2013-04-11 / Local & State

Tribute to a Friend Kathryn “Tat” Shimer Ruggerio September 15, 1925 – March 24, 2013

By Dot Gehr

Sometimes it is not how long we live on this earth that matters, but how we live and what we did during our time here that’s important. And it is always no telling how much we have impacted the lives of others such that in death we are still greatly missed. But of all our good or bad deeds on this earth, it is the care, compassion, understanding and empathy we show toward our fellow human beings that count the most. My friend, Kathryn “Tat” Shimer Ruggerio was such a person.

I first met Kathryn in 1965 when I accepted a position in the Fulton County Courthouse working for Harold Welsh, county superintendent of schools. I got off on the wrong foot the very first time I spoke to her. Mr. Welsh asked me to call Tat in the McConnellsburg Joint School District office. I don’t remember the reason for the call, but I do remember calling and asking for Pat. I thought those were my instructions. After three calls to the same number asking for Pat, this booming voice sounding rather annoyed asked, “Who are you calling?” “Pat,” I said. “Well, I’m Tat and there isn’t anyone here named Pat.” When I hung up the phone, Mr. Welsh asked what the fuss was about. “There is no one in the office named Pat,” I said. “Call back and ask for Kathryn,” he said, laughing loudly. That call began a friendship that endured near 50 years, with a lady named ... Kathryn.

Kathryn was born in McConnellsburg, Pa., the daughter of the late Paul and Kathryn (Mentzer) Shimer. She was one of nine children. Her brothers: Bill, Paul Jr., Bob, Wallace and Jack are all deceased. A sister, Florence, is also deceased. Only two sisters remain of the nine children: Mary, (wife of David Duncan) of Fayetteville, Pa., and Dorothy Demeter of Harmony.

Family was important to Kathryn. She and her siblings seemed to have a bond that they could count on one another through anything life would throw at them. “We could half kill one another at home, but if an outsider picked on just one of us, that was a different story,” she said. “He better be ready for a fight.” Kathryn loved her family and was proud of them. Her nieces and nephews had a special place in her heart.

Kathryn will be remembered for her seemingly eternal youthfulness and her young-at-heart disposition. Thinking that I would get the scoop on some elaborate cosmetic surgery, I asked her one day for the secret to staying so young looking. “If I’ve retained a youthful appearance over the years, it has nothing to do with me, and everything to do with my mother,” she said. She credited her appearance to good genes, citing her mother’s unusual youthfulness and longevity. While genes may have been central to her youthfulness, I think her love of music, dancing and staying connected to 19 nieces and nephews contributed to her good fortune.

Kathryn will be remembered for her 35 years of service to the local school district, retiring in 1990 to marry the late William Ruggerio of Chambersburg. The success Kathryn enjoyed as business manager and board secretary was the result of a tremendous work ethic instilled at a very early age and growing up during the Depression-Era. She learned at a very young age the value of a dollar. We hear a lot these days coming out of Washington about fiscal responsibility. Kathryn had a keen sense of fiscal responsibility that can be summed up in one word – tight. She is the only person I know that tried to figure a way to use both sides of a calculator tape. To use another Washington cliché – she truly did look out for the taxpayers.

Her recordkeeping demonstrated accuracy, precision and a thoroughness that brought accolades from both certified public accountants and state auditors. Those of us who had the opportunity to work with Kathryn remember her honesty, loyalty, fair-mindedness and forthrightness. She used to say, “Dot, you’re too diplomatic – just tell it the way it is.” That phrase and others like it earned her the reputation of a no-nonsense straight talker. There was never a question of where you stood with this lady.

Since hearing of Kathryn’s untimely death, I’ve thought about her legacy. What is her legacy?

Is it her deep and abiding love for her family? Is it the extraordinary work ethic that she learned early or the way she managed public funds? Is it the commendations and praises earned as a valuable school employee? Maybe it was her youthful appearance and young-at-heart attitude. Is her legacy to be that of a straight talker – someone who said what she meant and meant what she said? These virtues and characteristics are all important parts of Kathryn’s legacy, but she will be remembered for far more.

It was through her quiet, deep-rooted faith, and perhaps through her own personal pain, that she developed the greatest part of her legacy – the power of empathy and compassion. Kathryn had a way of placing herself inside the shoes of another person and seeing the world through their eyes during times of emotional pain and suffering. Her compassion and her empathy for others, especially the bereaved, knew no bounds. She was a master at comforting those who were hurting. A quote from Helen Keller is perhaps the best way to sum up Kathryn’s legacy. She said, “So long as you can sweeten another’s pain, life is not in vain.”

Finally, I’ll use another one of Kathryn’s favorite expressions to end this tribute. I heard her express it often. “In life you will meet many acquaintances, but few true friends. Cherish the few you find.” Rest in peace, my cherished friend, rest in peace.

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