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.