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Monroe remembered for making sure youths had something to do

October 21, 2005|by DANIEL J. SERNOVITZ

HAGERSTOWN

daniels@herald-mail.com

Ruth A. Monroe just loved children.

Her own children - six of them - came first and foremost, but for a quarter-century, the children surrounding her Pennsylvania Avenue home were her children as well.

And the second home she built for them at the Memorial Recreation Center on West North Street was their place as much as it was hers.

Monroe, 64, known affectionately as "Nanny" not just to youths at the recreation center but to her family and siblings, died of cancer Wednesday at Washington County Hospital surrounded by family members.

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"She wanted to see no kid left on the corners. She wanted to make sure they had something to do, that they weren't on the street looking for trouble, they had some place to go," said Norma Pompey, Monroe's oldest daughter.

Even after she was diagnosed with cancer, Pompey said, Monroe's devotion was unwavering.

"She would come down for an hour or two, just to see if everything was O.K. She just kept going ... she did it all," Pompey said.

Many of Monroe's friends said she left those she knew with a feeling they could do anything they set their minds to.

"If I could sum it up, which I probably can't, but I saw her as the mother of compassion, she just personified a secular and spiritual commitment to the children," said Art Hicks, board member with the recreation center. "From an individual basis, the message she had was: You are important, and I'll help you feel that way about yourself."

Many Hagerstown residents said they could not remember the precise moment when they met Monroe, that it was almost as though she was always in their lives. Hagerstown City Councilwoman Alesia Parson-McBean, who said Monroe was one of the people who inspired her to run for the office, said Monroe was just an incredibly passionate and loving person.

"She is now a part of every one of us who had the honor to know her," Parson-McBean said. "I just think it's important that everyone knows that she may have passed on, but she is not gone. I believe that, in my heart of hearts.

"My fondest memory was her still making herself available to the community, even after her sickness," she said. "She was a champion of all causes. She put herself into it, she put her heart, she put her entire being, into it. She was love, and that was her personality."

Born in Hagerstown, Monroe was the sixth of eight children. Ilene Smith, the youngest of the eight, said Monroe was active with the volleyball and basketball teams at South Hagerstown High School.

"She was very independent, she would try to do it herself, she wanted to achieve it on her own," Smith said. "She wanted more for the community. She realized there were so many avenues out there that needed to be explored."

Monroe volunteered her time in the community as a nurse at Washington County Hospital, a teacher at Head Start of Washington County, and an usher and school superintendent at the Greater Campher Temple, where she was an active member.

Kenny Keyes, Monroe's oldest son, said even though he and his siblings had to share her with the community, Monroe always had time for her children and put them above all else.

"We came first ... she took care of her children first," he said. "She was probably one of my best friends. Even though she was my mother, you could say anything to her, she was my best friend."

Monroe twice was honored for her service to the community within the past year, in March upon her retirement as executive director of the recreation center and in December 2004 during an appreciation dinner at which many youths spoke about how she changed their lives.

Smith said Monroe felt those were among the proudest moments of her life.

"She said that night she did not realize how many lives she had touched," Smith said.

Hagerstown City Councilman Lewis C. Metzner said Monroe never sought recognition for what she had done.

"There are a number of ladies and gentlemen from many generations in this community that have been very quiet stalwarts of the community, and Ruth Monroe was one of them," he said. "What more can you say about someone except the legacy they left behind? She had an ability to do things for the community by doing things for individuals, and that is her legacy."

As of Thursday evening, no funeral arrangements had been made. Her family said they believe Monroe would have wanted donations to be made to the recreation center in her memory.

The Hagerstown City Council has planned to honor Monroe with a program on its cable-access channel next week.

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