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Ruth Kachel Zimmer
Funeral Time: Friday, October 1st at 2:30PM
Longtime Lexington resident and Asbury College English professor Ruth Kachel Zimmer passed away peacefully Sept. 22, 2021 after a short hospitalization.
Ruth was born two weeks after the Wall Street Crash of 1929, on Nov. 7 to Charles and Helen Kachel in their Schuylkill Haven, PA, house.
The family soon moved to Reading, PA, where her father served as a pastor. The Great Depression was still evident during Ruth’s early years in Reading and she saw first-hand the toll of poverty and the importance of kindness. “Men used to come up to the back porch and [my brother] and I would take turns taking food out to them every day.”
Ruth graduated from Reading High School in 1947 at 17 years old. She participated in many school activities, including the a cappella choir, lyric club, and school newspaper.
It was on a church moonlight hike in her senior year in high school that Ruth started down a lifelong path with Charles Zimmer, another Reading High Graduate – and “still kind of pale and skinny” from WW II and hospital time tied to the Allies push into Germany. That night Charles’ options for interaction were apparently limited; he resorted to stealing her hot dog bun. “He told me later that was the only way he could think of to get my attention.”
Ruth informed the young veteran he was too old for her, but she invited him to attend her father’s church.
After high school, Ruth attended Albright College in Reading. Charles presented her with an engagement ring in her freshman year. They married in 1948 and moved into an apartment in Reading. Ruth graduated in 1951 with bachelor’s degrees in Spanish and English. Their firstborn, James Marshall Zimmer, came into the world the same year Ruth graduated.
Ruth started her lifelong teaching career as soon as she graduated. She taught at night while Charles took care of James – the beginning of the couple’s tag-team strategy that enabled Ruth to pursue graduate degrees later in life.
After 14 years that included a move to New York for Charles’ work with IBM; the birth of two more boys, Jeffrey William and John Charles; years of teaching English at Hyde Park High School in Hyde Park, NY; and a master’s degree in English from the New York State School System, Ruth and the Zimmer family made one last move: Lexington, KY, in 1965.
Another move up the IBM organization for Charles and more opportunities to teach for Ruth. After a year at Henry Clay High School, when it was on Main Street, she enrolled in the University of Kentucky in 1966 at 36 years old and as one of its older and more pragmatic English doctoral students. Ruth and three other like-aged women forged lifelong relationships during those years as they labored through the doctorate program: Hyatt Bishara, Marie Urbanski, and Lois Chan.
In 1971 Ruth received her doctorate in English from UK; her dissertation was titled, “A Study of the Heroines in the Dramatic Pieces of James Shirley”. That same year she joined the faculty of Asbury College in Wilmore as its first full-time female professor with a doctorate. For the next 24 years Ruth commuted between family and work, imparting her boundless energy on both. Along the way, Dr. Zimmer shared her love of English, linguistics, and her specialties: the Renaissance and Shakespeare with the thousands of young men and women who passed through her classrooms from 1971-95.
With her sons, Ruth shared her love of clothing with color, education, church, music and just love. Some stuck better than others.
While popular with students, Ruth did prove problematic for academic bureaucracy. When she arrived at Asbury, women were not permitted to wear pants or even pant suits. It didn’t take long for Ruth to start advocating, with warmth just one of her motivating factors. Five years after she arrived, the administration cracked.
Always available at lunchtime in her office, surrounded by Stratford banners, assorted playbills, and a model of the Globe Theatre, Ruth spent many lunches with students seeking counsel. Her colleagues in Asbury’s English department as well sought out her opinions and welcomed her progressive perspective and optimistic energy. By the time she retired in 1995, Ruth had been a mentor to many faculty members.
During Ruth’s retirement tribute, one of her colleagues cited her “vibrant and exuberant youthfulness” as well as her “measured extravagance and careful flamboyance.” He went on: “In short, hidden somewhere in Ruth Zimmer’s character is a layer cake that simply refuses to be a bran muffin.”
Another colleague provided a favorite Ruth quote: “Just because you’re a Christian, doesn’t mean you have to be boring.”
But Ruth was not perfect and nor did she want to be. One of her most famous failings was a sense of direction. During her retirement tribute, a faculty colleague recalled the time when Ruth talked her into a tour of the almost-finished Reasoner Hall at Asbury, which was connected to Morrison Hall. “Feeling a bit like the Wesleyan-Arminian version of ‘Thelma and Louise,’ we set off into the dry-walled halls. Five steps out of Morrison, we were lost.”
Charles had retired seven years earlier than Ruth from IBM. He had refused to travel without her and so began their traveling years: Alaska, Novo Scotia, Mexico and Europe, where they retraced part of Charles’ tour in World War II.
Their travel tapered off after Charles’ heart attack in 2000. They shared 10 more years of marriage in their Lexington home before Charles’ death in 2010.
Among Ruth’s many talents was a heavenly voice. She started singing in her teen years, taking voice lessons and singing in her father’s church’s choir and several local choruses. Her love of music and singing was always received as a blessing in the many churches she attended over the decades in three states. For many decades, Ruth and Charles attended Stonewall Wesleyan Church on Clays Mill Road, where Ruth was a regular choir member and soloist.
She is predeceased by her husband Charles in 2010; her parents, Helen in 1979 and Charles in 1980. Ruth is survived by her three children: Jim Zimmer of Lexington, Jeff Zimmer and his wife Karen Kemp of Durham, NC, and John Zimmer and his wife Jamie Zimmer of Durham, NC. One sibling survives her: Connie Landis (Robert) of Sellersville, Pa. Three grandchildren also survive her: Helen Zimmer of Philadelphia, Ian Zimmer of Charlotte, NC, and Charlie Zimmer of Durham. Surviving nieces and nephews are Cindi Serenbetz (Warren) of Wilton, CT; Cathy Landis of Reading, PA; Robert Landis (Laurie) of Furlong, PA; Susan Jones (Larry) of Mohrsville, PA; Mary Jo Salerno of Laureldale, PA; Drew Kachel (Jackie) of Niwot, CO; and David Kachel of Texas.
A short funeral service will be held at 2:30 p.m. Friday, Oct. 1 at Lexington Kerr Brothers Funeral home on Harrodsburg Road preceded by a visitation from 1-2:30 p.m. Another visitation will be held later in October at Cramp-Hummel Funeral Home in Reading, PA. Burial service will be at St. Paul’s UCC Cemetery in Ravine, PA.
Memorials may be made to the Salvation Army or a charity of your choice. The family would like to thank Central Baptist Hospital and Bluegrass Care Navigators for their dedicated care to Ruth during her final journey.