News & Media

Kelly Ryan Blog: Farewell to Ruth Barker, our Heart-Home Hero

Fri. Apr 19, 2013

My friend Ruth Barker, a woman of great faith and unparalleled generosity, passed away last week. She was 84.

I last saw Ruth at Christmastime in Milwaukee, where she had moved to spend the last years of her life surrounded by her children and grandchildren. Although her cancer had returned, Ruth’s spirit remained as strong as the day we first met.

And, like always, Wisconsin Rapids was on her mind.

Ruth & Hartley Barker

Ruth was one of this community’s greatest champions. She called Wisconsin Rapids her “heart home” because no matter how far she strayed, the city and its residents were never far from that most vital organ. Ruth loved this town and she spent her life showing it.

As a member of the storied Mead Family, Ruth was able to contribute vast sums of her fortune back to the community.

She was the granddaughter of George Mead I, one of the founders of Consolidated Papers, Inc., and she served on the company’s Board of Directors for eight years until its sale to Stora Enso in 2000.

After the sale, Ruth was pained to learn about the job losses plaguing her hometown. She felt like it was beyond her control, but also felt a deep desire to help in some way. In 2001, Ruth and her husband, Hartley, established the $4.8 million Ruth and Hartley Barker Advised Fund here at Incourage.

Three years later, the couple partnered with Ruth’s cousin, Gilbert Mead, and his wife, Jaylee, to establish the Barker Mead Fund. Their initial gift proveded matching for $1 million funding community projects at 30 local organizations, including the Boys & Girls Club of the Wisconsin Rapids Area, Wisconsin Rapids Public Schools Endowment Fund, Arts Council of South Wood County and more.

It’s not a stretch to say that there isn’t a single nonprofit organization in our community that wasn’t helped by Ruth’s generosity.

Take a drive around south Wood County and it won’t be long before you pass a structure Ruth helped fund, or a person she helped succeed. Because of her long-term commitment to The Family Center, local victims of spousal abuse are given shelter and aid in a new facility on 25th Street North. The University of Wisconsin Cancer Center Riverview stands as a tribute to Ruth’s largesse and her commitment to the health and wellbeing of the city’s residents. And behind Grove Elementary School there’s a handicapped-accessible playground Ruth helped build.

Even here, in the offices of Incourage, her influence is everywhere. Our building would not exist today were it not for Ruth. Our mission — which she so accurately and bravely described as “social justice” — would not be as strong.

But Ruth was more than her money. She was a quiet philanthropist. Someone who believed in goodness for goodness-sake. She was quick to smile, but firm in her convictions.

Above all, Ruth was my friend.
She will be missed.


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  • About Incourage

    Established in rural Wisconsin in 1994 to serve the changing needs of the south Wood County area, Incourage has become a nationally-recognized leader in place-based philanthropy and community development. Guided by values of equity, opportunity, and shared stewardship, Incourage envisions a community that works well for all people. One physical manifestation of this vision is the redevelopment of the Tribune building, which demonstrates Incourage’s user-centered approach to growing a strong and inclusive local economy.