Ruth Irwin Topping
Ruth Irwin Topping, a 23-year resident of Sonoma, died from natural causes on Jan. 24, 2013, surrounded by the love of her family.
She was born Oct. 21, 1920, in Kankakee, Ill., to Dr. George Earle Irwin and Ruth McBroom Irwin. Except for a brief period after her marriage when she and her husband lived in New York City, she lived her entire life in Kankakee, until moving to Sonoma in November 1989.
She attended Kankakee public schools, graduating from Kankakee High School at the age of 16. She attended Rockford College for one year and then transferred to Northwestern University from which she earned a BA in biology. In August 1941, she married Harry Franklyn Topping who served as an officer in the United States Navy in the South Pacific during World War II. In January 1943, their daughter, Linda was born. In August 1945, a second daughter, Joan, was born, and in May 1950, their son, Harry F. Topping Jr. was born.
While her children were growing up, Ruth was active in many community activities, including being a troop leader in both the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, and teaching Sunday School at the First United Methodist Church. In 1959, she was elected to the Kankakee School Board, the first woman to hold an elected office in Kankakee. She served on the school board for eight years, holding at various times the offices of president, treasurer and secretary. She then became a volunteer docent at the Art Institute of Chicago, leading school children on museum tours.
In 1972, she resigned as a docent to enter the master’s of social work program at the University of Chicago. She graduated in 1975 and, in 1976, began her career in private practice as a psychiatric social worker at the Kankakee County Mental Health Center. In 1985, she resigned from the mental health center. During that time she was also a founding member of both the Kankakee Junior League and the Arbez Coalition (zebra spelled backwards – blacks and whites together.)
Ruth and Harry were always interested in meeting people from, and learning about, various cultures and areas of the world. They hosted exchange students from Iran, Germany, India, Italy and France. They traveled to Alaska, Bermuda, the British and American Virgin Islands, St. Martins and St. Kitts, Brazil, most of Western Europe, South Africa, Tanzania, Kenya and the Seychelles Islands.
After moving to Sonoma, Ruth was active in the Sonoma Historical Society, a book club, the AAUW and Pets Lifeline.
Ruth was predeceased by her husband, Harry; and two grandchildren.
She is survived by her brother, George E. Irwin Jr. (Marguerite); and her children, Linda Topping (Marilyn Mittenthal), Joan Topping and Harry F. Topping Jr. (Susan). She is also survived by seven grandchildren, Mara Mittenthal, Lindsey Mittenthal, Laura McPhee (Philip), Kristen Belden (Paul), Harry F. Topping III, Miles Kenneth Topping, Liam George Topping; and numerous nieces and nephews.
Ruth was a lovely woman, a devoted wife, a loving mother and grandmother, a lifelong learner, an excellent cook, a grower of beautiful roses and orchids, a supporter of the arts, a gracious hostess, a passionate advocate of her political beliefs and a loyal friends.
All who have known her will miss her.
A celebration of Ruth’s life will be held at the First Congregational Church of Sonoma, United Church of Christ, at 3:30 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 9, 2013. Friends may greet the family at the church beginning at 3 p.m. Later this spring, the family will also hold a memorial service in Illinois.
If one wishes to make a memorial contribution in Ruth’s name, the family suggests Autism Speaks, Hospice By The Bay, Pets Lifeline, or the charity of your choice.