Hampton woman wins Penny Smith Status of Women award for 25 years of volunteering

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Ruth Graham was an easy selection for the Penny Smith Status of Women award for 2014 from Zonta Three Rivers Pittsburgh North.

“Her history of giving back to the community for so long is impressive. Ruth is exactly the type of woman we want to honor with this award,” said Linda Yon, chairwoman of the Zonta award.

Mrs. Graham, 83, was honored for her 25 years of service to North Hills Community Outreach along with other volunteer work in the area. The Hampton resident also volunteers with her church, Bethlehem Lutheran Church, and delivers meals for Meals on Wheels.

“I believe you should give to the community,” Mrs. Graham said. “There is always something you can do to help others.” 

The Penny Smith award is named after a late Zonta member, according to Ms. Yon.

“Penny was an avid volunteer and after she passed, we wanted to honor her,” Ms. Yon said. “Ruth is an avid volunteer just like Penny was.”

A retired registered nurse, Mrs. Graham grew up in St. Catharines, in Ontario, Canada. After nursing school, she married her high school sweetheart, Robert, and when he finished his doctorate in chemistry, they moved to the United States.

“He couldn’t find work in Canada and was offered a job with a small company in Chicago,” she said.

The couple also lived in Connecticut and New Jersey with a second stint in Chicago before they moved to Pittsburgh nearly 30 years ago.

Her volunteer work started before she moved here.

Mrs. Graham volunteered with the Head Start program when her children were young, using her nursing skills.

“I could take my children with me, and there I would do basic health screenings, those sorts of things to help out,” she said.

Mrs. Graham became a licensed registered nurse in the United States and spent many years in the nursing field before moving to the Pittsburgh area so that her husband could work for Medrad.

“He had been unemployed for three years after his company was sold and I worked. When we came here, he told me to take time off, so I started volunteering,” she said.

When the Grahams joined Bethlehem Church, where former North Hills Community Outreach director Fay Morgan’s husband is pastor, Mrs. Morgan recruited Mrs. Graham to help at the nonprofit.

She has been there ever since.

“I think I have done just about every volunteer position there that there is. I started working in the food bank and have done a little bit of everything,” Mrs. Graham said.

Mrs. Graham currently serves as an executive volunteer, assisting with mailings, paperwork and receptionist duties as needed. She also is a past board member, serving on the board at NHCO from 1994 to 2008 when she then became a board member emeritus.

“She is truly one in a million. She does — and probably has done — every task we have asked her to do. And after all of her years of service here, she is very knowledgeable,” said Cheryl English, executive assistant at NHCO. “Ruth not only volunteers, she has and continues to serve on the board. She is just so passionate about North Hills Community Outreach and her church. She is very deserving of this award.”

Mrs. Graham thought differently.

“I thought they were crazy,” she said. “There are so many other people who have done a lot more work than me. I am just so honored.” 

Mrs. Graham said she can’t think of any reason why she would not continue to volunteer long into the future.

“I am blessed with excellent health and I can still drive,” she said. “As long as I can continue to give and help, I am glad to do it.”

Kathleen Ganster, freelance writer: suburbanliving@post-gazette.com.

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