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A Life of Learning

100-year-old Double Bear recalls how ‘dream came true’ -- twice

Growing up alongside seven siblings during the Great Depression, Ruth Calhoun, ’71, G’92, grasped from a young age the financial challenges of life. But what her family lacked in resources, she made up for with an insatiable thirst for knowledge and reading.

Which is why, when she had to forego a college education to work at the Toll House Inn restaurant to support her parents and siblings, Calhoun always felt something was missing. Once she started her own family, she turned to Bridgewater State to fill this void in her life.

“It was like a dream come true because I wanted to get into higher education,” she said of becoming a Bear. “I didn’t think I ever would be able to.”

Just a few weeks after she turned 100, Calhoun reflected on her time at Bridgewater, where she earned a degree in elementary education. One professor, she recalled, even compared her writings to those of a religious sermon.

“I remember her coming home saying ‘I’m the only 44-year-old in this class,” recalled one of her sons, Joe Lemieux.

The age gap and juggling homework while raising her own family didn’t hinder Calhoun. She aced class after class to graduate with magna cum laude honors.

She went on to work at Governor John Carver Elementary School in Carver, where she vividly recalled helping a boy learn to read. 

“I was so proud of my work then,” she said. “They had a little boy who had never been able to learn to read. By working with him, I discovered his problem was vocabulary. Every time this kid confronted a new word, he was scared to death.” 

Maggie Lowe and Ruth Calhoun sit at a table.

Calhoun, who also assisted the boy’s brother, helped him expand his understanding of complex words.

Her impact also extended to family members such as her niece, longtime BSU history Professor Maggie Lowe

“She was an inspiration and provided steadfast support of my decision to pursue higher education and to become a teacher and scholar,” Dr. Lowe said. “For me to end up at BSU, where I hope I’ve been able to give back a bit of what it gave her, is quite a turn of events.” 

Deeply devoted to her Catholic faith, Calhoun went on to start a prayer and support group. But she felt she needed the proper credentials to back up that important work. Here again, Bridgewater State offered the education Calhoun craved as she earned a graduate degree in counseling in her 60s. 

Today, Calhoun retains her inquisitive nature, a pile of books ever present by her bedside at the Nemasket Healthcare Center in Middleboro. And Bridgewater State still holds a special place in her heart. 

“It meant everything,” she said. 

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