Congressman Earl Ruth Highway Dedicated in Ceremony at Catawba
April 26, 2012
Although he died in 1989, memories of U.S. Congressman Earl Baker Ruth flowed as freely on April 26 as traffic on the highway that was dedicated in his memory. A ceremony, emceed by N.C. Board of Transportation member, Ralph Womble, and attended by Ruth's family, past and present elected officials, and his former students, friends and colleagues, was held that day in Peeler Crystal Lounge on the Catawba College campus.
The ceremony dedicated a section of U.S. 601 North, from Jake Alexander Boulevard in Rowan County to the Davie County line as the Congressman Earl Ruth Highway. A highway sign with the new designation was unveiled.
Ruth, a native of Spencer, attended UNC Chapel Hill and played basketball there, serving two years as that team's captain. He later carried many other titles, former U.S. Senator James Broyhill recalled. Ruth was a lieutenant in the U.S. Navy during World War II, a beloved coach and a dean of students at Catawba, a mayor pro tem of Salisbury, a U.S. Congressman from North Carolina's Eighth District from 1968 to 1974, and finally a Governor of American Samoa (appointed by President Gerald Ford). He was also a family man, committed to his wife and four children.
Broyhill recalled feeling a great responsibility to introduce Earl Ruth around Congress when Ruth was first elected in 1968. "I wanted Earl to stand out, so I would introduce him as Dr. Earl Ruth," Broyhill remembered. "Earl said later he didn't know if I'd done him a favor or not because not a day went by that someone didn't ask him for medical advice."
Broyhill said there were two types of congressmen — showhorses and workhorses — and described Ruth as a workhorse. "He was one of those trying to make the place work. He had a great reputation for giving great service and went the extra mile to make sure his constituents were served. He was a modest man, but he was a man of purpose and in my mind, he was a key part of the greatest generation. In my mind, he was a hero of the greatest generation."
Dr. Joe Oxendine '52, chancellor emeritus of UNC Pembroke and Catawba's former interim president, was a player for Ruth when Ruth was employed as a coach of football, baseball and basketball at Catawba. "He was my coach and a mentor," Oxendine recalled. "He showed me what I ought to become."
Former N.C. Governor James Martin remembered Ruth as "my uncle" when Martin was first elected to Congress. Senator Andrew Brock shared comments about Ruth on behalf of former N.C. Governor James Holshouser who was unable to attend the ceremony.
Ruth's son, Earl Wiley Ruth shared reminiscences about his father. "My family and I grew up on the Catawba College campus. We lived at 308 Summit Avenue. Our dad was always just fun with jokes, stories and tricks — something for everyone. He took me and my siblings to church every Sunday and would read a verse out of the Bible every day."
In addition to Ruth's son, Earl Wiley Ruth, he and wife Jane's other children attending the ceremony included his daughters Billie Jane Foil, Marian Sanders, and Jackie Burleson.
Earl Ruth Highway Unveiled on US 601 (SalisburyPost.com)
Part of U.S. 601 Named for Earl B. Ruth (SalisburyPost.com)