted by Ruth’s life and example.

As Ruth’s retirement from her teaching position approached, she was drawn back to the Washington forests and mountains of her childhood. In 2000, following her retirement, Ruth and John moved to Oak Harbor Washington. Trips to the Olympic Peninsula and Mount Baker, walks on beaches and in the woods, ferry rides and scenic drives—and sharing these experiences with frequent visitors from out of state—filled their lives. Still, not entirely willing to give up her career as an English instructor, Ruth began to teach part-time at the Skagit Valley College Oak Harbor campus. For many years she taught a creative writing class at the Anacortes Senior Center that drew an intensely loyal and appreciative group of students. She continued to teach that class until her recent illness and hospitalization. As always, Ruth’s impact as a mentor for these students was profound and irreplaceable.

Ruth treasured her family and friends, cherishing long phone conversations and get-togethers with those she loved. She was always at home in the woods, and took great delight in the trees surrounding her Whidbey Island home. She loved music and singing, and was a faithful member of the Bethany Covenant Church choir. Throughout Ruth’s entire life church attendance was always important, and was an expression of her deep faith in God. The many friends and family who enjoyed all these things with her will miss her beyond imagination.

Ruth is preceded in death by her parents Edwin Lee & Rachel Phebe (Weed) Spurling, and her sister Mae Beth Little. She is survived by her husband John Wilkens of Oak Harbor, Washington; her son Randall Wilkens & wife Bonnie of Mount Vernon, Washington; her daughter Laurel Littrell and husband David of Manhattan, Kansas; her sister Rosie Bowers & husband Don of Upland, California; her sister Leona Nelson & husband Wes of LaConner, Washington; and her grandchildren Joanna and Malik Wilkens of Mount Vernon, Washington.

  A memorial service for Ruth will be held on Monday, March 4, 2013 at 1:00 P.M. at Bethany Covenant Church, 1318 S. 18th Street in Mount Vernon, Washington. Interment will be at Union Cemetery in Sedro-Woolley, Washington. Memorial gifts may be made to Bethany Covenant Church and designated either to worship and arts ministries or the community garden. 



  • Cynthia Naughton

    Dear Laurel and Randall,

    I will always remember your mother as a bright, friendly, happy lady who always had fun. She was always kind. I loved her wittiness! The people of Brantford have a special place in my heart. We had such good times visiting that little country church. My prayers are with you as you mourn the loss of your dear mother.

    Cynthia Naughton

  • Sukey Jacobsen


    My dear friend. There are so many of your attributes that drew me to you. I will miss you. Sunday morning hugs, grammar discussions, future poetry. Lovely voice, Godly spirit. The Christmas song in pictures quiz. Many memories of time with you to truly cherish. A woman who knew and practiced the art of relationship. I will continue to hold up the torches of your many virtues. You are released from the bondage of earth and now you are singing your praises to God. Peace and comfort to the family you left behind.

  • Rich & Gail Ballow

    Dear Ruth,

    Hmmm . . . You are one up on us now.

    We’ll miss your kind words on our nostalgic musings. Always a “plus” at the top of our assigned writing, a comma or semicolon, corrections quietly pointed out, a sentence or two of praise—all penned in green. Never that critical, red ink! Your motto, “Green for Growth,” carried us forward.

    “Use vivid verbs,” you’d say. “Leave that string of adjectives for someone else to play.” Under your patient hand, writers we slowly became. Your creative assignments sparked our imaginations with tales and poems that surprised us all.

    When nervous or excited, you raised your voice in a soprano’s trill—clear as the small bell you carried to class. Oh! And we shall not forget those holiday concerts at your meeting place.

    Yes, Ruth Wilkens. We’ll miss you . . . but we shall be along soon!

  • Carol Hunt

    Laurel, I share your grief on this day. I loved her too, even though I hadn’t seen her since your birthday slumber party in Concordia (how long ago?).
    My prayers are with you.

  • Ken Johnson

    May God’s grace and mercy be with the Wilkens, during their time of loss. I have many wonderful memories of Ruth. She was and still is the best English teacher I have ever known. Her patience and encouragement changed the life of a young man, who could not express or write his thoughts on paper. Ruth’s encouragement to my wife and I as a young couple seeking to serve our Lord will always be remember. Ruth and John have always held a special place in our hearts and the people hearts at the Baptist Church in Concordia, Kansas. God lead both of them to be church when we needed loving and caring leaders. Now that Ruth has gone to her heavenly home, and is singing and praising with the saints, I sing Halleujah ! Halleujah ! thank you Lord for allowing us the chance to know and love this woman. May the peace of God be with you always.

  • Curtis Hageland

    Ruth was a dear, sweet, and gentle lady and an inspirational teacher. She will be greatly missed by those who were privileged to know her. When I’m able to write with feeling, culture, class, and a smidgen of sibilance, I will see Ruth’s face beaming at me from the page, and I’ll smile.

  • Jodi Elliott

    Aunt Ruthie was special and always made me feel loved. I will miss her deeply and grieve with the family over her loss and will continue to pray for them for the days ahead.

