Shortly before Ruth Turim '58 passed away, she and her daughter, Linda Krasner, joked about what they would do if they won the lottery. "I would set up a fund at Brooklyn College — if I had a lot of money, that's what I would do,'" her daughter quoted Turim as saying. "My mother's eyes filled with tears as she spoke," Krasner said. "Brooklyn College meant that much to her."
Within days of Turim's passing at age 99, her family began setting up what is now the Ruth Turim '58 Award. The scholarship, which will first be awarded in September 2014, will be given annually to a student who demonstrates academic promise and who needs the support to complete her education (the award states a preference for female applicants).
Anyone familiar with Turim's life, and the role Brooklyn College played in it, will understand the passion that compelled her family to set up the award. An honors student at Eastern District High School in Brooklyn, Turim had always dreamed of attending Brooklyn College. She was admitted during the height of the Depression but was forced to decline, accepting instead a job that paid $5 a week and was within walking distance, so she could save carfare. "If only a fund had existed to help her then — to provide a few dollars a week to cover travel expenses and books — she could have attended college directly after high school," her daughter said.
In spite of that decision, Turim continued to learn, devouring books and immersing herself in the education of those around her. When her oldest daughter, Frances, entered Brooklyn College in 1952, Turim came alive, helping her with papers and plunging into the kind of challenging academic discourse for which she yearned. During her second year, Frances presented the bursar with her mother's original letter of admission, which her mother had treasured for some 20 years, and asked if the college would honor it.
The college would. Now in her forties and with a young child still at home, Turim began attending classes. In 1958, she graduated on the dean's list with a B.A. in education. She began teaching immediately after graduation, beginning a distinguished 18-year career as a teacher and then an assistant principal and earning a master's degree in elementary education while working full time.
The impact she had on her students was legendary. One young woman said Turim's decision to appoint her a paper monitor at P.S. 199, at a time when no girl had held that job, propelled her into her current career as a lawyer for feminist causes. A young man said he kept a report card she had given him in his dresser drawer to remind him that if he could meet her high standards, he could meet anyone's.
Obstacles arose, but they did not defeat her. She became a widow at age 50 when her husband, Arthur, died unexpectedly. She observed the Jewish period of mourning, and with a colleague's prodding, returned to school the following week. During one of New York's famous teachers' strikes, she picketed in the morning and taught students in their homes in the afternoon.
Time only added to the list of her accomplishments. After retiring, she and a fellow teacher set up workshops at the Kingsbrook Jewish Medical Center. Later, at her independent living residence in Great Neck, she gave lectures, including one on Planned Parenthood, in whose mission she deeply believed. For her last birthday, two of her grandchildren and two great-grandchildren took her to see her beloved New York Yankees. "Happy 99th Birthday, Ruth" lit up the scoreboard at Yankee Stadium. As an added gift, the Yankees defeated the Red Sox that day.
Deeply grateful for her career, the financial comfort it eventually afforded her and the knowledge that she was able to acquire and share, she never tired of extolling the value of an education in general and of Brooklyn College in particular. With the Ruth Turim '58 Award, her family hopes to enable other students to achieve similar goals. "I can hear my mother telling the person who receives this award: 'Use it well because education is the most important thing in life,'" her daughter said. "It was for my mother. It was her way out. She knew it, and she wanted others to have the chance to create the rich and meaningful life that she had."