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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Lifelong teacher not slowing down at 96

Ruth Parman, 96,  enters the Terrace View Pool for a water aerobics class on Wednesday, Aug. 17, 2016, in Spokane Valley. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)
Ruth Parman, 96, enters the Terrace View Pool for a water aerobics class on Wednesday, Aug. 17, 2016, in Spokane Valley. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review) Buy this photo

The sun’s rays beat down relentlessly on the group gathered for the noon water aerobics class at Terrace View Pool Aug. 17.

The 90-plus-degree heat would have kept many indoors near humming air-conditioners – but not Ruth Parman.

Instead, the energetic 96-year-old donned a floppy sunhat, some shades, a swimsuit and her blue water shoes, and drove to her neighborhood pool.

Born in Maryville, Missouri, in 1919, Ruth has always led an active life and sees no reason to slow down now.

“My earliest memory is playing with my brother in the backyard of the farmhouse,” she said.

During the Depression her family rented out the farm and moved to Portland, where her father joined a friend in the insurance business.

“That was a wonderful experience,” Ruth said. “In the Midwest we didn’t get exposed to other cultures like we did in the Northwest.”

The family joined Multnomah Grange.

“I was on the drill team,” she recalled. “We won the state championship!”

In 1934, they returned to Maryville to try to help her grandparents save the family farm.

Upon graduation, she immediately enrolled in Northwest Missouri State Teachers College in her hometown to pursue her dream of becoming a teacher, just like her mother, grandmother and great-grandmother before her.

At just 19, with a 60-hour certificate, she took her first teaching job, earning $72 per month. Her fifth- and sixth-grade students were taller than she was, but she said, “It was a joy to work with the children.”

After completing her degree, she was asked to be the fifth-grade teacher for her hometown elementary school, which she was until 1944.

That summer she traveled to Los Angeles to take classes at UCLA. When she found out she could teach in California and earn $2,000 more a year, she resigned from the school in Maryville.

Meanwhile, her relationship with Loren Parman began to blossom.

“My parents knew his parents,” she said. “Every few years our families would get together. They had six boys – we had such a great time!”

Just before she left for California, the families got together because three of the Parman boys were home on leave from the military. One of those boys was Loren, who served in the Army Air Force.

They continued their relationship via letter while he was stationed in Florida, and on Jan. 15, 1945, she received an engagement ring in the mail.

Loren got leave the next month, and they were married in Maryville on Feb. 11. By then he was stationed in Nebraska and they got to enjoy a monthlong honeymoon before she returned to California to finish the school year.

Soon her husband, a tail gunner on a B-52, left for the Pacific, where he served his final 22 months in the military.

“He was based on Tinian Island and when the war ended, his crew flew surveillance over Tokyo Bay during the signing of the armistice on the USS Missouri,” Ruth recalled. “In 1995 we attended a reunion of that crew.”

After the war, her husband attended the University of Missouri while she taught school.

“He wanted to go on to dental school, but there were no openings available,” she said. “My dad had a 330-acre farm near Oregon, Missouri, so we moved there to manage it.”

In 1952, both she and her husband enrolled in the Moody Bible Institute in Chicago because Loren felt called to the mission field.

“It was fine with me,” Ruth said of his plan. They lived on campus and graduated in 1954.

Her husband then enrolled in Fuller Theological Seminary, while she taught school once again.

Their first church was in northwest Iowa. They became parents of a son, and two years later, a daughter completed the family.

For the next 40 years they pastored Presbyterian churches throughout the Midwest, primarily in rural farming communities, where the family thrived on outdoor activities.

In 1974, they took a trip to Spokane to visit the World’s Fair and fell in love with the area. Two years later Loren accepted a job as pastor of the First Presbyterian Church in Omak, Washington.

Their children graduated from local schools and went on to receive degrees from then-Whitworth College.

Ruth continued her teaching career at North Elementary in Omak. She laughed and said, “When I was 65, they moved me on up to the middle school!”

She also joined the P.E.O. Sisterhood, an international women’s organization with a primary focus on providing educational opportunities for female students worldwide – an organization she is still involved with today.

“We knew we wanted to retire in Omak,” Ruth said. “So we bought an acre and built a house and barn on it. We had horses, too.”

Her husband retired at age 65 and Ruth followed suit at 67. Retirement freed up her time for a new passion – genealogy. And she didn’t exactly stop teaching. She was part of a group of educators who launched “Think of Your Future,” a retirement-planning seminar for teachers.

“We conducted workshops throughout Washington,” she said.

In 2003, while visiting their daughter and her family in England, Loren suffered a stroke and died.

Losing her partner of 58 years was incredibly difficult, but Ruth said her faith and her family sustained her.

She moved to Spokane Valley in 2008 to be near her son, and neither widowhood nor her age has rendered her inactive. Five days a week she dons her suit and heads over to Terrace View Pool.

“I’ve always done a lot of walking,” she said. “And when I taught school in Omak, I attended an after-school aerobics class in the gym to wind down after my day.”

Ruth, a cancer-survivor, offers this advice: “The main thing is to keep active – stay in motion.”

She smiled. “No day is ever long enough.”

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