HomeObituariesRUTH KETTNER


It is with sadness and gratitude that we mourn the loss of our mother, Ruth Kettner. She died in her 100th year on February 15, 2023. We are sad that she is gone. We are grateful that she died the way she wanted to: peacefully in her own home, in her favourite chair, with her family holding her hands. Her warm heart stopped after more than three billion heart beats.
Most of all, we are thankful for her. She had a wonderful life. She was loved by more people than we know.
Ruth put her joy of life, her heart, and her warm hard-working hands into everything she did. She seemed to find enjoyment in all of it, especially being with and caring for her family, their friends, her nephews and nieces, her friends, fellow activists, work colleagues, and her patients. She made people feel welcomed and valued. Although not officially trained as one, she was a counselor to many, ready to listen to anyone who sought her advice or support. She was inclusive in a way that made those around her feel that they were part of her family. She made people feel loved. It was easy to love her back.
Ruth was born on May 2, 1923 in Winnipeg. Her parents were Molly Hechter and Hymie Wiseman. She grew up on Corydon Avenue with her three siblings: Ethel (Bert), Edna (Jack) and Barrie (Maureen). At the age of 19, she married Max Kettner. She and Max, who predeceased her in 2008, led a life full of love, work, adventure, compassion, learning, and generosity together for 66 years. They married in Kingston, Ontario during WW2 and moved shortly thereafter to Minneapolis for Max to complete his PhD. Ruth supported the family, which increased from two children (Faye and Billy) to four (Joel and Bruce), by working as a typist. In 1956, they returned to Winnipeg and moved into 84 St. Cross in Winnipeg’s north end. That house served as the well-loved family home for them and countless friends until all the children left.
Born left-handed, Ruth was pressured at school to write with her non-dominant right hand. Although she was initially resistant to it, she became ambidextrous, which may have been a factor in her lively and entertaining piano playing and her award-winning penmanship, which endured until the day she died. Her ability to navigate her way through or around such efforts to mould or constrain her – whether personal or societal – were a theme of her life.
Prior to her eventual career, Ruth was predominantly a “stay-at-home” mom. She was reliable and always available – not just for a hot lunch every school day or for help with homework and school projects. She created a home that was warm, comfy, and stimulating. Outside the home, she was involved with a peace activist group “Voice of Women”, Girl Scouts and Cubs leadership, and the PTA at Luxton school. She directed school plays for the annual Winnipeg Play Parade.
She had fun and knew how to create fun for others. She hosted events, big and small, and welcomed everyone with genuine warmth. She was delighted to receive guests – whether invited or not! – at the house or cottage.
Despite her many activities, she found time for relaxation and recreation. She was content to be alone, baking pies, cakes, and muffins in bare feet while listening to opera. She was as at home at the opera or ballet in New York, London, or Winnipeg, as she was camping in Arizona or the Rockies.
At the age of 42, once her children were in high school and university, Ruth decided to go back to school to obtain a diploma in Early Childhood Development. She chose to work with hospitalized sick children, and soon became the Director of the Child Life Department at Children’s Hospital. There, she led a gradually expanding team that developed and implemented an innovative and well-respected program. She became a sought-after teacher, speaker, and consultant, locally, nationally, and internationally. At the core of the program’s success was Ruth’s creativity and warm heart, inspiring all the staff as well as others throughout the hospital. Although she loved working directly with the children, much of her work was providing direct support for their parents, especially those of terminally ill children. She also applied her life experience of navigating challenging obstacles by using her charm and persuasiveness to advocate for the children and to obtain resources from administrators and benefactors.
She was awarded many honours during her life including the Queen Elizabeth ll Silver Jubilee Medal in 1977, YWCA Woman of the Year in 1978, and the Child Life Council Distinguished Service Award in 2004. She received an honorary professorship in the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Manitoba. Not bad for a girl who left school after grade 10!
For their retirement, Max and Ruth bought a recreational vehicle for winter vacationing in Arizona. When Max’s eyesight failed, Ruth learned to drive the 32-foot RV so they could continue wintering in their favourite State Parks in Arizona.
After Max died, Ruth continued her engagement with The Compassionate Friends of Winnipeg. She maintained relationships with at least three generations that were touched, directly or indirectly, by her care for their children and support of their families. She remained in contact throughout her life with the numerous staff and colleagues who sought ongoing connection with her. She joined a creative writing group that met regularly at her home. Over a period of ten years, she wrote over one hundred short non-fiction stories, some already published, and others yet to be.
We think that the story of her life is a wonderful and inspiring one. We are grateful that our families – all three generations – and so many others have been a part of her story and share her legacy.
Her greatest joys were, of course, her children, grandchildren and great grandchildren. She made them all feel special. She was their “Ma”, “Baba”, or “Baba Baba”.
Faye: Marni (Grant), Isanne, Maya, Noa; Rachel (John), Hannah; Katherine (Bryan), Nathan, Tess. Frank and Valerie, Martyn, The Hilderman/Berry Family, The Greenberg Family.
Billy (Jane): Amy, Jack; Libby, Lucas, Emma. Billy (Debbie): Robert (Lisa), Sally. Billy (Avril): Ashlyn (Eitan), Devon (Sandra) Lola.
Joel (Sharon): Michelle (Joel), Arthur, Hannah; Beth (David), Alice, Georgia, Simone; Joanne (Matt), Juliette, Emma. Joel (Charlotte): Heather (Roz), Demi; Ben (Megan), Jack; Jace (Olena).
Bruce (Lindafern): Madeleine (Nico), Aaron, Yael; Jacob (Rylie), Asher, Ben.
Donations can be made to the Ruth Kettner Child Life Endowment Fund (at Children’s Hospital Foundation) to support child life workers’ attendance at professional development conferences and courses.
A memorial service to mourn her death and celebrate her life will be held on June 29, 2023, at The Leaf conservatory in Assiniboine Park. The service will begin at 2:00 PM (doors will open at 1:00). Our plan is to livestream and record the formal part of the ceremony.

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