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Class Notes Profiles

In Mom’s memory

What put Ruth Hovland, Sp ’69, on this path?

By Nicole Sweeney Etter

Ruth Hovland remembers discovering the little note card hidden under the velvet in her mother’s jewelry box. It was a cheat sheet to help her mother remember the names of her children.

By the time Hovland discovered it, her mother had already passed away from complications of Alzheimer’s disease. Fifteen years later, Hovland still gets choked up talking about it.

“She made this slow-motion exit off this earth,” she says. “Her journey really changed the trajectory of my life.”

Once a theatre and communication instructor at Marquette, Hovland now directs the Memory Care Program at Clement Manor retirement community in Greenfield, Wis. In 2007, she was named Professional of the Year by the Alzheimer’s Association of Wisconsin.

Motivated by her mother, Hovland started as a certified nursing assistant in a nursing home.

“I decided to use the communication strengths that God gave me and use them to help people understand this disease,” she says.

When she was in her 40s, she decided to get an R.N. degree to give her more legitimacy in the field. “It was absolutely the bravest thing I’d ever done in my life because I started all over in a new discipline,” she says.

At Clement Manor, she facilitates support groups, trains staff and designs nonpharmacological treatment plans for patients with memory loss. She knows firsthand the joy families feel when a spark of a patient’s former self returns, if only for a second. And she’s optimistic about the future.

“There is new research continually going on that gives all of us hope that this disease will one day be managed just like cancer or diabetes,” she says.


Comment by Michael Flahive at Jul 20 2010 07:11 pm

What a nice piece. As a speech-language pathologist I have had experiences with those who "say goodbye without leaving" - and am currently on the board of a local Adult Day Care Center. I am gratified that you've been able to direct your many talents as you have - good job! Say "hey" to Dan.


Comment by John C. Hunter at Aug 07 2012 03:54 pm
Ruth, What a wonderful memory/story. Congraulations on becoming an R.N. The last time we met you were still in Theatre, something I'm still doing: Prof. John Hunter, Washburn University. I'm through with production design work but I still enjoy teaching the art. I also do a lot of volunteer work as an "Arts Activist." Go to last Sunday's Travel section of the New York Times to see the article on the NOTO Arts District that I'm involved in. Take good care and drop me an email if you have the time.
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