The altar at the First United Methodist Church in Cedar Falls was decorated with bouquets of beautiful flowers last week.
Dozens of people gathered there to celebrate the life of a wonderful woman at the conclusion of her 84 years on this Earth. Those blossoms offered especially poignant symbolism.
Ruth was a true treasure — to her family, to her friends, to her community where she lived, and, when you stop to think about all of the people like her, to the world around us.
Like the phrase encourages us, Ruth bloomed where she was planted.
But sitting in that sanctuary last week, I also found myself seeing irony. Two days before Ruth’s funeral, the nation was abuzz about the criminal charges against two prominent Hollywood actresses and 30 other wealthy people who are accused of paying huge bribes to get their children into some of our nation’s most prestigious universities.
While Ruth took root and blossomed where she was planted, these parents apparently could not abide by the possibility their children might not get into these big-name schools. These parents did the unthinkable, legally and morally, because they were unwilling to consider that their children should try to bloom on a college campus that would gladly accept them.
Several days before the college admissions scandal, I followed an interesting discussion on social media about the “best” colleges and universities for someone wanting a journalism education. That top-10 list included some fine schools, but it omitted other worthy institutions.
Plenty of people in the discussion said it is really not the name of the school that matters so much as it is what a student does at a school, regardless of its name.
At its essence, it comes down to this: Bloom where you are planted.
One of the bright, hard-working reporters you often see on public television’s “Washington Week” and on CNN covers the Trump White House and Congress for the Washington Post. She grew up in Iowa City and was headed to Kirkwood Community College because she knew her family could not afford a more expensive school.
Then, The Daily Iowan, the student-run newspaper at the University of Iowa, stepped forward with a scholarship. Seung Min bloomed there, even though the UI was not on that top-10 list of journalism schools talked about on social media.
It was that way with another friend, Jeff, a farm kid from Nebraska. He received his journalism degree from the University of Nebraska at Lincoln, another school not on the Who’s Who list.
But Jeff was not hindered by that. His farm kid work ethic and his abundant talent have taken him from the Des Moines Register, to the New York Times, ABC News and now, as a White House reporter for CNN.
Bloom where you are planted.
Ruth was “planted” first on the family farm near Laurens. Then it was at a little consolidated school in Ware. Then it was at the high school in Laurens, before she headed to Iowa State Teachers College (now the University of Northern Iowa) in 1952.
On a January day in 1953, she met Jack on the Cedar Falls campus. Their affection blossomed there and continued to grow while Jack served in the U.S. Army in Japan. With Jack away, Ruth took her two-year elementary teaching degree and headed back to northwestern Iowa to teach fifth and sixth grades in Alta, a town in Buena Vista County.
Their romance grew through the 285 letters Jack wrote to her during the 18 months he was overseas — even though, as he remembered last week, she only replied to about every 12th letter she received from him.
They married in 1956, and Jack and Ruth put down roots. Two daughters and homes in Webster City, Fort Dodge and Cedar Falls followed.
While Jack threw himself into his career as a newspaper reporter, Ruth threw herself into helping wherever she was needed — as their daughters’ chauffeur to the library, in the girls’ schools, in their after-school activities, as a volunteer who sat with and comforted worried families in the waiting room at the local hospital, in the church women’s organization and its myriad projects, and in the Cedar Falls Woman’s Club.
Every community has people like Ruth who seemingly are always where they are needed, whenever they are needed, without ever being asked. Ruth and others like her lend their helping hand because they know someone could always use an assist.
Unlike Ruth, unlike Seung Min and Jeff, and unlike other people we all know who make their own way in this world, the children whose parents were caught up in the FBI investigation last week have missed the real meaning of the gentle admonition to bloom where you are planted.
There is not just one patch of ground where you can bloom.
You don’t need to have super-wealthy parents providing financial fertilizer on that ground for you to thrive — and for the world around you to be better off from the time you spend on this Earth.