  • Darlene & Art Palmer

    We extend our heartfelt sympathy to you, Randall, and to your family. We didn’t have the opportunity
    to become close to your Mother, but knew from a distance what a precious gift she was to many. Memories
    of family time, and her closeness to you and the church family through her musical ability and other gifts
    she shared in her life will hold her close in your hearts…..We are unable to attend the service on Monday,
    Our prayer is for a wonderful remembrance ceremony that will be of comfort through God’s grace. He
    holds us all in the palm of His hand…….Your family serves Him well. Many Blessings, Darlene & Art

  • Russ and Mary Ann Rehm

    Seeing Ruth’s beautiful, loving face with her engaging smile was one of the highlights and inspirations for us on Sunday mornings. Her encouraging words and notes always brought incredible joy to us. We will long treasure the memory of her energy and willingness to pray with us on the spur of the moment. Spiritually she was a light shining brightly. Our heartfelt sorrow is with you in your profound loss and our prayers are constantly with your entire family as God ministers to you. We smile as we think of the bright light she has entered, the heavenly music she participates in and the parents, sister and loved ones she has joined. One day we will see her again and rejoice.

  • David Wilkens

    One thing I will always remember about Ruthie is how friendly and kind she was to everyone. She cared about what everyone thought, said, and felt. She genuinely cared. For those of us who want to know how we can show the love of God in our lives, especially the way Paul and John and Jesus counseled us—remember how Ruthie did it and we’ll get it right. I will miss her and all the Wilkens Family will. Our hearts are broken for all of you out west, especially for my dear brother John and we pray for God to favor all you and us with a huge measure of comfort.

  • Doug McHenry

    My deepest condolences to you – John, Randall and family, Laurel and family. Ruth was such a wonderful, godly woman. She was so good to me and my family. I can picture her in my mind’s eye singing at the Brantford Christmas Eve service – “Silent Night” never sounded so beautiful. Now she is singing with the Lord. My prayers go out for you.

  • janine moden

    Ruth will be missed so much. She was one of the kindest people I’ve ever known, always ready to encourage, sympathize, and offer care to those who needed it. She enriched my life in so many ways.
    My deepest condolences to her family.

  • Don and Rosie Bowers

    Dear John,
    Our hearts are broken too, and we stand together with you and the family today!
    Don and Rosie Bowers

  • Larry Spurling

    With Ruthie gone it is not only a loss to the family but also to the community that she served. She will be missed by all that knew her.

  • Vince Henley

    Ruth was a great teacher and a good friend. Her positive influence on the people around her cannot be measured. Her gentle influence on me as a creative writer was profound and for that I am forever grateful. I doubt that I should have made nearly as much progress in my writing career without her guidance and encouragement. She was a teacher of such stature that I am certain that those of us who were her students know that she cannot be replaced. I have been fortunate to have known her for a few short years and am greatly saddened by her departure.

    My condolences to her family. I cannot begin to imagine the grief and sorrow they must all feel at their loss.

  • Ken Wagner

    Ruth will be missed. She was a prayer, encourager, and friend. Peace be to her memory.

  • Kelli White-Mellish

    It was a joy to know Ruth and to have her as a colleague at SVC. She was always cheerful, encouraging, and wonderfully caring. She will be missed!

  • Paul and Margery Warder

    Thank you for sharing this obituary regarding Ruth. I know the congregation at Brantford, including my parents (Earl and Astrid), very much appreciated the ministry the Wilkens had among them. Every time we visited, though we also were in ministry so our visits were infrequent, both John and Ruth seemed genuinely happy to see us and were interested in our ministries. I am quite sure Mom sent Ruth a copy of my writing and I also believe that Ruth called once when Mom was ill, even though long miles separated them. Very thoughtful.
    May the Lord give you each His comfort and peace, as well as the assurance of the reunion that awaits all whose Savior is the Lord Jesus Christ.
    John, we still remember how our son, then just ready to turn three, stuck his head out the window at the cemetery while we waited in the car a couple minutes for others to gather for the last part of Dad’s service. You came over in your gracious and quiet, respectful way, and our son said, “You did a pretty good job.” It was an unexpected comment from a two-yr-old and you, and we, all got tickled at the way it was said. You know, of course, he’d heard us say you had conducted a nice service for Dad. I know you were trying not to chuckle just before the committal, but our carload certainly understood, as we were smiling, too. I think Keith C also helped with the graveside that time, because Dad was his uncle.
    Blessings, friends…. Marge & Paul W

  • Pat Granahan

    What a wonderful life Mrs. Wilkens has had and a wonderful woman of God. Loved visiting with her. Will miss her but see her in her son and his family. Blessing at this time and God’s to all her family.

  • Donna Swanberg

    A much loved cousin, Ruth was a class act. Her intellect, artistry, humor, sparkling yet gentle personality, and interest in both her students and friends enriched all who knew her. She loved nature, music, and all things
    beautiful. We are so fortunate to have shared her life, a life well lived.

  • Carolyn Batchelor

    I enjoyed knowing and working with Ruth. She will be greatly missed. My deepest condolences to her family.

  • Marla Pyle

    Laurel and family, our thoughts and prayers are with you. May God’s presence and love comfort and uphold you at this difficult time. Love, the Pyle family, Westmoreland, KS

  • Karen Bramlage

    I would like to extend my prayers for Randy and extended family. May all of the beautiful memories of your mother sustain you through this time of loss.