Cover of Book My Travels Through Life, Love, and Literacy

A Tribute to a Legacy of Life, Love, and Literacy

Ruth J. Colvin wants to remind everyone that age is just a number. It doesn’t hinder success, dreams or growth and is not confined to a deadline. Ruth, 103, is living proof.

“One seldom knows what’s ahead for them,” says Ruth. “I’ve learned that whatever you do, don’t give up, and keep on learning. I had no idea that I would found a national literacy organization, and publish a book 100 years in the making.”

Ruth earned her first college degree as one of the earliest graduates of South Suburban College (SSC) in the mid-1930s. SSC was founded in 1927 as Thornton Junior College (TJC). At that time, the College was an extension of Thornton Township High School in Harvey, Illinois.

Ruth’s father had died at age 38 in 1929 during the Great Depression and she was the eldest of five children. When her uncle assumed the role of executor of her father’s estate, he didn’t grant her the money she needed to attend the University of Illinois, despite earmarking money for her brothers’ educations. “When they said no, we’re saving the money for the boys – that was the first inkling that I was living in a man’s world,” said Ruth.

Thanks to the newer community college policies of open access for all, she was able to earn her degree from TJC before pursuing advanced degrees at Northwestern University and Syracuse University later on.

“I had an excellent education there and that’s where I met the love of my life, which was a blessing indeed,” said Ruth. Her passion for education would continue over her 80-plus year journey including writing 15 books (one of which is utilized by SSC’s Adult Education Program), starting the Literacy Volunteers of America in 1962, visiting 62 countries, and providing literacy training in 23 developing countries, and receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Even when she lost the love of her life, Ruth was able to find light in the darkness. Her most recent literary accomplishment, My Travels Through Life, Love, and Literacy – A Journey Over 100 Years in the Making, chronicles the ups and downs of her life and work.

“Looking back over my lifetime of experiences, I learned that seeds are planted early in our lives that influence who we become,” says Ruth. “I hope people will learn to reflect on their lives and better understand why each person including your friends and family are who they are. I hope others might learn from my mistakes and my successes, because I’ve learned from both.”

Ruth challenges people to discover their own boundaries and not enable societal influence. “People shouldn’t feel discouraged about the institution from which they obtain a degree. Education is education, whether the individual went to Harvard or a community college like I did.”

Through all of her achievements, Ruth says her ultimate goal was to create a literate world where everyone has access to education. “I’m most pleased that others have caught on to my dream of a literate world, and are continuing, and adding their own creative ideas to helping others.”

Ruth believes in lifelong learning, which is why she’s so willing and eager to share her knowledge. “Yes, I’m 103, but age is just a number. It’s what you do with your number that counts.”

South Suburban College provides free Adult Education, Literacy Tutoring, and English as Second Language classes. Visit for more information about these programs or to become a volunteer literacy tutor.