To properly begin a story on a person as accomplished and respected as Ruth Wharton, it would make sense to start at the beginning when she was born to A.C. and Mary Wharton, also area natives and highly regarded people.
Wharton was born and raised in Tucker’s Crossroads, where her dad was a sharecropper for Johnny Smith at the time.
“We moved to Lebanon when I was about 5 years old,” said Wharton. “I attended Market Street Elementary, where there were a lot of memories for me. The custodian was a Mr. Yates who was also the chaplain in the school. You listened, you sang and then you went to your class. That was before there was a kindergarten in the school system. Prayers and such were mandatory back then, and kids who needed help got it from private organizations instead of government programs.”
She described both her parents as giving.
“A lot of people here will tell you if it weren’t for my mother or father or both, they wouldn’t have made it. We didn’t have much of anything, but my mother could do about anything and felt everyone could better themselves by learning,” said Wharton. “I remember the time I had made an outfit and couldn’t find the exact buttons I needed to put on it. Mother got a couple of pieces of kindling wood – either hickory or cedar – and carved me the buttons for the outfit. I still have them.”
A.C. Wharton felt he didn’t get as far in business as he could because banks wouldn’t loan to a man without an education. He had to get a loan from a private individual to start his first store. He was also a strong believer in children getting a good education. All five of his children became top professionals.
“Dad would do anything he had to to make sure we kids had what we needed,” said Wharton. “Or, if the family or his livestock needed something, he’d work out a way to get it. For instance, dad worked out a deal with the man who owned the Kirkpatrick Shoe Store to clean his store in exchange for him giving each of us five kids two new pairs of shoes a year. Then, if dad needed feed for his livestock, he’d go to the grainery, sweep floors to get the discarded grain or swapped out his cleaning time for grain. He’d also collect garbage from restaurants to feed his hogs.
“When it came time for us kids to go to college, tuition was about a $100 a year at that time. Dad would do whatever he needed to swap out or work out to get the tuition money. At one point, there were three of us in college at the same time.”
Wharton said she remembers quite a bit about her parents and childhood.
“We like to tell people we chose our parents well,” said Wharton. “But, we all believe we turned out like we did because of our parents.”
Mary Wharton was the oldest child of A.C. and Mary Wharton. She graduated from college, taught high school and is currently retired and living in Memphis. Ruth was next in line and earned her bachelor and master’s degrees. A.C. Wharton is three years younger than Ruth. When in high school, he would work at McGee and Jennings and then go to the courthouse and watch and listen to the trials. He graduated high school, college and law school, became a lawyer and is currently serving as the mayor of Memphis.
Kenneth Wharton was next in line. Today, he is retired after a career in medicine as an obstetrics and gynecology doctor. Velma was the baby of the family, who Ruth said the other children spoiled rotten because she was so cute and their Barbie Doll. She got her degree in education, taught at Highland Heights for five years, then married and moved to Mount Prospect, where she was the village clerk who runs all things connected with the township’s government. She died after battling breast cancer.
From the fourth grade through graduation from high school, Ruth Wharton was in the marching band, where she played clarinet and then played tenor sax in the concert band.
“I was in the fourth grade and sister Mary was in the fifth grade when they started the bands and music,” said Wharton. “Mother thought if was wonderful that we could learn to play music. Velma, our baby sister, became the mascot of the marching band. Mother made her a uniform to wear and she was so proud. She was 3 at the time. I really enjoyed playing the clarinet. We had to take music appreciation in high school, and I attribute my love for all kinds of music to those years.”
Wharton graduated from Wilson County Training School in 1959. She went from there to Tennessee State University.
“I wanted to major in art, but my parents couldn’t afford to send me out of state to school, so I majored in elementary education and minored in special education,” said Wharton. “I had to do two student teachings which turned out to be a blessing because there are so many kids who don’t progress at the rate of others, so I had special strategies in mind for kids with learning abilities from the beginning.
“I remember getting worried when I graduated from college because I thought you were supposed to know what was ahead of you for at least five years from that point, and I didn’t. Five of us who were in school together heard about a person on campus who was interviewing for jobs in Indiana. We all applied, and all of us got hired.”
Wharton said she taught second grade for two years in Fort Wayne, Ind. and then taught special education while working on her master’s at St. Francis plus taught reading. She got her master’s in education and her minor in reading.
“In our contracts for the graduate program, they said we had to have compiled our masters within five years of starting to teach. It was unheard of, but all six of us believed it, so we followed through and did it,” Wharton said. “I was never so glad to get out of Ft. Wayne, Ind. because it was so cold and snowy.”
