Ruth S. Owens, 86
Widow of Olympian
When Jesse Owens jumped and ran his way to four gold medals at the 1936 Olympics, putting the lie to Hitler's claims of Aryan racial superiority, his wife was at home with their first child.
Although the expense of the trip was too great for them both to attend the Berlin Games, Ruth S. Owens was beside her track-star husband every step of the way before and after, preserving and spreading his legacy for generations.
Mrs. Owens, 86, the longtime board chairwoman of the Jesse Owens Foundation, died of heart failure Wednesday, June 27, in her Hyde Park home.
Mrs. Owens first met her husband, who already was a budding track star, in junior high school. He said "hello," she pretended she didn't hear him, and soon they were sharing doughnuts, said daughter Marlene Owens Rankin. They were married for nearly 48 years until his 1980 death.
"She saw them as partners," her daughter said. They raised three daughters and were involved in numerous charitable organizations, with a special fondness for those geared toward children.
Her husband was an Up With People board member and helped start the ARCO/Jesse Owens Games, a summer track and field competition for children across the country that culminated with scholarships for the winners.
When he died, Mrs. Owens took his Up With People board seat and continued serving as an ARCO ambassador, making appearances and greeting the children at the games, her daughter said. Nearly 11 million children, including Carl Lewis, had participated by the event's end a few years ago.
"She protected [Jesse Owens'] legacy and guarded it with all of her being," her daughter said. "She was chairman of the Jesse Owens Foundation, which existed to perpetuate his legacy. It was sort of the embodiment of him and how he spent his life. She was at the center of it."
Mrs. Owens was board chairwoman and an active fundraiser for the foundation formed 21 years ago to give scholarships and a chance to average students who were active in the community. More than 270 children have since earned the four-year, $2,000 annual scholarships, and 97 percent graduated from college, said her daughter, the current executive director. The foundation added mentoring and donations to youth-oriented organizations to its activities.
Mrs. Owens was a strong, independent woman, said son-in-law Stuart Rankin.
"She went by Ruth Owens. She didn't go by Mrs. Jesse Owens, although she was very proud of all that," he said.
Mrs. Owens loved playing bridge, viewing sports and watching the Olympics. "She used to watch Michael Jordan religiously," her son-in-law said.
Mrs. Owens is also survived by two other daughters, Gloria Hemphill and Beverly Prather; five grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.
Visitation will be held from 3 to 6 p.m. Monday at Griffin Funeral Home, 3232 S. King Drive, and at 10 a.m. Tuesday at First Unitarian Church of Hyde Park, followed by an 11 a.m. funeral service.
29 Jun 2001, Chicago Tribune News. Chicago, Cook, Illinois
Jesse Owens (1913 - 1980)*
Devoted Wife - Beloved Mother
Oak Woods Cemetery
Plot: Calm Vista
Created by: Doug the bug
Record added: Nov 08, 2007
Find A Grave Memorial# 22756404
Beloved wife of Jesse Owens, Olympic Champion and Patriot.|
Added: May. 2, 2012