Stillwater News Press


May 13, 2014

Ruth Bullock Ward

Ruth Bullock Ward, a well-known and highly regarded high school and university English teacher who was the last surviving direct descendant of an early Stillwater family, died Saturday. She was 99.

Mrs. Ward, the widow of former Oklahoma Department of Transportation director Richard A. “Dick” Ward, lived in Stillwater where she was born for almost 90 years, making her one of its longest-tenured residents.

She began a long and distinguished teaching career in January 1936 when she was hired to teach English and other courses at the Stillwater Junior High School despite the fact she was weeks short of her 20th birthday. Before she retired a half-century later as an English instructor at Oklahoma State University, she had taught three generations of some families among students that includedseveral state leaders.

Born in a house on South Husband Street on Jan. 22, 1915 – when Woodrow Wilson was president – Mrs. Ward was the daughter of Edward J Bullock and Eloise Bras Bullock. Her father was an early-day auto mechanic, when cars were still new, and operated Bullock’s Service Station on West Eighth Street for many decades.

Mrs. Ward had direct connections to Oklahoma’s pioneer days, and learned the value of education from an early age. Her mother was among the first women to attend Oklahoma A&M College after it opened in 1894, and later taught school in a one-room schoolhouse south of Stillwater.  

Following World War I, Mrs. Ward began her formal education at home under the tutelage of an aunt and in a one-room school called White Rose, near Mason.

She excelled and, after the family returned to Stillwater a short time later, the primary school principal advanced her from first to the third grade because she was so far ahead of the other pupils.

She earned her high school diploma in less than three years, and she graduated from Oklahoma A&M College (now Oklahoma State University) with a bachelor of science degree at age 19. She also earned a master’s degree in education from Oklahoma A&M.

During the 1930s, her students nicknamed her “Bubbles” for her outgoing and friendly personality.

After banning gun chewing in her classroom, she had students place their gum in a large glass jar that her students at one point sent to the “The Breakfast Club,” a Chicago-based radio variety show broadcast nationally. The host, Don McNeill, regaled his audience about the penalties for chewing gum in Bubbles’ English class, making Mrs. Ward a local celebrity.

During World War II, Mrs. Ward wanted to join the WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service), but could not get the required clearance to do so because she was a teacher, an essential civilian wartime job. Instead, she recruited her students to knit mufflers and socks for the troops.

In 1949, Mrs. Ward married Richard Ward, a civil engineering graduate of Oklahoma A&M, and she retired from teaching for the first time in 1950. They were married for 37 years, until his death in 1986.

After raising a family, Mrs. Ward returned to teaching in 1970, in the English Department at Oklahoma State University. She retired in 1981, and began volunteering at the local library and local charities including a community kitchen where she delivered meals to senior citizens for several years.

She was the longest continuous member of the First Baptist Church of Stillwater, where she taught Sunday school for many years.

Mrs. Ward was preceded in death by her husband, her parents, two sisters and a brother.

She is survived by her two sons: Michael, of Austin, Texas, who works as a senior writer and chief of the Houston Chronicle’s capitol bureau, and Stephen, of Tulsa, an American Indian law attorney and partner at Conner & Winters LLP.

She is also survived by her daughter-in-law, Sally Mattei Ward, and two grandchildren — Spencer Edward Ward and Lauren Elizabeth Ward — who affectionately knew her as Janu, a name she selected for herself after the grandmother in the classic 1957 film “An Affair To Remember.”

Other survivors include three nephews, Gerald Edward Bradshaw of Stillwater; James Donald Bullock, of Las Vegas, Nev., and Amarillo, Texas; Wayne Edward Bullock, of Hominy, and two nieces, Allene Owen, of Stillwater, and Margaret Ann Chapman, of Williamsport, Pa., in addition to numerous cousins.

Services are scheduled at 10:30 a.m. Wednesday at the First Baptist Church, 701 S. Duncan St., under the direction of Strode Funeral Home. Internment will follow at Fairlawn Cemetery.

The family requests donations in Mrs. Ward’s memory be made to the Oklahoma State University Foundation for an education scholarship to be established in her name.

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