In the meantime, Wharton had gotten married right out of college to Russell Cooper who she met at Tennessee State. The marriage lasted five years and produced one daughter, Sherrie.
“He told me if I took a job out of state, he’d leave me, said Wharton, “So I took the job in Ft. Wayne, Ind. He followed me there.”
Then, she met Samuel Brown in Ft. Wayne. They were married for 10 years, and Ruth had her second daughter, Malika.
When she left Ft. Wayne, Wharton moved to Nashville, where she worked at Meharry Medical College in its child development center for a year and a half. From there, she became director of the child center for the Lutheran Church, where one of its pilot programs was serving children with special needs and their peers. She was there for two years.
At that point, she started at Fisk University, where she taught method courses to people who wanted to be teachers. She also supervised them through their student teaching.
“In the meantime, I would run over to Peabody and take a class because I was working on my advanced degree in early childhood education,” said Wharton.
In 1974, Wharton moved to California, where she spent most of her professional life. She worked in professional development, training staffs in the school while also teaching at Sacramento State University and at the University of California at Riverside. Through all of this, she served as a consultant in special education for the California State Department. She also served seven years as director of gifted programs for the Sacramento City School District.
“When I left Sacramento, I was recruited for a position in the Los Angeles school system, where I worked three years helping to improve how they were supporting children in special education under a government decree that they had to do a better job. I worked those three years training principals and assistant principals,” she explained.
Wharton said she had planned to retire at that point, so she returned to Tennessee in June 2003.
“I came back to help my mother with my dad, who was quite ill by that time. It was a move I never regretted because it gave me chance to know them on a different level,” she said. “When your parents are busy all the time in your growing up years, you don’t get a real chance to really know them. Dad worked as a janitor during the day at the Garment Factory and at night worked for Tatum’s Produce House.
“When she wasn’t home watching us and keeping us occupied so dad could sleep, mother was working at Martha Gaston Hospital where she was supposed to be a maid. However, she ended up doing everything from mixing barium, to cleaning hospital equipment, etc. As soon as we were old enough, we kids worked at cleaning offices including the Masonic Hall Lodge. When dad got off work, he would meet us and help us.”
Wharton said all the Wharton children worked from the time they were old enough and all through their college days. Ruth worked babysitting for several families while she was in high school. In one case, she kept a whole family of kids for $10 a week plus kept the children of a Cumberland president and a family with Texas Eastern. She maintained church was a large part of their lives from childhood.
“It felt like you started working at birth,” she said.
Today, those family values of working, earning, giving and helping have all been passed down to Wharton’s two daughters. They are both college graduates also. Sherrie lives in Mt. Juliet, where she contracts with pharmaceutical companies to monitor their trials. Malika lives in Dallas. She got married last October. Her degree is in human resources, and she’s job hunting currently. Wharton said her immediate family also includes two “grand puppies” since she has no grandchildren to this point.
Wharton also claims a foster daughter who she took in when she was in the seventh or eight grade. She’s currently in California at the University of California at Davis, Calif.
The Wharton family has a scholarship set up at Cumberland University for children who want to major in business.
Where she thought she was going to retire when she came back to Tennessee, Wharton took a job at David Lipscomb University developing master’s degree programs in special education for people who wanted to get a master’s in special education. It’s a federally and state-funded program working with special needs children.
She taught courses and supervised the practicum and was on the road again throughout Williamson, Montgomery, Dixon and Davidson counties. She did that for six years and then supervised student teachers for David Lipscomb.
In the meantime, she raises African violets, makes one-of-a-kind articles of clothing, which she cuts out on her mother’s dining room table she now has in her home. She sells and also donates the beautiful creations to fundraisers as items to sell for their event. She volunteers at the Schrader Lane Assisted Living Center, which allows her to use her many creative talents with the residents and staff from decorating for holidays to teaching quilting classes.
Her spare time is spent sewing, reading, exercising with friends and traveling. She is also a member of Leadership Donelson Hermitage, the Wilson County Gardeners Guild, the Fiddler’s Grove Historical Foundation and Schrader Lane Church of Christ.
“I joined the local chapter of AARP in Nashville, and that’s how I learned about all the programs AARP offers,” said Wharton. “I realized there are not many voices out there for seniors, and volunteering for them was just another way for me to be involved and giving back. In our state, we’re not a big priority for programs. AARP is trying to get us in the forefront, but they need our help.”
Ruth Wharton may be contacted by emailing her at email@example.com.