Austrian Immigrant Who Logged 10,000 Volunteer Hours Inspires Family Donation

By Patrick McGee - May 2015

Early in her life, Ruth Adler fled Austria to escape Nazi persecution. By the end of her life she was a dedicated volunteer at Children’s Medical Center Dallas, helping nurse sick children back to health and living a value system so opposite to the cruelty that she fled.

Ruth Adler in Austria, circa 1936 (top), Mrs. Adler at Children’s Medical Center in 1995 (center), Mrs. Adler’s 1939 green card (bottom)

Hands were held, tears were wiped away and babies were rocked to sleep. This was a dedication so tireless – she gave more than 10,000 hours in volunteer work – that friends and family have stepped forward to honor her memory in ways both substantive and symbolic. Mrs. Adler’s four children donated $100,000 to establish a fund in her honor after her death last year at age 95. One of her friends, a fellow volunteer in the recovery unit, handmade a memorial banner to hang in the hospital’s chapel.

Her friends and family said she was deeply committed to her work at Children’s.

“Coming to this country from Austria and being able to have a good life made her want to give back,” said her daughter, Kathy Adler Londeree. “It was that sense of giving back and always being so grateful that inspired us.”

Mrs. Adler came to America as Ruth Marie Epstein in 1939, landing in New York on an ocean liner from Europe. The ship’s manifest said she could read and write in English. It listed her occupation as “student” and her race as “Hebrew.”

“She was definitely one of the real lucky ones. Things were really, really bad by 1939. If you were Jewish in Vienna you were desperate to leave by this point,” said Steven Pressman, a historian who wrote a book about Jewish children fleeing Austria on a 1939 voyage of the SS President Harding, the same ship that Mrs. Adler escaped on later that same year.

The Germans controlled Austria in 1939 and were sending Jews to detention camps that later became death camps. Millions of Jews died in the camps, including two of Mrs. Adler’s uncles.

“Every Jewish family in Austria was trying to get out, and a lot of them, of course, were trying to come to the United States,” Mr. Pressman said.

Mrs. Adler had an aunt in Italy who secured a job for her cleaning rooms in England. From England, her brother, already in Texas, got her a visa to the U.S.

Ruth Marie Epstein married Alexander Adler, a Jewish refugee from Germany, and they had five children. One daughter died of polio at age 4. When Mrs. Adler’s youngest started high school, Mrs. Adler started volunteering at Children’s. She was known for enjoying classical music and for her tireless devotion to Children’s. Mrs. Adler helped thousands of children and won several awards for her work, including Volunteer of the Year from the Volunteer Center of Dallas in 1995.

The honors came from more than 30 years of volunteering at Children’s, where Mrs. Adler was known for being grandmotherly toward patients and witty with their parents.

“She just did whatever needed to be done. She was just really good with kids. She’d rock the babies, and she’d talk to the older kids that were scared,” said longtime volunteer Janice Holmes, who served alongside Mrs. Adler for many years.

Mrs. Holmes stitched a memorial banner for her friend, complete with the Star of David. It now hangs in the hospital’s chapel. Mrs. Adler’s daughter, Susan Adler, said her mother loved the work and was driven to do it by a deeply held value system.

“She really felt a need to give back to the community,” she said. “It was part of what she was brought up believing – that people need to help the have-nots.”

In 1995, Mrs. Adler told The Dallas Morning News, “I wanted something to do and this appealed to me. We see all sorts of stories – some are happy and some are very sad. It means something to be able to help parents when they are going through a really tough time.”

Mrs. Londeree said she volunteered at Children’s once and saw parents hugging her mother because they were so grateful that she was keeping their child company in the recovery room.

Mrs. Adler’s son, Robert, said she did not stop volunteering at Children’s until the drive became too difficult for her as she aged.

“It was her duty to serve, and she found that she loved it,” he said. “She loved Children’s, and through this she’s giving back one more time. We have no doubt that she’s in heaven.”

The inscription on the banner Mrs. Holmes made reads, “Good and faithful servant enter into the joy of your Lord, Ruth Adler, Children’s Volunteer 1968 – 2002.”


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