Palo Alto Online - Lasting Memories - Ruth Spangenberg's memorial

Ruth Spangenberg
Nov. 17, 1918-Oct. 30, 2011
Palo Alto, California

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Ruth Beahrs Spangenberg loved to help people, had a passion for education and a commitment to the well being of her community. "We're all here to help each other. That's my one philosophy," she believed. "There's no such thing as coincidence. If one door closes, be ready for another to open." She passed away peacefully on Oct. 30, 2011.

The youngest of four children, Ruth Fay Beahrs was born November 17, 1918, in Eufaula, Ala., to Elmer Charles Beahrs and Elsa Katherine (Smith) Beahrs. (According to Webster's Dictionary, "Ruth" means "companion" and "Fay" means "trust." To those who knew her, she certainly was a Trusted Companion.)

Her parents met when they were living in Ohio and traveling on a river steamer that was cruising down the Ohio River. Two years later her newspaper editor father moved the family to Pomona, Calif., where he established a real estate insurance business and was partner in a mortgage company. After her father's death in September 1924, Ruth's mother went to work as secretary at the local Methodist church. Her mother encouraged her to use her abundant energy to help others. Ruth's early jobs included teaching summer Bible school and later hostess at the St. Catherine Hotel on Catalina where she met the rich and famous. After graduating from Pomona College in 1940 she taught high school math, history and psychology in Ontario, Calif. While studying for a master's degree at Stanford University, she met Karl R. Spangenberg, a Professor of Electrical Engineering, at Stanford, at the wedding of another professor, where Karl was best man and Ruth was maid of honor. They found that they both shared the same philosophy for education and contributing to ones community. Ruth and Karl were married the first day of spring, March 21, 1943, and made their home and started their lives together in Palo Alto.

Like many women during World War II, Ruth had to wait anxiously while her husband Karl carried out a special assignment at the request of the Allied High Command following the troops after D Day in Europe, examining captured German electronic equipment and reporting his findings. For this he ultimately received one of the first Medals of Freedom from President Truman. Karl continued to work for the government and Ruth and Karl moved to Boston where Karl was research project leader at the Radio Research Laboratory at Harvard University and then to Washington D.C. during 1948-49 while Karl headed the Electronics Branch of the Office of Naval Research for the Navy.

Returning to Palo Alto, together as a team they took pride in their family of six children they raised with Karl on the Palo Alto School Board while Ruth a full-time mother flung herself into community involvement in organizations that fostered family life and values including the PTA, Girl Scouts and Palo Alto's First United Methodist Church.

The family spent two years in Brazil from 1952 to 1954 where Karl was head of the Electronics Division of the Brazilian Air Force Institute/Academy, which is now called Comando-Geral de Tecnologia Aerospacial (CTA) in San Jose dos Campos, Brazil. Despite the growing demands of a family, she joined Karl on extended lecture tours to Europe in 1956 and Japan in 1958. The door was always open to international students and visitors. The family hosted three year long exchange students, Albert Mirat de Diego from Spain, Hiske Dirske from the Netherlands and Gwynn Cupchow from Hawaii.

On Sept. 15, 1964, Karl Rudolph Spangenberg died of cancer just one day after finishing the proofs of his third book. Spangenberg Theater in Palo Alto was named after Ruth's husband Karl in appreciation of his service to the Palo Alto schools. Ruth now a widow with six children aged 19, 18, 15, 13, 10 and 6, barely allowed herself time to grieve, for she now had the job of supporting the family.

She returned to Stanford University after a 20-plus-year break and earned her Master of Arts degree in counseling and guidance in the summer of 1965. Considering "education a great leveler," she taught in the San Mateo Community College district for 25 years first at San Mateo Community College and then four years later at the newly opened Canada College as an educator in "Marriage and the Family," "Human Sexuality" and Parapsychology and as a student counselor. In addition she set up a private practice as a Marriage and Family Therapist, and was a member of the California Association of Marriage and Family counselors.

Ruth continued her foreign travel with educational goals of understanding the people and their history and culture, traveling in 1969 with her good friend Lois C. Hogle meeting Pablo Casals in Puerto Rico and in 1976 she traveled through India and visited with Mother Teresa at her orphanage in the slums of Calcutta. She traveled to the South Pacific to witness Halley's Comet and went on a Safari in Kenya, Africa, with her sister Mary. She also traveled to South America, Spain, New Zealand, Australia and Germany, accompanied each time by one or more of her children or grandchildren.

Among the many other activities, she furthered her commitment to community and education. She joined the advisory board of the Stanford Learning House, a resident facility for emotionally disturbed children from 1960-1979 and served as a board member of the Mid-Peninsula Family Agency from 1962-1978.

She was co-founder of the Committee for Green Foothills which began in the Spangenberg living room in 1962, serving as vice president, with Wallace Stegner serving as president; Ruth served as a Board Member of the Stanford Y.W.C.A. and chaired the building fundraising committee for the Mid-Peninsula Y.W.C.A.

Over the years she gave lectures to and participated on panels for clubs, churches, P.T.A.s, and other groups on marriage and the family. In 1985 she joined and served on the Board of Regents of John F. Kennedy University and served for 20 years, chairing the fundraising campaign for a permanent campus in Pleasant Hill, Calif., where the atrium is named in her honor. At her spiritual home, the First United Methodist Church, she realized her vision of establishing the Samaritan Counseling Center, nondenominational Mid-peninsula counseling agency committed to providing health for the whole person and she was the recipient of the 1996 Samaritan Award.

In 1997 her community service was recognized with the Avenidas "Lifetimes of Achievement" Award. The extent of her activities are noted in Who's Who of American Women and World's Who's Who of Women in Education.

She is survived by her brother, John V. Beahrs; her six children, Kristin L. Spangenberg, Eric Karl Spangenberg, Karen Spangenberg, Karla Lane, Kathy Spangenberg and Rudy Spangenberg; and three grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

To her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, Ruth was mom, or granny. To her many friends and colleagues she was Ruth or Ruthie. She was much loved by those who knew her, and she will be greatly missed.

Tags: teacher/educator, public service

2 entries Submit a remembrance
From Dr. Syrtiller M Kabat
Nov. 16, 2011
Ruth was such a gift to us all. We were colleagues at San Jose U,Canada Community College & John F Kennedy U. She was a woman of great integrity, abundant energy, creativity, courage to speak up on the side of right, even if it was not popular. I wil...
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Memorial service
A memorial service will be held to celebrate the life of Ruth Beahrs Spangenberg at 2 p.m. on Jan. 21, 2012, at the First United Methodist Church of Palo Alto, 625 Hamilton Ave., Palo Alto, CA 94301.
Make a donation
The family requests that should anyone want to make memorial contributions in Ruth's name that they be made to one of the following organizations, Committee for Green Foothills, 3921 East Bayshore Road, Palo Alto CA 94303 (, California Pops Orchestra, 3790 El Camino Real, Mail Suite 341, Palo Alto, California 94306 ( or Jacqueline Kennedy Endowed Scholarship at John F. Kennedy University, 100 Ellinwood Way, Pleasant Hill, CA 94523-4817 (

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