The Children Are Our Future: Mazza Museum Docent Lifts Spirits
Adults are just outdated children.
It takes all sorts of people to make the world spin. Some grown folks love children, and others would prefer to spend time with those their own age. Some people, when they get to their golden years, slow down substantially, not always because that’s the way they prefer it, but because it’s necessary for their mind, for their body, for their happiness. Ruby Sproul, a docent at University of Findlay’s Mazza Museum is not one of those people. Not only has she not slowed down after turning 90 in August of this year, she is busy with kids, grandkids, and great-grandkids both of her own, and those who come to see her in her various costumes at Mazza events.
If you’ve attended a Tales for Tots or Funday Sunday event, you’ve seen her. She’s the woman with the outfit that matches the time of year, the theme of the event, or even just her bright disposition. She can sway even the most defiant little person into attending a Mazza gathering. “I had a woman recently tell me that her granddaughter told her she didn’t really want to go to story time on one particular day,” Sproul said. “The woman simply said, ‘Hmmmm…well, I wonder what Miss Ruby is wearing today?’ and that’s all it took. That little girl was there, then.”
Sproul, a former 2nd and 3rd grade teacher for some twenty-plus years, has always been enamored by the young and the young at heart. The mother of four children – two girls and two boys – she knew that being a teacher would be a good career choice for her, because of raising four of her own, she was “aware of all the pitfalls that come with little kids.” As a teacher, she explained, she would be able to head off anything young students might try to get over on her.
Her nurturing and empathetic leanings were apparent early in her teaching career, when she would regularly eat lunch with her students at school and often take a handful of them out to lunch. “It sounds silly, but I wanted to see how they ate lunch,” she said. “You can learn a lot about a child by just watching them. I would take three or four at a time. Never best friends, though, because I wanted them all to feel like they were being included.” That’s just one example of the genuine love and concern Sproul has always carried with her, particularly for those who are still young and impressionable. “It wasn’t hard,” she added. “I always loved my job.”
Soon after retirement at the age of 65, Sproul realized that, without the children, there was a hole in her life. Her husband, to whom she has been married for 71 years, was there for her, as were her grown children, but they and her grandchildren and great-grandchildren didn’t live close enough for the regular contact with little ones she enjoyed as a teacher. She found herself yearning for the energy, curiosity, and vivaciousness that comes from those still rooted firmly in their childhood. She helped with an author’s writing workshop in Wood County for a few years and enjoyed it, but it didn’t really hit the sweet spot for whatever reason. Then came the late Jerry Mallet (former Director of the Museum) and the early incarnation of the Mazza Museum.
“Jerry was just beginning to want something like this current space,” Sproul explained. “At that time, there were only four pieces of art!” Not much was happening at the time, she continued, except for running some small tours and such, but there was an interest in starting a story hour, and Sproul knew right then that there was something to latch onto. “I got to register the kids at first, and then I got to read a story. I bought a puppet and read The Little Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly. I just fell in love with it all. I’ll never forget it,” she said.
Since that day, “Miss Ruby” has been a part of countless activities at the Mazza Museum, and, as a result, has found an extended family in the University and the Museum. She makes it clear that she’s no different from anyone there, but that the staff and visitors always make her feel like she is. “When I walk through the door,” she said,” no matter what day it is, I’m made to feel like I’m the only one. They make me feel so important. When you have that several times a year, it’s a good builder-upper.”
And, after a recent Tales for Tots event, she was made to feel even more important. Sproul explained that for her 70th birthday, she rode a camel; for her 80th, she rode an elephant; and on that particular day, Mazza Museum Director Ben Sapp was going to take her for a ride on his motorcycle to celebrate her 90th birthday. “Out of his busy, busy day and all the things on his mind, he still wanted to take me,” she said. “See that’s what I mean. I know he’ll take care of me. All of them always do.”
You can see Miss Ruby and her many outfits for yourself at Funday Sunday and Tales for Tots events at the University of Findlay’s Mazza Museum.