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'American grandmother' honored as Unsung Heroine

Date: 5/4/2009

By Courtney Llewellyn

Reminder Assistant Editor

LONGMEADOW - The Massachusetts Commission on the Status of Women recently announced the 100 women dubbed Unsung Heroines for 2009. Ruth Sandow of Longmeadow is one of those women, but she humbly disagrees with the commission.

"I'm sure the 99 other people did bigger things than me," she said. "I've done everything through the years, all work with kids."

In her 79 years, Sandow has served as a Girl Scout leader, the founder of a prayer shawl ministry, a Sunday School teacher and an "American grandmother." Her most recent work includes helping immigrants become acclimated to American culture by teaching them English.

"It's fun. I have a wonderful time with all these people," Sandow said. "I've gotten a lot more than I've given."

She worked with her first immigrant family for 10 years. Now she's aiding people from Romania and Somalia. In the past, she's worked with a family she found through the Springfield Jewish Community Center; she finds other families who need assistance through her church, the First Church of Christ in Longmeadow.

"Every kid you come in contact with becomes a part of you," she stated. "It's really touching."

With the exception of 12 years, Sandow has lived her entire life in Longmeadow. Two weeks after she and her husband were married, they moved so he could work at a YMCA-sponsored boys' camp.

Sandow lost her husband and her son within a period of 18 days, and this presented her with a crossroads. She could lose herself in her grief or she could "pull herself up by the bootstraps," as she explained.

"I knew they'd kill me if I moped around," she said, "so I kept going."

"I marvel at her," Marjorie Gilbert of Enfield, one of the women who nominated Sandow as an Unsung Heroine, said. "She's pretty independent, and she does her own thing."

Gilbert, along with Marion Ruggels and Ellie Plaus, decided to nominate their friend for the award after seeing an announcement in a newspaper.

"Every day of her life, she's doing something for somebody," Gilbert said.

She and Sandow met eight years ago while taking an art class together.

"It's wonderful [that I'm being honored in this way], but I don't think I deserve it," Sandow said.

"I think I'll keep doing this as long as I can," she continued. "Anything you can do to help anybody makes a big difference."

She, along with the 99 other Unsung Heroines from across the Commonwealth, will be honored with a ceremony on May 13 at the State House in Boston. The women being honored were selected from a pool of nearly 400 nominees.

To learn more about the Unsung Heroines of 2009, log on to