Lewiston Lewiston Morning Tribune,
Ruth Rowell Modie, 98, Spokane, Tuesday, October 21, 2003
Ruth Rowell Modie, a retired high school mathematics teacher, and civic and Republican Party leader in Lewiston, died peacefully in Spokane Saturday, Oct. 18, 2003, with her three children at her side. She celebrated her 98th birthday last month.
Ruth was a resident of The Waterford,
a retirement home in Spokane, since 2000 after having lived in the Lewiston-Clarkston Valley for 92 years. For a person whose profession was dealing in numbers and whose avocation was the sometimes hardbitten world of politics, she remained all her life an idealist and an optimist. She instinctively saw the best in people and surrounded herself with flowers, animals, literature and music. She took photographs of everything and everyone. She was not only a lifelong teacher but a lifelong student, whose curiosity and eagerness to learn new things, meet new people and travel to new places never diminished. Her dignity and her playful sense of humor remained with her in her last days.
She was born Sept. 20, 1905, in Excelsior, Minn., the daughter of a newspaperman, H.H.S. Rowell and Emily Rudolph Rowell. When she was 3, she, her parents and her two older brothers, Paul and Ralph, moved to Lewiston, where her father became a reporter and columnist for the Lewiston Morning Tribune -- the first of four generations to have reported for the Tribune.
She succeeded her father for a time in covering Lewiston Orchards news for the Tribune. Her second son, Neil, later was a Tribune reporter for three summers during college, and his son, Jonathan, subsequently was a Tribune intern, covering a Washington state legislative session in Olympia.
Ruth graduated from Lewiston High School and attended Lewiston Normal School before graduating from the University of Idaho with a bachelor's degree in education and later with an master's degree, also in education. At the university she was a member of Kappa Alpha Theta sorority and played on the women's basketball team.
Ruth taught high school mathematics in Odessa, Wash., in the mid 1930s and then became a teacher in Lewiston until she married Donald L. Modie, a grain broker, in Lewiston Dec. 26, 1937.
She shelved her teaching career, but not her myriad civic and political activities, to raise three children, the first of whom, Donald Jr., was born in 1939. Neil was born in 1941 and Janie in 1943. Ruth returned to teaching, and to Lewiston High School, in 1956, subsequently becoming head of the mathematics department and senior class advisor until her retirement in 1967.
Over the years she was invited to innumerable Lewiston High School reunions by former students who considered her a cherished part of their graduating class. The high ideals she held as a teacher -- the passion to impart not only knowledge but an eagerness to learn, and to make it fun -- were also reflected in her long political career. She saw politics as an honorable civic calling, an opportunity to help elect to office the people whom she believed had the best ideas and deepest convictions. Ruth first became active in politics in the mid 1930s when she and a friend rang doorbells on behalf of Paul Eimers, a candidate for Nez Perce County probate judge. Ruth and Don were to spend more than a half-century in Republican Party activities, Don as an unsuccessful candidate for state representative and county commissioner in the then heavily Democratic Nez Perce County, and both of them as tireless volunteers for Republican campaigns. Ruth and Don enjoyed a close, lifelong friendship with Len Jordan, who beca
me governor of Idaho and later a United States Senator, and also were close friends and political supporters of Senator Henry Dworshak and Senator James McClure.
Ruth was a volunteer in everything Republican, particularly after she retired from teaching and after Don retired from a 35-year career as a grain buyer and as chairman of the board of First Federal Savings and Loan Association in Lewiston.
Ruth was chairman of the Nez Perce County Republican Central Committee from 1975 to 1979; secretary of the Idaho State Republican Central Committee from 1976 to 1980; president of the Nez Perce County Women's Republican Club in the early 1950s; secretary, treasurer and bylaws chairman of the Idaho Federation of Republican Women; and a state delegate to the National Federation of Republican Women conventions in Los Angeles in 1974 and Atlanta in 1977. She attended Republican National Conventions in Miami Beach in 1968 and in Kansas City, Mo., in 1976. Ruth immersed herself in innumerable civic activities as well, as a member of the Lewiston City Library Board; president of Tsceminicum Club, Nez Perce County education chairman for the American Cancer Society, president of P.E.O. Chapter AR, president of Alpha Delta Kappa honorary teaching sorority and secretary of the Riverview Garden Club. She was a member of the Episcopal Church of the Nativity in Lewiston. Ruth formed deep, lifelong friendships, too, through her reading club and especially her beloved bridge club, which held a special place in her heart for more than 60 years.
The love and close bonds she shared with her bridge club friends endured her entire adult life.
Ruth and Don lived their later years in a home on 14th Street in Lewiston, where they enjoyed a sweeping view of the entire Lewiston-Clarkston Valley, the confluence of the Snake and Clearwater rivers and the Lewiston Hill, and of their farm on the slope between downtown Lewiston and Lewiston Orchards, where Don raised livestock, hay and grain for six decades. They gradually sold much of the property, originally 120 acres, for residential and business building sites. But in 1981 they donated eight acres at the top of the slope to the city of Lewiston to be preserved as Ruth Rowell Modie Park, a nature sanctuary maintained largely in its natural state as a refuge for numerous species of birds and wildlife.
Situated in a ravine, the park -- now known as the Modie Park Conservancy -- has a pond and a spring-fed stream. Throughout her life, Ruth had a child's love of wildlife, and the park named after her has become a home for deer, skunks, ducks, various birds and other wild creatures. They became her surrogate "pets" after the family had enjoyed a menagerie of household pets. Ruth's beloved white duck, Easter, would follow her worshipfully around the yard of the family home, especially when she hoed her expansive garden, turning up dirt clods filled with worms for Easter to dine on.
Don, Ruth's husband of more than 55 years, passed away March 25, 1993. She also was preceded in death by her two brothers.
Survivors include her sons, Don and Teresa Modie, of Orange, Calif., and Neil and Helen Modie, of Sammamish, Wash.; her daughter, Janie and Janie's husband, Tony Martin, of Spokane; her grandsons, Scott and Paula Johnson and great-grandchildren, Hayden, Reed and Elena, of Boise; Bradley and Nadine Johnson and great-granddaughter, Emily, of San Carlos, Calif.; Jonathan Modie of Milwaukie, Ore., and David Johnson and wife Diane Jacobson and great-grandson, Owen, of San Francisco; and granddaughters Claire Modie, of Seattle, and Kimberly and Omar Ruiz and great-grandchildren Ysabella and Lorenzo, of Tambor, Costa Rica.
The funeral is at 11 a.m. Thursday at Vassar-Rawls Funeral Home, 920 21st Ave., in Lewiston, with burial at Normal Hill Cemetery.
The family will welcome Ruth's friends at a reception at 12:30 p.m. Thursday at the Red Lion Hotel, 621 21st St., Lewiston.
Memorials may be made to the Modie Park Conservancy, 1425 Main St., Lewiston, ID 83501, or to the Modie-Rowell Scholarship, University of Idaho, P.O. Box 443143, Moscow, ID 83844-4291.